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tendency to believe that because women might have more legible handwriting than men, they should take notes for men is outdated and based on conscious and unconscious attitudes that need to change.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

Rape: the ultimate entitlement mentality

I was privileged to meet with two deans and the college president yesterday as an officer in my college’s honor society. We offered to carry out a project that benefits the college; however, prior to beginning that conversation, we brought the administration up to date on our current hallmark project which addresses how stereotypes hinder or inhibit creative human expression. The college president, a woman, immediately engaged our group of officers on the subject, as did the dean of students, another woman. We learned that the simple act of checking a box on an SAT form can influence a woman’s performance on that test because of the ingrained stereotype that women are not good at math. This led to discussions about how stereotypes lead to self-silencing behavior in women and self-censorship in general. And then the ultimate in stereotypes was brought up: does how a woman dresses signal that she wants sex?

What is a stereotype? Google defines it as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”

Simply put: the stereotype that a woman dressed provocatively is signaling that she is ready for sex, and could even be asking to be raped, is what I want to address here.

If a woman is dressed provocatively, does that invite sexual advances that could lead to rape? Is a woman giving affirmation to sexual advances merely by how she is dressed?

Any person in their right mind who isn’t on crack will argue that how a person dresses does not signal sexual surrender or an open invitation to unrestrained sexual activity.

I will argue that a stripper wearing only a g-string (if those still exist) is not inviting sexual contact. She is expressing herself, making money, and providing entertainment ONLY (I do not in any way support this industry — it exploits women horribly). We all know that if you try to touch you will get bounced out on your ass. You can look, but you cannot touch. Okay?

So why, oh why, would any male or female believe that how a woman dresses signals sexual surrender?


Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) states that rape is defined as:

‚ÄúPenetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

There are several factors that qualify sexual activity as rape including age of consent, capacity to consent, and willingness to participate. This might sound complicated but it really isn’t.

A woman has the right to say “No!” at any point during consensual sex. Any point!

A woman who is under the influence of or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs is not able to give consent. Don’t even think about it.

A girl who is under 18 is off limits. Simple rule. Each state has different ages of consent, so the best rule is hands off anyone under 18 years of age. Period.

I actually had a conversation with one of my sons about what constitutes rape. He wasn’t sure when it came to the “under the influence” issue. We discussed it and agree that it is a grey area. So I simply stated that that should mean no sex.

Back to the insane idea that a woman is in any way responsible for being raped because of how she dresses. Think about what this means for a second. Really think. Think hard, guys. Think, think, think.

Of course a woman is not responsible in any way for being raped because she dared to express her sexuality in her choice of fashion. Of course she isn’t responsible for the actions and behavior of a man who can’t control himself.

The issue of rape is complicated by better attempts to define it, to broaden its definition. When I was young I was taught (by male teachers and law enforcement officers, of course) not to resist a rapist, but to just allow him to do his thing and then he will “let me go.” I was told, and the literature supported this at the time (and probably still does), that rape is simply an act of violence against a woman, and has nothing to do with sex. It stems from a man’s need to control another person. That is why rapists will rape 80-year-old women. I have always had a difficult time with this line of reasoning. Of course it has something to do with sex. It is the ultimate violation against a woman: forcing her to have sex against her will.

Today, that is only one type of sexual assault. We have learned to define rape as any non-consensual sex, not just the violent assault perpetrated by one person against another person. We typically think of rape as this scenario: a woman is walking to her car late at night and a man with a knife subdues her, and then forces her to submit while he penetrates her. It is a violent, horrible act.

I agree that rape is very much about power. It is also about sex. It is very much about a man getting what he wants no matter what. And so I consider justifying any kind of rape as the ultimate entitlement mentality.

  • A man buys a woman dinner so he thinks she should put out.
  • A young woman shows up at a party wearing a low-cut top and a short, short skirt, gets really drunk and does a dirty dance. She must want sex.
  • A politician is away from his family and convinces his intern to have sex with him. He is powerful and is denied nothing in his privileged life, even sex with a young intern.
  • A woman dares to go out late at night alone. She is asking for it.

Okay, I threw in that example of abuse of power via sexual harassment, but as a woman, I can tell you it is akin to rape, emotional coercion leading to physical rape. If a woman is pressured to have sex by a person in power over her, it is rape, in my opinion (not legally or prosecutable, but rape nonetheless). It is a violation of one person’s will by another resulting in sex.

Come on, guys. It is time to move beyond this ridiculous kind of thinking. You can look, but you cannot touch. You are not entitled to any kind of sexual reward, ever.

We all know that rape has nothing to do with a woman’s behavior or how she is dressed. Rape is a complicated act of sexual violence perpetrated in a variety of ways against another person who either doesn’t give consent or is unable to give consent.

Men: you are not entitled to anything. Your wife is under no obligation to give it up. Your girlfriend can say she doesn’t feel like having sex, and you must be okay with that. The woman at the bar dressed provocatively is not signaling you that she is available to have sex with you. The young woman at the frat party who is fall-down drunk should be protected and not violated.

No one is ever entitled to sex, ever.

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.