How to talk about women, as a man
Some tips from a fellow human
Dear Male Human,
You may have noticed that recently there has been a lot of talk about the treatment and perception of women and the violence we suffer because of societal defaults that favour Male Humans. You probably do not understand what the fuss is about, but want to do the right thing. I know you do, because I have met you — in conferences, parks, grocery stores, and Muni buses.
I thought I would write to you to help you do the right thing.
When talking about humans in abstract use ‘they’
Grammar be damned, every time you use a ‘he’ to talk about a generic human, you create the default representation of a man. Who do you visualize when I mention the words ‘Successful Entrepreneur’? What about ‘Successful Model’?
Some men these days default to using ‘she’ as a favoured third-person noun, but I feel even more excluded when people do so in conversations because it sounds forced and it does not feel inclusive anyway. Either way, you are creating a singular representation of a generic human, which is better off in the abstract as a ‘they’.
Don’t call us ‘girls’
The Swedish foreign minister tweeted something seemingly innocent:
Do you think Defence Ministers who are men would be called ‘True Power Boys’?
If we call ourselves girls, that is okay. If we insist you call us girls (like “Spice Girls”), that is okay. But please dear Male Human, do not do so without our permission.
I feel insulted and completely not worthy of any task when I get called that (or when other women are).
Don’t remark on our physical attributes
This is a tough one because many women are likely to oppose this recommendation. It is also very difficult to do, given it is one of the easier ways to break barriers when talking to women.
Here is why this is important: For the last 1000 years, Women have always been portrayed as objects of desire, unlike men. Most of us spend our lives living for you — making sure we match the image of perfection that you concoct. Waxing eyebrows, botoxing eyelids, puckering lips, signing up for weight-loss programs just to fit into what you, Male Human, find attractive.
You may think this is easy to get over. After all, it just means not giving a damn to how we look. But it is not easy. It took me a long time (about 10 years since I started caring about how I looked), to stop judging myself based on my looks. But every time I find myself in a purposeful conversation with you — and you suddenly remark on my looks — I find myself feeling happy to be ‘validated’ and then immediately sickened that I still seek validation from you.
A lot of us women consider our appearance as the most attractive attribute we have. My hope — by having you talk less about our appearance — is that it might make more of us think about other qualities we have and feel far less insecure.
If you want an ice breaker, consider the weather, or asking “How was your day today?”, or mentioning something stupid you did today (giving them the opportunity to tell you something stupid they did).
Don’t classify actions as ‘girly/feminine/manly’
I have been in many conversations where you would unconsciously drop in ‘that is so feminine’ (or ‘that is so gay’). I don’t blame you though, it is something that we all have indulged in.
You may wonder why this is causing me such heart burn. What I have noticed is that, the human species as a whole has a lot of actions in common. Classifying tasks/actions as male/female means we hesitate to take an action that is not supposed to be done by women. It takes a lot of effort and convincing to get us to do — let’s say, programming — because it has somehow gotten classified as an activity males should indulge in —like chopping wood.
Similarly, I am sure it would take a lot more effort to get you, Male Human, interested in Sewing compared to getting you interested in playing Tennis. All this, because of how we casually classify activities! Imagine what is available when we do not persist in doing so!
Talk to us
There is really no better way to find out what the fuss is about, other than actually talking to the people at the center of it. We are no worse than a fellow Male stranger you may converse with. Possibly, you might find us easier to talk with. Sometimes, it might be uncomfortable. If so, ask yourself why: Is it just not knowing what to talk about? Are you worried you might be considered a creep? Would you be considered less of a Male Human if you did?
Maybe, you do not know many women or maybe all your friends are men. Ask yourself why that is. What has caused this omission of a whole species of human beings from your active company? Perhaps you could do something about it. If you are a Manager, try hiring more women. If you are a meetup organizer, reach out to women to speak, or attend.
If you have read this far Male Human — thank you. This is just the beginning, I hope you can work with us in making this world a better place for everyone — not just women.