Lots of things go in this category.

If we were living in normal times I would’ve been writing about current events on my blog as a way of processing and inviting conversation. Instead I’ve been deliberately silent.

I stayed silent because so many people are strongly and poignantly expressing the collective horror, sadness and outrage that I also feel over the murder of George Floyd and the countless other black men and women dying from injustice.

Because I respect the need to center Black voices in the ongoing struggle against racism, I have retweeted, reposted and amplified to my admittedly small circle.

I am doing what I can, where I can, when I can and I know I can do better. I committed long ago to challenge my biases, to engage other white people around race, to work to dismantle systemic oppression, and to broaden the conversation about DEI.

What’s prompting me to write now is the wave of despair I feel witnessing relentless Calling Out against allies because they are not devoting 100% of their attention to anti-racism 100% of the time.

There is legitimate and undisputed need for anti-black racism to remain in the public awareness through news, social media and active protest.  American citizens habitually lose interest and look away when a tragedy dominates the news cycle for “too long”. So we know that it’s essential that people don’t move on when nothing has yet changed.

But what is gained by Calling Out or shaming an ally for posting on Insta or Twitter about something significant in their life not connected to racism?

I’m not talking about influencers taking a #BLM selfie for product placement, or celebrities making tone-deaf, self-serving public statements, I’m talking about people who have committed to being non-performative advocates and allies willing to own all of their flaws & mistakes along the way.

I know that allyship is in the eye of the beholder, but I fear that so much calling out & attacking will lead to shame and inaction.

It’s a big leap for some folks to even realize that all Black people are not aligned on how white allies should engage.

  • One person says “Remember to check on your Black friends and co-workers” and another person says “Stop performing caring and leave us alone!”.
  • One co-worker says “Stand up for me and speak out”, and another colleague says “Don’t presume to save me or speak for me”.

The conflicting messages are, in fact, the first part of the learning. Feeling uncertainty and discomfort about doing or saying the wrong thing is baseline for personal growth.

Calling someone out is easy on Twitter/Insta/FaceBook. Calling someone In is harder and takes more time. It’s that same immediacy that causes us to withhold the grace for others mistakes that we often have in person.

Our society appears to be increasingly susceptible to polarization and absolutes rather than nuance. This is nowhere more apparent than on the internet where “with us or against us” is now signaled by a persons willingness to wear a mask during a pandemic.

The calls for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, criminal justice reform, and defunding police/refunding the community have caused some people on social media to adopt a “with us or against us” attitude toward posting.

Some folks are viewing any deviation from anti-racist content on social media as grounds for attacking the sincerity of the supposed ally’s commitment to anti-racism. That requirement moves allyship from an ongoing process of learning about and taking action against oppression (my definition) to an impossible place of never messing up and never posting about anything other than racism.

That feels like defeat to me.

I know I can’t live up to that measure on social media, in my work or in my life. I don’t abandon my allyship because of fatigue or because as a white cis-gender woman I have the privilege of ignoring racism. But I reserve the right to have the fullness of life – the sorrow and the joy, the horror and the beauty, the serious and the frivolous.

I am single minded in my devotion to working to make the world more compassionate, equitable and just. I am just as single minded in my commitment to my ongoing learning about my own biases, privileges, and blind spots.

Enjoying a cat video or a beautiful garden doesn’t diminish my commitment to Black Lives Matter. Posting on Twitter about PRIDE, or disability rights or Women in STEM doesn’t diminish my commitment anti-racism. Things may slow me down, life events might interfere, but my dedication doesn’t change.

I was thinking of the Emma Goldman quote “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution” as I scrolled through various attacks and subsequent mea culpas social media. We have a framed print by the activist artist Ricardo Levins Morales in our house to remind us of the fullness of life.

We have another print included below that illustrates a quote by the labor activist Rose Schneiderman that I read daily. It is my prayer for the world – that we will all have the right to life, and the sun, and music and art. That we all have bread and roses.

But first we need to find faith in each other and a little grace.

Ricardo Levins Morales illustrates a quote by Rose Schneiderman

 

 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called “bossy”. Or “intimidating”.

Or how about “too” anything as in “too loud”, “too angry”, “too pushy” and, my favorite, the generic insult “too much.”

What these adjectives have in common, other than the fact that they’ve all been applied to me, is that they’re often used to remind (or force) women to remember accepted gender roles/norms. Being “too much”, bossy, or aggressive deviates from social expectations of the “nice” behavior that keeps folks comfortable.

