gender equality

Ladies have better handwriting: on stereotyping women


I volunteered to help out with a college event last week. During an ice breaker exercise, one of the men at the table (I was merely observing up to this point), when told the group of two men and two women would need to record some educational challenges and potential solutions to share with the entire group later, asked if “one of the ladies could do the writing.”

Between this man and the two women in this group was another man about the same age as the first one; the speaker ignored the other man. I looked at the man who had entreated one of the “ladies” to record the thoughts of the men and stated out loud, “the women at this table are not your secretaries.” Yikes!

I could not help myself.

For the younger readers, there was a time when women could only get jobs in a handful of professions, and secretary, the servant of the oh-so-important male executive, was one of them. I was a secretary for over 15 years. I know of what I speak. I won’t go into the sexual harassment that accompanied that job, but suffice it to say, being a secretary was oftentimes quite demeaning back in my day.

(Secretary as a title/occupation has mostly been abolished and replaced with executive assistant or administrative assistant. At first, this change bothered me, but I see it as an attempt to create a gender-neutral type of job designation, one that is less indicative of how subservient the secretary was to her typically-male boss. To secretaries of this world today, your jobs are vastly different from the time when I was a secretary. Very different.)

Why did I speak up when this man begged the “ladies” to do the writing? I spoke up because last semester I was involved in a huge project that dealt with stereotyping. One of the actions recommended, which is supported by research, when an individual witnesses stereotyping is to say something. Speak up. Call it what it is. And so I said something.

I know I made this guy very uncomfortable. He needed to be uncomfortable. His view of women needed to be challenged. His tendency to believe that because women might have more legible handwriting than men, they should take notes for men is outdated and based on conscious and unconscious attitudes that need to change.

Is it my job to change them? Well, I was the only one who said anything, so I guess so.

The other two women were older (most likely the age of the man’s mother), probably used to being told that they needed to support the men in their lives, and felt quite comfortable taking a motherly role, so to speak. But this is wrong in a college environment.

(Without complaint, one of the women immediately took the job of recording responses for the group.)

At college, women are not there to support men (or find husbands). They are there to get an education, to discover their strengths and weaknesses, and to have their eyes opened to new possibilities. They are there for themselves.

When I started college in early 2013, I made a decision not to be the college mom. I don’t hand out pens and paper to the (mostly male students) who fail to prepare for class. I don’t take notes for the young students who miss class because they slept in. I don’t provide a motherly type of support to any of the students.

I do, however, mentor. That is completely different. I encourage the women, especially, to speak up in class if they are being very quiet (self-silencing behavior is common among black women, especially). I try to model confidence in using my own voice. I encourage students to advocate for themselves when faced with a challenge.

I do not tolerate men stereotyping women because it limits their potential and denigrates them as people. I don’t tolerate anyone stereotyping anyone, really. Women stereotype women a lot, too.

I learned while doing this project on stereotyping that it is silence that keeps stereotypes alive in a society.

Do ladies have better handwriting? Maybe, maybe not. So what? If a man has poor handwriting, he should work on that. It is a weakness that needs to be addressed unless he is already a doctor who is earning a couple hundred thousand dollars a year and can afford to hire someone to do his writing for him (and this stereotypical physician model is outdated as well — physicians are required to complete record-keeping tasks using computers now).

Did I make an enemy by speaking up? Possibly. Is that very important? Not really. It is much more important to address stereotyping because of how serious it is and how damaging it can be to all people.

By the way, students aren’t the only ones who make stereotypical comments on campus. I have heard a lot of anti-southerner comments from professors, faculty and staff (this kind of behavior is common here in Connecticut), as well as anti-Republican, anti-Christian and anti-conservative rhetoric.

When I was in Texas over Christmas I heard anti-liberal, anti-Democrat, and anti-northerner comments which I challenged. I almost got in a fight with one of my adult sons over showing respect for the president and first lady. You don’t need to agree with their politics or ideology, but you damn well better show respect for their positions, accomplishments, and humanity. I was faced with dogmatic attitudes, and that made me pretty angry. Go ahead and challenge a policy, a practice and even a belief, but do not resort to ad hominem attacks. That shows me that you don’t have a valid position to defend.

Comments I have heard on campus and off, here in Connecticut and in Texas were demeaning and meant to ridicule particular people groups. In nearly every case, I have spoken up. Yep, even with professors (I’m not very popular with some professors). I do tend to make enemies. Sigh.

I don’t defend the bad behavior of any political group, conservative, liberal or moderate, nor do I support offensive religious behavior (anyone who knows me knows that I really don’t like religion).

