Dear Society —
Hello, it’s me, a woman in America. I’ve spent a few decades learning from you and I have a favor to ask of you. But first, I’d like to give you a refresher on some of the lessons you have taught me over the years:
If I don’t want to be hollered at on the street, I shouldn’t leave my home.
Men will approach women no matter what they are wearing, who they are with, or where they are. I have been hit on while barely peeking out of my oversized parka; while wearing a sweatsuit; while with my husband; while pushing my baby in a stroller. I’ve had a man circle around the block after yelling at me through the open window of his truck. It was 7:45 AM. While there are many respectable men out there, many others have shown me how little they respect women. Nowhere is this more evident to me than on city streets.
My superiors will be male. My counterparts will be female.
This is not a statistic from my work history, but it is what you, Society, tell me. Men will advance and become leaders, and women will fill in the gaps between what leaders do and what entry-level folks do. With care-taking embedded deep within our DNA, women generally tend to what needs to be taken care of around the office. Without us, businesses would crumble. And yet our advancements would mean men would be left cleaning up messes and fetching coffee. So there we remain, somewhere in the ambiguous middle.
I won’t be taken seriously.
Everyone feels, but not everyone shares it. The patriarchy in which we live says men shouldn’t share their feelings; it’s effeminate. But if women want to be taken seriously, we shouldn’t share our feelings either. We are supposed to lead with our heads instead of our hearts. To many of us, this isn’t natural. So by being ourselves, we aren’t taken as seriously as we deserve to be.
If I want to look good, I need to be thin.
You’ve seen the movies, the magazines, the models. Thin is the shape clothes look good on. When a company, like Dove or Aerie, for example, includes “plus-sized” models in their marketing, the news hits the headlines with as much vigor as when Brittany shaved her head. This shouldn’t be news (though it’s great news!) — it should just be normal.
If I want to make as much as my male counterparts, I need to work 15 percent harder.
Or work an additional 39 days annually, according to national averages reported by Pew Research Center. To complicate matters, I am one of the 42 percent of women who have reduced work hours to be with their children. Though a rewarding arrangement while my daughter is young, the long-tail implications may be damaging to my career. This perpetuates my already-stifled professional opportunities.
If I want to be heard, I have to yell.
This is part personality type, part gender, but a lesson all the same: men can talk and women must yell. Many men — not all — feel comfortable interrupting and talking over women, as if their voices are more important than ours. It isn’t their fault, though. This is merely the society they’re a part of. This is natural!
These are all stereotypes of course, and I know many men who would never dream of doing any of the above. But something else you’ve taught me, Society, is that stereotypes are often perpetuated.
With the help of supportive people all around me — women and men — I have taken these tough lessons in stride and have made something of myself. Something, I must add, I am proud of. I am not asking you to apologize. You can’t take back what you have taught me. What I am asking for, instead, is a promise.
Promise me you will not teach my daughter what you taught me.
— A woman in America