I could get lost right here in a rant about the hegemonic, heteropatriarchy reinforcing the status quo, but I have a different point to make today.

My point is that when I coach women clients, or speak with women at workshops, invariably some version of the bossy accusation comes up. The women know these phrases are used as an attempt to diminish and silence them. It’s not a mystery. But it still stings.

The only thing that comes up more often is time management, followed by self-care as a close third. Because if you had better time management skills you would have some time for self-care right?!?

I know folks are working to shift the narrative on cultural norms and we’re all supposed to aspire to being a “Bad B**ch” or a #Bossbabe, but to me that feels like reinventions of the Enjoli woman with better memes.

Real women navigating insults and slights have to decide how to own the words and then strategize about when to ignore, when to reframe, or when to modify their behavior and language to make others comfortable.

Most simply aspire to being accepted, advancing, and achieving without censure or backlash for being insufficiently nice, agreeable or modest.

In the meantime, while we wait and work for the slow, societal shift away from sexism I propose the following solution.

A dance club.

Specifically a “Bossy Women’s Dance Club”. We would only admit women who have been consistently accused of being Bossy, Pushy, Intimidating, or Angry for a minimum of 27 years. Unfortunately, this means some members of the club will be in their early 30’s.

Feminist men of all ages are welcome if a member vouches for their feminism. Men will however pay an additional entrance fee equal to the percentage of the gender pay gap represented by their race.

A dance club would promote self-care with a triple whammy of “me time” in a nurturing, space with like minded folks, fun music to dance to (exercise!) and well made cocktails.

So as I wait for my angel investor to make the Club dream a reality, I make do with … Jazzercise.

I’ve attended Jazzercise in different spots since the late 80’s when leg warmers were all but required. I currently drive 30 minutes – each way – 3 days a week in DC traffic to get to a really great studio in Arlington run by a powerhouse of positive energy named Renee.

Jazzercise lets me sweat in a room without mirrors and pretend I’m still someone who could get into a club. It lets me worship at the altar of Mr. Worldwide with zero side eye & no discussion about the inherent cognitive dissonance necessary for my enjoyment of his beats.

Jazzercise is the perfect “self-care” for my bossy, middle-aged self because there’s no such thing as “too much” on the dance floor.

If you see me at Jazzercise I hope you’ll be pushy and introduce yourself.

I’m updating my website with the help of a super talented, visually oriented friend.

An unexpected response to the necessary questions like “who is your audience?”, and “what do you want people to feel when they visit your website?”, is my deep and sincere sense of panic at answering them.

Do I tell the truth? Or do I stick with my default of describing my work with simple, practical language in as spare a way as possible. The goal is to convey a professional persona that makes people think “reliable”, “serious”, “focused”, “knowledgeable”… “Let’s hire her!” and so forth.

Along the way I completely stripped out that I am any fun or even have a personality.

I could justify this mode of communication because of the need to be professional, and blah, and blah and blah. Truthfully, it was a fear based choice.

I was afraid that if the messy bits of who I am get out again they would undermine the image I should portray to the world. Yeah I said “should.”

The reality is that its a lot of work to live up to “shoulds”: to monitor and suppress parts of yourself that you or society deem “unacceptable.” My little problem stems from years of being told that my personality was “too much”, “too big”, and “intimidating”.  That I needed to “tone it down”.

I believed the criticism and developed a serious style as a form of self-preservation and as a way to fit in where I was told I didn’t.

The serious style stuck because there is a risk to being complex and nuanced in a sound-bite world. A world where we can know and share everything instantly and no communication is immune to a well-timed screen shot.

As I am now writing descriptions to represent how and what I do when I coach & facilitate, I’m looking for ways to create a more authentic picture of myself that includes the flash and flamboyance, the irreverence and humor, that I (mostly) keep wrapped up and out of site.

The reason for the change is at this point in my career I prefer to work with people who know and accept who I am as a whole person, rather than continue to squeeze myself into a non-threatening, low-risk, “toned down” black suited shape.

Nearly everything I do when coaching and facilitating starts in a place of discomfort for participants. Its a risk to engage in personal development, or talk about race/gender/LGBTQ bias, equity and inclusion, and discomfort accompanies progress.