I have challenged what I viewed as anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attitudes and comments in a group in which I am involved. One of my children used a derogatory, racist label for Muslims and that adult child got a tongue-lashing.

I feel it is important to address negative comments aimed at people groups. I speak up.

I plan to continue to address stereotyping when I see it. I think it is the better choice.

For more information on stereotyping:

OUCH! That Stereotype Hurts – or a PDF guide Not affiliated in any way.

Implicit Bias – Harvard University – Participate in the online surveys. They are eye-opening.

Internet search suggestions:

Stereotype threat
Implicit bias

Feminism under fire is one of the online news sources in my news circuit. I saw a story this morning about women against feminism. Huh? I tried to keep an open mind as I clicked play to watch the video part of the story.

There were women stating that we didn’t need feminism any more, that it is toxic, that women don’t need to hate men to pursue their ambitions.

Okay, I kind of understand where they are coming from. There are some radical feminists that seem to get press every time something controversial that affects women’s health, equal pay, and so on pops up in the news.

Are they really radical, or are they the women who continue to recognize that even today there is still not gender equality?

Well, is there? I don’t think so.

If we had gender equality, there would be family-friendly policies in place for moms and dads who work outside the home, rooms for nursing moms who need to pump while at work, flexible work hours and built-in family leave for fathers.

If we had gender equality, women wouldn’t make less than men for the same job. Sorry, but this is documented. Pay equality is an issue. Deniers can say it isn’t so, but facts and figures support the claim.

Has anyone even considered what women give up to stay home with their children? No social security earnings, no retirement protection, little legal protection should the earning husband abandon her. It is like the dark ages legally and financially for women.

The only way for women to be protected is IF they work outside the home and have their own separate income, kept apart from their husbands.

1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted.

That is some serious hatred there. Yes, rape is a hate crime against women.

How many of these anti-feminists spend time scouring news sites, reading comments to articles? I read comments by men who still think women should be silent, pregnant, and in the kitchen and certainly not bothering their pretty little selves about the big, bad world. Granted, the generation of men who spout this crap will eventually die out, but what about the men that they raised?

Feminism is not a movement or a set of behavioral guidelines. Feminism means equality for women, plain and simple. So anti-feminism means . . . what? They are against equality? Really?

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as 1. “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities;” and 2. “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

Because I am fairly intelligent, I surmise that these anti-feminists are objecting to the second definition of the word. They take issue with the organized feminist movement that lobbies and actively fights for a political and social agenda that benefits women. I don’t agree with every tenet of the organized movement myself, but I certainly do not oppose it, either.

And the idea that demanding equal rights means that men lose rights is ludicrous. It does mean that they must adjust their workplace behavior to include women. This means that good ‘ole boy club atmosphere must be relegated to the men-only clubs. It doesn’t belong in any workplace.

I learned the hard way that any woman that surrenders her financial independence to stay home and raise children, care for the home, and support her husband’s career is taking a risk. This is a sad truth in our modern, enlightened society.

Are most feminists man-haters? I think not. Opposing entrenched ideas that stand in the way of an egalitarian society does not equal hate. It means they oppose unfair ideologies and practices that continue to keep women from having equal access and opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Language describing women and their activities

When my 21-year-old son returned home from a dental appointment, he immediately informed me that I needed to get a new tire for my car. One of the rear tires had gone flat while he was on his way to the dentist. We discovered over the weekend that it had picked up not a nail but a bolt, and had a slow leak. Apparently, the bolt came out and the tire went flat quickly because of the size of the hole.
gender differences
When I went in my bedroom to retrieve my cell phone, I noticed that there were 6 missed calls, all from my son. I asked him why he called so many times, and he said he wanted to tell me that the tire had gone flat and he had changed it. I looked at him a little confused. He continued, “I figured you were out playing in your garden.”

Aha! So it was the idea that I wasn’t readily available for his news because I was out “playing” in my garden that fueled so many calls. It was a perception that while he had diverted a catastrophe I had been playing around that seemed to cause him discomfort.

In actuality, I had left my cell phone in my bedroom because I spent two hours studying for and then another hour taking an online test for my summer course. I had been working hard and needed to focus. I am very glad that I didn’t have my cell phone on my desk while I was trying to study and certainly not during the test itself when I could not handle distractions.

This leads to the subject of this post: the language used to describe women and their activities.

What if I had been working in my garden? My garden is not a flower border filled with award-winning roses. It is filled with heirloom vegetable plants designed to feed our family because we have a miniscule food budget. I certainly don’t see what I do out there as “playing,” not one little bit. It is work. It is pleasurable for me to work with the soil and see something nourishing emerge from what had been a seed the size of a pinhead only two months earlier.

