I’ve had many friends basically say they don’t believe “women are raised to…” and use this skepticism to put the burden of gender inequality on women. Here are some concrete examples I can think of that support the idea that, currently, women are brought up in society to…
I was actively reprimanded for speaking too much in class — in every single year from 3rd grade on, my teacher eventually condemned me to “two comments per class” to give others a chance to speak. I see this as a delightful gift that has endued me with empathy and a holistic, team-oriented perspective, but I also have been given feedback now, professionally, that I am not aggressive and not self-serving enough to get ahead.
I also remember the onslaught of stupid, annoying boys who continuously spoke out-of-turn in class. One particularly memorable episode was my first and only detention, in which, during a math test, our teacher kept yelling to stop whispering.
I agree, Ms. Whatsherface, shut the fuck up you stupid idiot boys. Whispering intensifies. She looks annoyed but turns to whatever she’s doing at her desk.
After I finished the test (first, bitch!) I went back to my desk to read, when Stenn turned to me, “hey, how do you do problem 3?”
“SHHHH” our teacher growls, without looking up.
I glare at Stenn.
“Come on, I know you know how to do it. You’re so smart” he smiles, cause he’s cute, and thinks that will somehow get me to yield to his dumb face.
“The next person to talks gets a detention,” teacher says.
I glare harder, and look at the teacher, trying to get her attention to point out he’s talking to me. She still doesn’t look up. I quietly and completely lose respect for this scumbag human.
“Please?” Stenn begs. He moves his pencil towards me. He scoots his chair towards me. Who does this punk think he is? I haven’t even hit puberty and he’s acting like he’s seducing me in the way 5th graders do. You’re not Leonardo DiCaprio, back up, poo-face. He’s relentless, though, and keeps making whispery noises at me.
“Stop talking to me!” I eventually whisper, as quietly, but forcefully, as I could.
“CAROLYN! DETENTION!” She yells.
“I was telling him to stop talking to me!” I exclaim, going full-volume now.
“She was! I promise! It was me!” Stenn admits. As an aside, this actually makes me like him.
“Yeah, it’s true, we heard it, Stenn was whispering to her and she just told him to stop talking,” the two other students who share our table pipe up.
“Alright? Well then, looks like you all get detention!” Whakka-whakka-whaaaat? Yes, that’s right. Not only did I get in trouble for daring to tell someone else to stop breaking the rules, and stop bringing me into it, but everybody who stood up for me was also punished.
Also, what about the detentions for all the annoying-ass stupid boys that started whispering in the first place? They broke the rules all the time, and got punished for it maybe 1/10 times it bothered the fuck out of me. What about giving them detention for their chorus of “ooooooooo,” as she wrote up the citation? What about punishing the people who were actually causing the problem, instead of me, who was obviously and clearly and demonstrably trying to stop it? Nada.
“Yield to others’ wishes.”
When I was in preschool, I had a friend named Kayla. Kayla was, and is to this day, just about the sweetest girl that has ever existed. She is kind and thoughtful and adventurous and by all metrics a great friend to have for a three-year-old to eat sand with. But I was a little bitch-demon of a babe and so when Kayla one day asked me “hey do you want to play with me?” I said “NO. I DON’T LIKE YOU.”
Kayla, understandably, started to cry. My mother saw this episode, and came over to me. “Carolyn, that’s not how we say no. That is mean. We think about her feelings.”
I believe what my mother taught me to be true. That shouldn’t be how we communicate. I think we should take others’ feelings and perspectives into account, and communicate in ways that are clear and kind, to the extent we can. (I think this is pretty difficult for a three year old)
This is significant, and has been told to me, because my pre-school teacher intervened. “No, Laura,” she said, “we actually want to teach them that no means no, and to be forceful when they feel ‘no’. When she’s a teenager, you’ll want her to feel comfortable saying ‘NO’ to boys.” For what it’s worth, I now have no problem saying No.
I also have empathy and compassion for those for whom “no,” is a difficult word to assert.
Let me just say again, in pre-school, my teacher was thinking about how I would defend myself against the inevitable assault of men against my mind and body. My own mother, who is herself a strong, independently-minded, assertive, kind woman, didn’t realize teaching me to temper my “no,” could leave me vulnerable in the future.
“Put others first.”
When I tried out for the school jazz band, and made it my sophomore year, I was pumped. As a life-long band-nerd, getting into the school’s highest musical ensemble was an accomplishment of which I was sincerely proud. But one boy, who I grew up playing next to, wasn’t as excited.
“You should give your spot to Kevin,” he said. “He tried really hard, and really wants to be in jazz. And he’s older than you.”
And I care why, exactly?
“But we both tried out and I made it in!” I already knew in my heart I wasn’t giving this punk my spot, but I was 15 and really wanted this guy to get it. It isn’t fair to ask me to cede my spot.
“Yeah, but, I mean, he’s also a boy, and if you joined you’d be the only girl.”
It’s funny he said this, because this thought had literally not crossed my mind. It often still doesn’t, and only after I leave a space do I realize I was the only woman there.
“… So?” Was my only response.
“I mean… you know…” he said. I didn’t know. I still don’t really know. I mean, I don’t get it, but when dudes want dude-only time, sure, that’s fine, I don’t get it because it seems like the vast majority of the existence of the world is dude-only time, but I can respect that.
But at sixteen, this boy wanted me to give up something I really wanted, and had rightfully earned, because a boy had “tried hard,” and fit in with the group.
Thank goodness my pre-school teacher let me yell NO. Fuck hurting his feelings.