So with less attention on the risk of my being “too much”, I’ll work with my friend to see if we can get my website to authentically reflect who I am, how I work and what to expect when you hire me as your coach or facilitator.

With or without the black suit and serious expression.

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When I tell the story of my career path I often use the image of a mosaic.

I sometimes use the words “Once upon a time…” to help bridge the distance between the idea of “job” and “career path” for audiences who may be more comfortable with one word and not the other.

At one point in my life I had jobs in what is now called “the gig economy”, scraping by in the nonprofit world doing what I loved. To make that possible I also worked cash registers, served fast food, cleaned houses, sold advertising and hustled for free lance.

When I was a child I loved books, and school, and my teachers so I thought I would also be a teacher.

As a young adult I imagined my life would always include the arts (Once upon a time I was an actor & director…), or arts management (I spent years at Cleveland Public Theatre & then founded and ran Red Hen Productions, Feminist Theatre…), or some creativity (play and story writing…), outside of this peripatetic blog.

Then I imagined I would spend my life in the academy reading, writing, discussing and teaching philosophy. (That’s a longer story…)

I was lucky to find my true vocation (coaching & facilitating change) and now devote most of my time and energy to working with people and organizations who do good in the world.

Because I was a citizen of the USA and worked at liberal (or tolerant) organizations, I always had the freedom (within reason) to be politically active without fearing repercussions or retaliation.

Now, as someone who is self-employed, my job is my career.

That means I have thought long and hard about what repercussions my opinions and political activity will have on my ability to get work. I know that I am a small fish in a small pond, and maybe (hopefully!) I am being paranoid, but the world seems to be titling toward those who take names and make lists.

Years ago, while canvassing for domestic partner registration, I spoke with an elderly Jewish man who said “I will never vote for this! It is a terrible idea! Lists make it too easy for them to find you.”

Thinking of this Jewish man, and with conscious choice, I have decided to resume writing about my politics on this blog. It is part of the mosaic of who I am and will only become more so if we continue our drift toward despotism. (Please watch this crystal clear 10 minute explanation of despotism if you think my use of that phrase is hyperbolic.)

And, as an American citizen, I believe political engagement really is my job.

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It’s not quite time yet for looking back on the highs and lows of 2016, but going to the Board of Elections and voting today threw me into a reflective mood. Off the top of my head I counted five unexpected milestones in my life so far this year.

#5 – Charging what I’m worth.

When I started consulting years ago it never occurred to me that I should be paid. I was very invested in helping people and using my skills for good. I was doing people “favors.”

One day a good friend expressed shock  when he found out that I didn’t charge for consulting and it woke me up to the fact that I was perpetuating another female stereotype by not valuing myself. Of course I started by charging ridiculously low fees and being embarrassed by the transaction.

I have been slowly creeping up to industry norms for coaching and consulting even though my impulse is to offer a discount to every nonprofit, or women’s organization, or client who I imagine is paid poorly.

It was never about the money but now that I have quit my job to consult, the reality of paying bills and a kid soon to be in college means I am biting my tongue and charging what I am worth. And so far no one is complaining. Which brings me to…

#4 – Quitting my job.

When I resigned from Case Western Reserve I had been employed there in one position or another since 2001. I was hired one week after I’d finished my Masters and two weeks before my mother died. It was a big transition year.

I loved many things about my work at CWRU, and I accomplished a great deal over the years, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of the habit of over work has been the strangest transition so far. Between consulting nights & weekends, and volunteering various places, I was working a 60-70 hour week for about five years. Now working 40 hours feels lazy. If I take on more clients that may change but right now it gives me time for …

#3 – Separating from my kid.

Along with the frenzied senior year activities of college visits, applications, essays and, of course the FAFSA, I am getting a glimpse of the future where our daughter is no longer a satellite in our orbit, and we become a satellite in hers. This is a very good thing and a very deep lesson that won’t be mastered quickly.

In the meantime because I am working from home I can generally stop what I am doing and have lunch with her and hear about her day when she gets home. I joke that for her senior year she gets the stay-at-home mother she craved when she was in elementary school.

It’s actually an unexpected and lovely byproduct of quitting my job that we have extra time together for the next 10 months. Even though she is spending a great deal of time out of the house taking some college courses, doing her extra curriculars, and volunteering as a fall fellow for the Clinton campaign. Which brings me to …

#2 – Voting for Hillary Clinton.

