James Comey took notes. Here’s why that’s a big deal for women (and men).
First, thank you for reading the title of this post and not immediately going: “A post about notes? Sounds about as interesting as reading an outdated dictionary. Nope!” I promise not to disappoint you.
So unless you’ve put a moratorium on news because it’s just too much to handle during the hypertension-inducing Trump administration (and who could blame you?), by now you know about the James Comey firing scandal. Today the NY Times reported on Comey’s—and the FBI’s—habit of documentation: “It also shined a bright light on something more commonplace: the F.B.I.’s practice of keeping careful, contemporaneous notes.”
As a habitual, obsessive notetaker I found myself going, “Yaaas, Comey! Hooty hoo, FBI!”
The poor bastard has been to hell and back and has landed himself on the Shit List of both sides of the aisle at various points in the last year, myself included. However, now I feel a kinship with the man because I, too, document EVERYTHING. This is probably the single thing we have in common–oh, besides the refusal to swear loyalty to Donald Trump. And our command of resting bitch face.
I’m an insatiable info hoarder
There are some fundamental reasons why taking notes is a smart habit. Since about fourth grade, I became fixated on jotting things down in class as fast as my little hand could. The same way I imagine hoarders feel a sense of anxiety about parting with objects that they feel they may need later (I picture a psychologist from Hoarders saying, honey, are you sure you need to hang onto that moldy toilet seat? while an old woman in pink sweat pants looks pissed off at the mere suggestion), I feel an anxious desire to capture what I hear in the event this information may be somehow useful later.
This makes sense if you think about it. We process huge amounts of information every day, and it’s difficult to know what’s meaningful as it’s coming at you. So if you tend to capture this data like butterflies in a net, you have insurance in the event that you need to query your notes database in the future. Maybe nothing you wrote down in a meeting will ever matter again, but maybe it will be the key to a critical business decision later. It makes me feel strangely comforted to know I’ve written something down, or typed it and stored it in a Google Doc somewhere.
Free up space in your brain
Taking notes is also a way to free up the finite amount of memory in the grey matter operating system between our ears. Doing it in real time, or as soon as possible after gaining new info, is ideal because it’s fresh. Perhaps paradoxically, I find that the act of writing notes actually can help me retain the info better in my brain, but even so—or when there’s just too much to remember, it’s helpful to know it’s also on the digital or physical page.
I’d rather free up that space to make memories of my niece’s giggle, or how a sunset looks, or my fiancé’s favorite cricket player. (Who am I kidding? I couldn’t name a cricket player if you paid me, because I think the game is interminable and awful. But I’m trying! Hear that, Matt?).
The Male Gaze on the Female Notetaker
There’s something else that struck a chord with me re: Comey and his notes (sounds like a band, doesn’t it?). I realized why I get such satisfaction in hearing this top governmental official being a write-stuff-down kinda man: It’s that very fact, actually. That he is a man.
Women-as-designated-note-takers has become a cliched emblem of sexism. Taking notes in real time, if you’re really committed to it, takes you out of an active role in the conversation and into a passive recording function—and that’s traditionally been one of the few literal and metaphorical “seats at the table” that women have held. This is not to say that it’s not an important function or one to be ashamed of—quite the opposite. It’s more that the associations or connotations feel inferior. Secretarial.
So I think that’s why I’m so tickled about this disclosure of the FBI’s “culture of note-keeping”—Comey seems to have yanked note-keeping out of the female, administrative shadows and into the realm of Critical Executive Behaviors. Taking notes is a big f-ing deal and important men do it. Granted, Comey didn’t take notes in real time, but he jotted them down immediately after. And I’d like to think that even if there were a woman present to do it for him, that this grown-ass man would’ve done it himself.
So, to recap: You really never know when you will wish you’d written something down. So do it. And do it yourself, whether you’re a lady or a gent.