My junior year of high school, I had the choice to take all AP classes, plus the hardest musical ensemble (plus some other extra-curriculars). My brother did this his junior year. He got into CalTech. I wanted to get into a good school. I also was tired of dealing with the bullshit that comes in public high school — side conversations, drama, dumb kids not paying attention or not caring. That shit drove me nuts. I was so excited to be in only AP classes and put that behind me.
My guidance counselor said “I know this is what you want, but you have to understand, you’ve never been challenged, and this is going to be really hard for you.”
“Yeah, it’s fine, it’s what I want to do.”
“Don’t you want to do things outside of school?”
“Yeah, I’ll have time. I have thought about this and talked about it with my parents, I can do this, and I want to do this.”
“I really don’t think you will. You don’t understand how hard this is going to be.”
“I really think I do, and if I don’t, I’ll find out. It’s fine. Let me take the classes.”
“Okay… you know it’s okay to drop something if you get overwhelmed, right?”
My area has problems with students committing suicide, presumably because of the pressure to overachieve. I have the great luxury of having no such pressure, or mental illness.
“I’m totally fine. You’ve known me for two years, you know I have no problem saying when I’m not fine. This will be fine.”
“I just feel really nervous letting you do all this.” Bitch, get off my back.
“Well, my brother did all this, and he worked hard and I saw it and it was fine for him, it will be fine for me.”
“Yes but you’re not your brother.”
Oh, cool, let’s count the ways I’m distinct from my brother at this stage in life:
Both in top musical ensembles? Check.
Both have straight-A records in the most difficult classes? Yup.
Both represent the school in California math competitions? Mhm.
So what exactly, Ms. Rodriguez, is your hesitation with me “pushing myself?” Why did I have to have three separate meetings and get parental permission to try exactly as hard as my brother did?
Again, only because I was maybe-ignorant, maybe-overly-forceful was I able to assert that my “yes, let me try” was as valid as his. Mom & Dad, you may give me shit about being stubborn and strong-willed to get what I want, but at least what I want is success.
In 7th grade, I cried when I got my report card. I cried because I had gotten a 4.0, and I didn’t want to be a nerd. I don’t know why exactly I cried, or what led to the crying, but I remember I cried and distinctly remember three different responses.
The cute boys in the class said “haha, you’re a nerd.”
The girls in the class unfailingly said “wow you’re right, you are a nerd. You’ll never get a boyfriend like that. Sorry you’re so smart.”
The smart boys in the class (who were not also cute) said “you crying is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m mad at you, because you’re smarter than me.”
I’m glad I remember this, because I could not make this up if I tried. I was crying as a child, before I had any control over my education or environment, when I had many strong female role models and equality demonstrated to me at home blah blah blah… because I already thought it was not only more important to have a boyfriend than to be smart, but because that was actively, consciously reinforced by my classmates. This, in rich, liberal, suburban California.
And all of these stereotypes hold. Even the smart girls agreed, sucks to be too smart. The smart boys resented me for being better than them. The cute boys, even the ones who were smart, thought that since I was smart, I couldn’t possibly also be worthy of being a girlfriend.
“Let someone else be in charge.”
Also in 7th grade, in algebra class (for 8th graders, get on my level), we took tests as a group of four. I love this style of test-taking, because it encourages collaboration, teamwork, and a shared sense of belonging. It also demands confidence — “I know I’m right, so that’s the answer we’re putting down.”
I had been the de-facto leader in each test I had taken… most of the 7th graders had. My team always got As, not because I answered every problem correctly, but because I answered most of them, but when I wasn’t confident, I had no problem yielding to others who were more certain. My own test average probably would have been around a B+.
In one of the last tests of the year, I was in a group with three boys. When we got the exam, Casey said, “Alright I’m going to be Carolyn this time.”
“Uhh… what do you mean? I’m Carolyn.”
“I’m in charge of what we’re writing this time.” He stated, simply.
“No you’re not. I am. I have been for all the other tests, and we’ve gotten all As. We’ll still listen to you, and you can even write it down, but I’ll decide what answers we put down.” Don’t you take this from me, Casey.
“No. You’re always so bossy. Just give me a turn!” He whined. “Yeah,” the other boys said, “he’s right. You always get to be in charge. Just let him decide.”
“No! You’re all getting Ds in this class and Ms. Weinstein literally put me in this group so you’d get an A on this test to bring up your grades! Let me decide!”
“Okay, so, problem 1… ” Casey began, utterly ignoring my completely logical rationale for me being in charge, that would certainly benefit him and his friends.
Cue us spending the next 47 minutes with me saying “No, that’s wrong!” and them saying “Well we think it’s right so that’s what we’re doing” and me leading them through how to solve the problem and them saying “ugh shut up you’re so bossy. You always get to lead and you’re younger than us so it’s our turn.”
We got a D on that test. Their stupidity and illogical need to drive despite my proven track record of success punished me and my grades.
“Carolyn! I thought you were supposed to be smart!” Casey giggled when we got our exams back.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Ms. Weinstein, to her credit, saw the whole damn thing, and told our group we would have the option of taking an individual make-up test if we wanted to. None of the boys took that option — they didn’t care about their grades. I cared. I took the test, by myself. I got an A.
I don’t know if these experiences are unique to me, but I have shared these stories quite a few times.
The non-men all say, “yup, me too.”
The men all say, “really?”
Yeah… really. Yes, really. Yes. Yes. Really. Yes, these are my real experiences that I can really point to, and these are only the ones I remember.
When you meet strong women, remember, we are often strong in spite of, not because of, our upbringing. Despite the strong mothers and teachers and volunteer mentors and uplifting men and role models of all genders, there is still work to be done.
Just believe it’s different for us than you. Just believe the universe looks different through our eyes. Please.