That was one for the books. Even though our entire family and almost everyone we know is donating money and working like crazy for the Clinton campaign, I paused before I filled in the bubble on my ballot. I suddenly felt emotional that I was actually voting for a woman for president.

And specifically this woman who I admire and respect and disagree with.

So far during this election cycle I have cried three times. First during Hillary’s acceptance speech at the convention, and then while watching some particularly disturbing reporting and awful backlash about sexism, and today when I filled out my ballot. I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime.

#1 – Milestone for 2016

I am planning to add the final milestone to this list on November 9th with something else that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. And I’ll probably cry.

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Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to American women since Seneca Falls.

In my work I get to facilitate conversations about implicit bias (racism, sexism, classism etc.) usually by using logic and humor, evidence and anecdote. These are calm, introspective, respectful conversations designed to be a thought-provoking means for people to understand that implicit bias is a human problem.

But now, with Donald Trump saying, or being accused of, something biased nearly every time he opens his mouth, the reality of assorted -isms is front and center in the public dialogue. No more pussyfooting around! Women are speaking up every day about the appalling, pervasive reality of sexist behavior and the weight of the evidence is to great too ignore.  And I am grateful.

The reason I named my blog Amandatoryrant was because once upon a time I facilitated conversations and trainings around bias that were mandated. This often seems like a good solution to the folks mandating, but its a tough go for those who don’t want to be in the room.

Like with many change initiatives, the first hurdle with bias is understanding there is in fact a problem. The second much larger hurdle is understanding that you – yes you – are part of the problem. This is a dangerous and fertile ground. Rich bottom land ripe for planting new ideas that is studded with landmines.

No one wants to be accused of being racist, sexist or think of themselves as guilty of any other bias. We are all good people.

However, thanks to Trumps unrelenting sexism and the growing evidence presented by women he has groped and assaulted, we are experiencing a crack in the complacency that normally surrounds these “minor incidents.”

The fact that millions of women are now sharing stories of how their bodies are touched against their will is making it easier to talk about everyday, casual sexism. This isn’t “he said, she said” this is millions of assertions of “that is my experience”, which makes it harder for reasonable people to ignore or discount.

So thanks Trump, for showing the world that sexism is really, really a thing. And its huge. It’s a disaster.

Once we accept that bias (implicit and overt) is a thing – and that we can do something to change it – the final hurdle is deciding what that something will be.

This is where I come in. I spend a great deal of my life (professional and personal) talking, training, and writing about bias in one form or another.

Coaching individual women (and some men) to surf, survive, and thrive inside systems where implicit bias burdens them with invisible obstacles. Coaching individual men (and some women) to examine and change systems where implicit bias has taken root.  And helping groups, large and small, to articulate their ideals and wrestle with how to live by them every day.

Our country is on track to [continue to] experience sexist, racist, xenophobic backlash for the next 8 – 12 years. And, thanks to Trump ripping the band-aid off our complacency, we are also on track to make progress around issues that will no longer remain under the surface.

I suspect that I will have a lot more folks knocking on my door looking for a consultant to help reduce bias and improve their culture of inclusion.

Call me. I can’t wait to get started.

mommy

 

I survived watching the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The only moment that made me scream “What!?!” at the top of my lungs  came during post-debate analysis when syndicated columnist Mark Shields said that “Clinton is not likeable” and that she didn’t show herself to be the “kind of person you want in the carpool or on the PTA.”

Suddenly I felt like I was 13 years old again struggling to contain tears of frustration as I attempt to argue with my father and older brother that women are as good as men and deserve equal rights.

I didn’t have the language in 1978 to articulate the documented societal, cultural, and institutional obstacles that get in the way of women advancing and thriving in their careers.  What I did have all those years ago was a bone deep knowledge that I and other women were not getting a fair shake because of our gender.

By benefit of the world I grew up in and the family that raised me I learned quite a few lessons early:

  • Tears make you weak and only the strong get respect.
  • Strong women are angry and no one likes an angry woman.
  • If you don’t smile all the time you are angry.
  • Its OK for men to interrupt you and it’s rude of you to interrupt others.
  • You really don’t know what you are talking about if a mans opinion differs from yours.
  • If you complain about sexist behavior you are using gender as an excuse.
  • You only see sexist behavior because you are looking for it.
  • Other women may support your position, or tell you to stop making waves.

