In response to my post about achieving assertiveness as a woman in business, I got the following tweet from a male reader:
@jsvetlo But are your results objective? I get those reactions too. Could you be subconsciously over aggressing from perceived m/f hierarchy.
So many things.
No, my reactions are not objective – by definition they are subjective. Obviously. Yes, I might be over aggressing, that doesn’t invalidate my experiences or my conclusions thereof. NO, THERE ISN’T A “PERCEIVED” M/F HIERARCHY. IT IS A DOCUMENTED PHENOMENON, I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS EVEN UP FOR DEBATE.
It’s like the (white) people who don’t believe white privilege exists. Or those that don’t feel racism is a problem (in Canada). How is it possible that these otherwise rational individuals can hold such unbalanced opinions? I’ve often wondered.
In this brilliant OpEd on gender and race inequality, author Katherine Fritz hits the nail right on the head:
I’ve noticed this thing that happens when I have these kinds of conversations with some white men in my life, men I admire and respect and love.
They become frustrated during these conversations because they feel attacked. They feel invalidated. They feel like their arguments aren’t considered valid, because they can only speak from their own experiences, and it’s hard to believe that there is a problem when you can’t see that it’s there.
They assume that they must fall into one of two categories, “nice” or “oppressive,” and no one wants to be “oppressive,” but if they argue with anything that I’m saying, they certainly can’t be “nice.” So they shut down. Or become angry.
And that sucks. Because their voices are necessary, and need to be heard. Join in. We can’t do this without you.
This. This is true.
I once shared the following article I Don’t Know What To Do With Good White People with one of my (white) girlfriends. She was so insulted. “If someone cuts in front of me when standing in line, I don’t assume it’s a race or gender thing, I assume that person is rude as fuck and an asshole. Maybe the author shouldn’t make everything about race. If I will be judged for being nice, I’ve no patience for that.” I was very taken aback by her reaction: I thought the article was an interesting opinion piece, that illustrates just how complex racial issues are, and how even good intentions can be patronizing or harmful. Turns out, she felt the article presented life as a sum-zero situation where her skin colour automatically made her oppressive to others – an accusation she rejected since she is a nice, polite girl. But a white girl – not her fault! (N.B. I am aware of the irony of her feelings, given the subject at hand!)
Lesson learned. For the dialogue surrounding gender and racial issues, it must be framed such that “nice” and “oppressive” are not mutually exclusive. It kinda blows my mind that that must be explicitly said, before we can talk about the real issues, yet so it is. Everyone is seeking the same thing, to have their reality and their good intentions acknowledged. Who’d have thunk?
So. Now that we’ve acknowledged that not all men are sexist, most don’t intend to subtly belittle their female coworkers, and many are good, kind men, can we get back to the discussion of gender bias in the workplace? Do we really have to argue the logical fallacy that because one hasn’t personally witnessed a phenomenon, it cannot exist?
P.S. Please please PLEASE read Katherine Fritz’s piece The Invisible LateNight Knapsack. Best thing I have ever read about how to acknowledge and discuss racial and gender bias.
Speaking as a while male, I have not experienced racism nor sexism, but I have witnessed it. That said, witnessing something and experiencing it are two separate things. Whenever I am involved in these discussions, I tend to ask questions to try to understand the individual(s)’s point of view. Some men (mostly online) will state they occasionally get shutdown by militant feminists for “mansplaining” when they are trying to voice their opinion on gender issues even when they acknowledge the issue. I haven’t encountered this personally though. Whether because of my attempt fort understanding or simply not encountering individuals who feel this is an issue remains up in the air.
That said, I think it’s stereotypical for men, myself included, to try to “fix” problems we encounter even if the person in question just wants to vent his or her frustration. In that vain we look for what we might think is an efficient (read quick) solution. However, some issues are far too complex for a single quick fix.
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