What Year Is This Anyway? Five Ways to Stop Gender Stereotyping.
I read a blog post this morning titled, “How To Be A Better Female Speaker.” I had to check my calendar just to make sure I hadn’t traveled through the space time continuum backwards to a less-evolved time like perhaps the 60s. A better FEMALE speaker? The writer went on to say she (YES! A WOMAN wrote this drivel.) had attended a conference in which the male speakers far outperformed the women. The men were powerful, forceful, and vibrant speakers who spoke loudly enough to be heard and rarely looked at their notes. The women were meek, timid speakers who read their Power Points word for word in voices hardly louder than a whisper. (And, btw, Power Points are so 2005. Are you sure that’s what those were?)
I almost don’t even know where to begin describing my annoyance and craft my response to this writer. Let’s see: How do you annoy me? Let me count the ways… (So, if you writers out there see yourself doing any of these things, please stop.) The writer’s words are those in italics.
- I’m assuming the women you heard speak were all over the age of 21 since they are in the corporate world. Yet, you used the word “girls” to describe women in this sentence: I’m not saying that I don’t respect these girls as people, or that I don’t amend them for their efforts. Interestingly, you don’t use the word “boys” to describe the male speakers. I think this says more about your view of these women than about their abilities. By infantilizing them, you display just a bit of intimidation. Since they’re up on stage and you’re in the audience I’m guessing you might just be a tad jealous or intimidated by the women and yet not the men. Methinks you are just a bit of a chauvinist. You can accept men in positions of power but not women.
- You go on to write: Stereotyping is wrong, but when we repeatedly reinforce the idea that women can’t speak, can you blame a person for believing it? So, you actually know stereotyping is wrong but then you go on to do so anyway. You’ve based your generalization on one conference you attended, yet you paint all women speakers with this broad brush.
- Your condescension knows no bounds. In writing about the importance of using volume when speaking to an audience you write: Sorry sweetie, your little voice is very adorable. You go on to describe said voice as “edibly-cute.” Ugh. My nausea at this knows no bounds. Would you describe any man’s voice that way? (Excluding say Pee Wee Herman.)
- You assume (and you know what happens when you assume) way too much in this statement: One woman, one of the most important department heads, completely forgot about us and therefore had to show up on the second day and present during our break. Exactly how do you know this? Is it because all women are ditzy that you feel comfortable making this stuff up? Maybe this “important” department head had something else she had to do and asked to be rescheduled for Day Two. You made not one negative comment about the male presenters.
- Your descriptions of the “emotional demeanor” of women made me cringe. You wrote: Every woman stood perfectly in place, shriveled up in fear, as if they were locked inside of an iron maiden. Okay, first, I have no idea what that iron maiden thing even means (and yet I hate it, something about the word maiden creeps me out in this usage) but just to make sure you got your point across you wrote this: And like a mouse on the look-out for a cat, they were significantly distracted by every little noise in the room. They were overall not emotionally ready to stand before us, and it showed. Comparing women to mice and men to cats on the prowl is so completely outdated and unacceptable and, frankly, it’s hackneyed and not even good writing. The women have to be emotionally prepared in your world but the men just step out, command attention and all is right in their world.
So, I know most of my writer friends don’t see themselves in these major mistakes. But the point is this. Check your language. It’s not just about writing. It’s about the way you think and evaluate the world. It’s way past time to update your gender points of view. College applications in some cases now offer 6 choices of gender identity. If you must stereotype, you’re at least going to have to step up your narrow-minded game beyond just MALE and FEMALE.
Here’s a test. I see two dancing figures in the foreground of this photo. I want to describe them, but I don’t want to choose words that stereotype them by gender. I’d say they’re both lithe, graceful, and strong, with arms reaching to the sky. If you’re okay with that you pass the test. If you think the tree on the left represents all women because she’s thinner (of course she is, we’re all watching our weight!)and less powerful with poorly developed muscles and not nearly as strong a reach as the one on the right who represents all men as bigger and stronger, you may have to travel back in time to when those thoughts were okay.
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