Watching the presidential debate last night, it appears that almost nothing has changed since I was 13.

One of the most accomplished women alive was accorded zero respect by an inexperienced man who blustered and shouted instead of answering questions. The post-debate judgement of performance was equally bizarre:

  • Her calm, composed presence was called “an icy stare.”
  • Her composed, thoughtful answers were called “a timid, hesitant start.”
  • Her thoughtful, detailed plans were called “an inability to give a short answer.”

Otherwise known as she can’t win for losing.

I recently had the pleasure of delivering a keynote at a women’s conference where I very lightly touched on some of the ways that gender bias can get in the way of women advancing and thriving in their careers. I say lightly because not everyone (women included) believes that gender bias is a thing.

Joan Williams does a brilliant job detailing four kinds of bias in her book “What Works for Women at Work.” Williams calls the balance women must strike between “likeability” and authority, “The Tightrope”.  This “Tightrope” is one Hillary Clinton has been walking for so long that she can probably now do blind-folded pirouettes at 10,000 feet.

But it doesn’t matter if her “likability” isn’t based on whether she’s the kind of woman you want sitting next to you at an important meeting, but whether she’s the kind of woman you want to rely on for your car pool.

While this sexist comment by Shields was meant to show how unlikable Hillary Clinton is I must say that if I had to choose someone to rely on to pick up my kid after practice I would stake my daughter’s LIFE on Clinton being there every time. Early. With freakin snacks.

In fact, I believe she is qualified for – and has excelled at – every position she has ever taken on from senior class president to senator to secretary of state.

So yes, Mark Shields, I am comfortable with Hillary Clinton running the PTA, the car pool and the United States of America.

housework

A New York Times opinion piece about work/life balance (“A Toxic Work World“) is making the rounds and stirring up a storm of comments. The author points out, among other things, that the culture of  overwork is not a gender issue but a work issue where equity will mean we value care giving.

We have a definite bias towards exhaustion and “110%” as proof of value in our culture. Its a system that benefits men overwhelmingly as Joan Williams brilliantly explains in her book and in nice bite sized video bits.

My reaction to the piece was colored by a conversation I had a few days before it came out. I was in a salon getting a service and chatting as you do about kids and current events and the nice for a change weather.

The woman waiting on me has a daughter a year older than mine and is deep in the college selection process that we’ve been nibbling around the edges. She was telling me her daughter wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and was working with the guidance counselor trying to find the right school in their price range.

But she was convincing her daughter to drop law because no one can have a family with that kind of lifestyle. If she goes into the health field she doesn’t have to be a doctor, she can be something where she can go part time for a while when she has kids.

I understand that every family is different. I understand that we all have our own values.

But I don’t understand why a 17 year old girl should make life choices today to accommodate possible future children that she may or may not want or need to stay home while they’re young.

I tried a few examples, anecdotes and facts to shake the mothers view. But she would not be persuaded her daughter could have it all. She knew better.

Our culture limits us and we limit ourselves.

Lets try not to limit our children.

“Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life
Waiting your time, you’re more than just a wife
You don’t want to do what your mother has done…”

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I wish I had a truth mirror. I would hold it up in front of my clients so they could magically see what others see.

One of my biggest frustrations with my (usually women) clients is their inability to recognize and own their unique talents, abilities, skills and knowledge. I witness time and again the automatic downgrading of skills because if its easy for them then it must not be that hard, right?

Some of this is modesty and style, some of it is living in a culture that treats women who own their accomplishments as “pushy” and “braggy.” And I think a massive chunk is related to the fact that we spend so, so much time reflecting on what is wrong with us that we never get around to what is right.

Ask someone to list all the ways they need to improve, and the list is long.

Ask someone to list all the ways they excel and often its … crickets.

We do this in our personal lives when we name bits and pieces we like (“I have good hair and pretty hands”), but don’t find much to recommend about the whole package. I’m guilty of this one myself, see above hair and hands.

It’s hard to listen to people underrate and diminish their skills, especially skills that I don’t have and couldn’t begin to master. BUT its totally satisfying to witness them finally understanding and owning their value.

The frustration I struggle with every time is that I want them to get there more quickly. I know I can’t hurry anyone’s learning, and the magic truth mirror only works if you are ready look in it, but a girl can dream.

“Mirror, Mirror in my hand,

Who’s got the maddest skills in the land?”