I love my garden. It is hard for me physically to work in the garden, but I love it so much that I have figured out how to do a little here and a little there with the result being a fairly successful undertaking. The boys certainly enjoy everything that I serve them that comes from that garden. Just yesterday, my 14-year-old son asked me if he could make a salad from my lettuce. I showed him how to harvest it, leaving an inch or so of stem so that it would regrow for a second harvest. He then ate his salad with a salad dressing he made from the homemade mayonnaise I had whipped up earlier that day — he merely added some herbs and spices. He wanted me to make him a vinaigrette but I refused so he made do.

As I thought about my older son’s comment and his frustration, I thought about all of the years when my estranged husband would tell me that he couldn’t call the insurance company or get a quote for a home repair during business hours “because I work.” I heard that for over 25 years. He works. I don’t.

Woman’s work.

Most women gain a semblance of satisfaction from keeping a home, caring for children, and keeping that stereotypically surly husband happy. There is a common frustration, however, with the perception that what we do at home isn’t real work.

I read an article the other day online (sorry, I couldn’t find it to share) about how Asian men in a certain country are left at home to care for the children while their wives immigrate to other countries. Apparently, the women can get better paying jobs than the men, so they end up being the breadwinner for the family. There is a cultural shift going on due to this phenomenon. Some men are responding by becoming very depressed, gambling and drinking while others are holding down the fort, doing all the jobs their wives used to handle (even when they worked full-time), until their wives get back whereby they will gladly return those duties to the women.

It was fascinating reading about how difficult and emotionally draining keeping home is for most of those men. I have news for everyone: it is equally difficult and emotionally draining for women, but we learned thousands of years ago not to complain too loudly. We just suck it up and do it.

I have often observed men talking about their wives’ activities in a denigrating fashion. It is not intentional. The words they use are words that their fathers used and their fathers before them: housework, women’s work, hobbies, crafting, playing, girlfriends, gaggle of hens, and so on. I do think men will acknowledge that scrubbing a floor is work, but those types of tasks take up little time due to time-saving technologies available to women. The perception is that women have become people who don’t work unless they have a well-paying job or a professional career.

I admit that I am thrilled with the emergence of modern egalitarian families where the husband and wife share duties equally, such as is the case with my oldest son and his wife. It is a beautiful dynamic filled with respect and love. Yes, it is challenging for men to deal with the hundreds of mundane tasks that make up running a home, but it is equally challenging for women who are parents to navigate a business world where families are not respected and there is still little flexibility that would make working so much easier for mothers.

While men, and many women, bristle at the insistence by feminists and women’s advocates on political correctness, it is necessary if we are to change the language used to describe women and their activities.

Gender neutrality: Is it even possible or desirable?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the evolution of language in the United States as gender-specific words have become gender neutral. Instead of policeman or policewoman we have police officer. Instead of fireman we have firefighter. How do we change seamstress to gender neutral: sewer? Um, women and men who sew are not the same as concrete conduits for waste. Sometimes this gender neutral thing hits a wall.

Addressing the concept of the words used to describe occupations, I have observed some wonderful changes that have resulted in many gender-specific occupations opening up to both sexes. My son’s middle school has a LOT of male teachers. This is great news for boys.

Wait!!! Aren’t we supposed to be gender neutral? Is it really possible? Let’s be honest here: men and boys can usually relate in a way that women and boys cannot. In pursuing gender neutrality should a boy be required to be less male, or something in between a boy and a girl, or pretend to be a little of both? Is it possible for human beings to be gender neutral? Can we draw out the feminine in boys? Is it really there to draw out? When girls mature into women and pursue occupations such as firefighting or law enforcement, do they need to exhibit male characteristics in order to be successful? Sort of, and no, or possibly yes.
I gave birth to a single girl in between the boys. These little humans were different from the get-go. A couple of my boys were like bulls in a China shop, and all love math and the sciences and are mechanically inclined. My girl was quieter and softer but she was just as adventurous. She was climbing out of her crib before 18 months and was the one that ended up in the ER for stitches and concussions. As a woman, she loves big purses but prefers that they be in a camo design. She will wear a dress but prefers jeans and flannel. She loves trucks and guns and her little baby girl. She really loves being a mommy, a LOT!

