Why don’t we trust women?
Why don’t men trust women? Why don’t they believe women? Fuck. Why don’t women believe women?
I just read Helen Situ’s article discussing the latest Silicon Valley sexual harassment suit against one of the leading Virtual Reality companies, Upload VR. Helen’s provocative and thought-provoking piece is about our immediate tendency to doubt the veracity of these women’s claims and the immensely negative impact this tendency has on women’s ability to navigate the intricacies of gender dynamics at work, while also throttling their willingness to speak out against gender discrimination or sexual harassment. She includes some images of anonymized twitter responses to the news coverage — most of which tends to express something along the lines of “No way. I know those dudes and they’re awesome.”
There are a couple of things to consider here.
#1. Why don’t men realize that men are shittiest to women when no one is around?
This is an experience that nearly every woman has had. A man is funny, friendly, and seems like an all around decent guy in mixed company. He waits until a woman is alone to make sexist, misogynistic, and offensive comments. And he waits until she’s alone and vulnerable to get pushy, aggressive, and harassing.
That being said I suspect those same men make off color (think “pussy-grabbing”) jokes when it’s just the guys around too. But as a woman, I can’t say that with certainty.
Sexists and misogynists know their behavior is disgusting. They know that they will be less well liked, viewed as less charismatic, and potentially achieve less success if they’re unabashed about this kind of rhetoric — especially in the mostly liberal tech community. They also know their fellow executives, colleagues, and investors won’t appreciate such behavior. Those folks rely on plausible deniability. And so these despicable characters wait for opportune moments when no one is around and when the woman is vulnerable.
Additionally, these men — these sexist, manipulative men know that their greatest weapon is fear. Fear and the silence that results from fear. If a woman is afraid of reprisal, afraid of backlash, afraid that no one will believe her, she will stay quiet. Or she will acquiesce.
These men engage in this behavior, not because they’re just SO sexually attracted to these women they can’t stand it, but because of the power. It’s the same reason why men rape. It’s not about sex. It’s about power.
That’s why the worst offenders tend to be those obsessed with their own egos, their influence, their alpha-male status, their dominance over others. They are smart, ambitious men whom most find charming. Some might call them narcissists or sociopaths. Others calls them leaders and disrupters. They don’t apologize for pursuing what they want. And they feel little empathy for others. Their first instinct is to care for what feeds their own sense of self, their own power.
When you view workplace sexual harassment through this lens of power, it’s easier to understand the complexity and the nuance of these cases. Whether it’s intentional or it’s second-nature, perpetrators of this behavior understand that isolating a woman while you prey upon her gives you the edge. If you put a woman in a position where it’s difficult — or even impossible — to undeniably prove the veracity of her claims, you win. Better yet, if you can make her doubt herself, make her worry she’s imagining it or that she did something to deserve it, you win.
#2. Why do we do this to women?
And why do we do it in nearly every aspect of life?
It’s not just about sexual harassment claims. Even doctors are less likely to take a woman’s complaints or concerns about her health less seriously than they will a man’s. As a woman with two chronic, incurable diseases, I’ve certainly experienced this first hand.
There’s a whole selection of evidence and analysis about the ways we don’t trust women at their word. And an even longer selection or articles or commentaries on why men don’t trust women, why it’s our fault, and how we need to fix it. I particularly appreciated this honest take from Damon Young on VerySmartBrothas and then Huffpo.
Hell, even one of my favorite pop-culture theories about discerning if someone is a bad actor (the Julie Taylor test) is completely sexist. The author (a woman) rattles off a bunch of female examples, but not a single example of a male actor. Even I reference it regularly to describe women whom I think aren’t very good in their roles, but I have only once used it to describe a man — and was immediately refuted by a man.
I am deeply aware of the many ways this inequity affects me and my gender as a whole, and yet, even I still engage in such behavior.
We give men the benefit of the doubt. We do not afford women the same luxury. Why?
I don’t have an answer. I really don’t. I’ve wracked my brain. Yes, it has a lot to do with decades (hundreds, thousands of years) of systemic, institutionalized, and culturally reinforced sexism. It’s also partly the result o flong held myths about how women are more emotional and less rational than men.
I know this is part of it, but could that really be it?
Such an obvious answer feels so disheartening because there is no similarly obvious answer of how to fix it. If this demand that women prove beyond a shadow of a doubt anything they say is the result of a civilization’s worth of systemic oppression, then what’s our recourse for fixing the problem?
Wait it out?
Will that work?
How long will that take?
There is too much at stake to wait so long.
Women’s health is at stake. So is our safety, our ability to excel, our chances at improving our standing in government, business, and the world.
Our opportunity to improve the world itself is at stake.
When you grow up being consistently told that your word isn’t trustworthy, what does that do to your psyche? To your confidence? To your leadership, your motherhood, your power, your potential, your influence as a person?
Imagine the amount of talent, brilliance, and wisdom that we are squashing because a woman’s word is doubted first and trusted last.
As far as I can see, there are only two things that can help turn this around.
- More women need to speak out when something is offensive, unjust, or plain old wrong. We must be willing to face the doubt and keep our heads held high despite it. It’s not fair that the burden is on us. It’s not, but so it goes, sisters. If we want things to change — and I know we do — we must continue to speak up, speak out, and take a stand.
- More of us — men and women — must commit to trusting women at their word and catching ourselves when we don’t. We must commit to rallying behind the women brave enough to fight against inequality, sexism, and misogyny. We must commit to taking bold stances against the perpetrators of this behavior, their companies, and their political parties. And what’s more we must be supporters, friends, and allies to the women who need us when they feel all alone in the great fight.
It won’t be easy and we won’t be perfect, but we can be better.
I understand that it’s not just women who experience this kind of treatment. I have little doubt that minorities of all kinds, people of color and especially women of color experience this treatment regularly. While this post specifically addresses women, I believe we need to have the same dedication and commitment to providing equal support, allegiance, and trust in these similarly discriminated against communities. I would love to hear your stories, comments, advice, and arguments below.
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