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Given their druthers race is not usually the go to conversation topic for most people. It’s not hard to understand really, when you think about the ever present fear of saying or doing something that will get you called a racist.

I can say from experience someone calling you a racist (or homophobic) feels awful. I’ve been called both.

You can’t really defend yourself when someone calls you racist because its their perception of who you are.  Based on whatever facts they are using (assuming words or actions), our intentions, motivations and back story are no longer relevant.

What ever you say ends up sounding like a “but I have black friends” excuse.

When I have the opportunity to lead workshops about race I usually pull out the Jay Smooth video. This does a couple of things: gets some very important ideas in the open quickly, lets everyone look at a screen rather than each other while they hear those ideas, and puts an African-American voice in the room.

The fact that I am a white woman can work for or against me when talking about race. Again perception.

The other day someone introduced me to a new tool for my tool box.

Amandla Stenberg, a 16-year old actress, made a video about cultural appropriation for her history class: “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows – a crash discourse on black culture.” I give it an “A” for its ability to raise issues in a meaningful way that leads to further discussion.

Don’t know why this feels like progress in the face of continual reporting of black men and women being shot to death by police, but it does.

Given my druthers I’d wade into a tough conversation every day if could. Anyone need a workshop?

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As Women’s History month drifts to a close I feel like we are running in place with once step forward, two steps back on improving gender equity.  And don’t get me started on intersectionality.

I read the article reposted below and agreed 100%. But I can’t count the number of times I have advised women clients on how to be more assertive without crossing the invisible line into being “a bitch.”

Saying ‘Stop interrupting me’ sounds like a good idea until you get called uncooperative and hostile. And saying ‘I just said that’ may feel good until you’re told you always try to take credit for everything.

It’s a dilemma, and a dance, and a lousy reality. So please don’t tell me that we don’t need these “special months,” or that we should have a “men’s history month if we are going to be equal.” I write a lot about gender and racial equity in this blog, so you can look up all my radical opinions that support my argument if you like.

Or you can ponder the fact a post tagged “Girly Things” gets double the click rate of a post tagged “Feminism.”

The post below is long. And true. And makes me wonder if teaching my daughter manners has hobbled her for life. Bad feminist. Bad mommy.


By Soraya Chemaly / alternet.org

“Stop interrupting me.”  “I just said that.” “No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in court adopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,”

“I just said that,” and

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.


Soraya L. Chemaly writes about feminism, gender and culture. She writes for the Huffington Post, Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others.

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This morning, I heard someone say “women hold up half the sky”, and I thought, “I would be happy if most people just held up their half of the conversation.”  I’m hosting an event this evening where I will spend a lot of time chatting and being charming.

It may not look like it but there is an art to introducing people, remembering and providing the right details to get them talking, so they can get to know each other, so they can have a good time.

Sometimes its a lot of work, sometimes its a lot of fun.

My mental RSVP list for every event I throw has two columns: 1) attending, and 2) “totally cool and fun”. The translation of “totally cool and fun”, in adult speak, is “interesting conversationalist.”

I am unfortunately stuck with “totally cool” being automatically the highest praise that comes out of my mouth, but I am able to translate it if I pause for a second.

Conversation is important to me. Not just for work events (mine or my husbands), but because it really centers and connects me in the world. I need to talk and listen and hear stories and new ideas. I am not now and never will be a solitary, introverted person.

I once had the privilege of attending a storyweaving workshop with Spiderwoman Theater. The sisters were powerful and funny and that day with them years ago gave me a way to see how the threads of my experience come together and are part of a larger design.

That weaving of connections, of people, of patterns is never far from my mind, especially when I am listening to clients tell me their stories.

I often tell my female clients to avoid describing their work as “weaving together” or “creating a tapestry” because these tasks are associated with “women’s work” and are generally devalued in mainstream US culture.

But that is what I do. And what I love to do. Help my coaching clients find their threads, stitch them together, see the value, the connection to humanity.

Women’s work.

Its a rambly post today, but in honor of the topic I’m not going to edit or try to fix it. Or even find the spelling and punctuation errors that I invariably make.

One last thing: If you have never visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC I highly recommend it. It was humbling to understand the vastness of what I didn’t know (and still don’t) about Native American cultures.

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The women of Spiderwoman Theater. Still going strong.