I confess that although I bought my daughter dolls I didn’t encourage her to play with Barbie or any fashion dolls (she had some but didn’t like playing with them). And when she mentioned that she was thinking about trying out for cheerleader I nearly screamed, “No!” at her. I taught a couple of my sons to sew and crochet at their request. My sons all know how to cook, clean and do laundry. My oldest seems to be a really great husband who cooks, cleans, and changes diapers while working full-time (my daughter-in-law also works full time as a physician).

Gender neutrality . . . what an interesting concept. I agree with the goals of gender neutrality as long as a boy is allowed to naturally be what he IS and a girl is allowed to be what she naturally IS and we are not trying to scrub out their femininity or masculinity or punishing a girl for having feminine characteristics or a boy for masculine characteristics. Maybe I don’t really agree with the goals of gender neutrality.

I have explored the premise of gender neutrality and pulled out the really good parts and discarded the rest. I believe that people should be allowed to develop fully into who they really ARE. My job as a parent is to allow a natural evolution of my children’s personalities not with gender-neutral toys and hobbies but with full access to all toys independent of gender. Girls should not just play with dolls, mini kitchens and princess outfits but own and play with building sets, tools, and cars. Boys should not just be given army men, battery-operated power tools and race cars but be encouraged to play daddy with dolls and make meals using plastic pots and pans. My daughter received her own compound bow when her older brother got his. My boys love the written word more than their sister and own more books. My daughter was in Little League before any of her brothers (and discovered that sports isn’t really her thing). My goal as a parent was and is to support my children’s pursuits of their interests and dreams. As far as my limited finances afforded, I believe I succeeded.

Bottom line: If a boy wants to become a teacher, a previously female-dominated occupation, and a girl wants to become a police officer, a male-dominated occupation until the 70s, they should not just be allowed but encouraged to pursue their dreams.

I think the ultimate goal should be gender equality. Right? If we think about it, that really IS the goal of gender neutrality.

Here is what I think: at some point it was felt that gender roles were so deeply ingrained in our culture (and still are in many subcultures) that we needed to wipe the slate clean and eliminate the whole idea of gender differences before we could begin to see progress toward equality. I understand this. I think some psychologists may have mistakenly believed it was possible to create a gender neutral society. In spite of (what I perceive as) misconceptions of the inner workings of gender, the result of this gender neutrality effort has been expanded freedom and equality.

I must admit that I really love the progress that we have made in gender equality. I know young men want to go into child care, make excellent nurses, and certainly make excellent teachers. Men have entered fields that were previously exclusively female as flight attendants, maids, waiting tables (though in the 19th century men exclusively held these positions), secretaries (although the title had to be changed to assistant before the occupation was acceptable for men), teachers, nurses, and much more. Women now work in fields that have been predominantly male: they are college professors, military officers, doctors and researchers, military and commercial pilots, engineers, business executives, law enforcement officers, lawyers and judges, politicians, managers, leaders, and much more. Men are excelling in the fiber arts while women are welding large metal sculptures. Women are bringing home the bacon while their husbands stay at home with the children.

We are getting so close. I think back to the 60s and 70s (yes, I am that old), and the world has most certainly changed. Just a hundred years ago women couldn’t even vote in some states (women were granted suffrage in all states in 1920). Yes, we are progressing.

Is it all good? That is another post. What has occurred due to the loss of the neighborhood moms who were everywhere when we grew up? They kept an eye on all of us so we couldn’t really get away with anything until we got cars and could drive to the quarry (oh, the quarry).

Those moms became free to pursue their own dreams and desires while also being free to stay home (the economy has pulled many women out of the home who didn’t choose that path — good or bad?). Who is watching the children? Hopefully mom AND dad and teachers and neighbors, maybe grandma and grandpa — the erosion of the extended family has had its own effect on children and society. Unless we see the transformation of parental roles in egalitarian marriages there is a big gap in participation in child rearing and care, and in many cases the children pay the price. Transformation of the family has far to go. Again, that is another post.

Gender neutrality was and is a noble goal as long as it is merely relegated to being a tool in the pursuit of gender equality. Men and women are different. We have different parts and can do different things when it comes to sex and reproduction; but gender differences go much deeper than that. That does not mean that we need to be broken up into two separate groups who only meet over dinner and in the bedroom as in the past. Gender equality has brought the sexes together in a new and amazing way that is still being worked out. I have hope for the next generation, the generation that I helped raise to respect the individual and not limit other people merely because of their boy or girl parts or the timbre of their voices.

I have great hope for the future of gender equality, or equality, period. Isn’t equality for all what we really want? Just plain ole equality: male, female, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, Muslim, Christian. We all want equal opportunities, equal access, and equal voices. I know I do.

Celebrating equality today.