I have been writing too much for the last month to write a blog post in case that’s an acceptable excuse. No time to rant, rave and pick apart the midterm elections, misguided legislation, or the multitude of other irritations that constitute my daily life in 2014.

I am making an exception today for those of you who missed #shirtstorm because it’s never a good idea to let sleeping pigs lie.

A re-post from Dame Magazine (for women who know better)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that wearing a busty-babe-embellished top on a media tour was a bad idea.
Written by Jess Zimmerman
This week, the European Space Agency pulled off two extraordinary feats: a historic and exciting probe landing on a comet, and an act of bad taste so extreme that it manages to show up the worst of exclusionary science culture in one ugly garment.
ESA scientist Matt Taylor, perhaps emboldened by the viral success of mohawked NASA dreamboat Bobak Ferdowsi, made the dubious choice to do his media interviews in a shirt covered in bustiered cartoon ladies. This met with moderate outrage, as a number of science journalists pointed out that going on TV bedecked with the entire contents of a Heavy Metal magazine is maybe not the way to send the message “science is a respectful and supportive field for women.” That’s where the REAL outrage started.
With their usual immunity to irony, men on the internet got very, VERY angry about the “overreaction” to Taylor’s shirt. In particular, they latched onto a tweet by science writer and editor Rose Eveleth (full disclosure: a friend of mine and an awesome person). Rose’s “overreaction” featured mild sarcasm: “No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt.” The Internet Men Collective’s entirely proportional response included “kill yourself,” “quit your bitching,” the inexplicable “sometimes try sex, you’ll be better,” and a sigh-inducing “get back in the kitchen” cliché.
But the “jump off a cliff” responses were larded with a huge portion of something even more insidious: a whole battalion of helpful men sniffing that Taylor obviously didn’t MEAN to offend. He just wanted to wear his funny fancy shirt! He didn’t intend to make a point about how science and scientists view women, or the role that women play! He wasn’t even thinking at ALL about how women might feel!
Well, yes. That’s actually the problem. Taylor’s shirt sends the message that women aren’t welcome in the science community not because he was intending to send that message, but because he didn’t care.
If you asked Taylor directly, he’d probably say he was a big supporter of women in STEM. Most advisers and lab directors and tenure committees would tell you the same. Overtly misogynist throwbacks certainly exist, but one of the paltry nice things about 2014 is that by now, very few male scientists would tell a woman “you’re not welcome here.” Not to her face.
But that’s not the only way sexism works. No, sexism in science doesn’t mean advisers take their students aside and say “don’t worry, you’ll pass your thesis defense, because I’ve noticed we both have a penis.” It doesn’t mean tenure committee meetings include the action item “DID YOU NOTICE SHE’S A WOMAN? INAPPROPRIATE? DISCUSS.” It doesn’t mean lab doors have signs saying “no open-toed shoes and no chicks.”
Here’s what male scientists and historically male-led departments do instead: Offer little or no maternity leave for graduate students. Evaluate women employees on their personalities rather than their competence. Make jokes that cause women colleagues to feel left out and belittled. Go on national television in a shirt that shows women as decorative, sexualized semi-nudes. Hire people who just seem to fit in with the culture that thinks all of this is okay.
These aren’t targeted, conscious, deliberate acts of discrimination. They’re a miasma, a stench that settles over the science building and tells women: “This place isn’t for you.” And it’s a stink that men can’t even smell—that’s what privilege means. They’re not trying to make a noxious cloud; they support women in STEM! They just aren’t equipped to notice it, not unless they’re looking. Not unless they get out their sensors and analyze everything like a Ghostbuster walking around the New York Public Library. Who has the time?
Well, if you don’t have the time, then congratulations: You do not support women in STEM. You don’t want them there. If you did, you’d make a micron of effort to detect and dispel the Man Only fumes settling over your lab. Instead, you’re sitting at your microscope in the middle of a dense fog of poison you’re immune to, telling women “come on into the gas cloud, I don’t see why you wouldn’t, it’s fine for me.” And the sensor is inches from your hand, but you’re too lazy to pick it up.
If you actually do want to support women in STEM—and I believe that many men believe they do—then yes, you have to pay attention, and think, and care about how your culture treats them and how it makes them feel. I know this is hard. It’s unfamiliar, and unfamiliar things are often uncomfortable. It doesn’t come naturally right away. It may not come naturally for a while.
But it sure isn’t rocket science.

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Over dinner the other night we had one of those twisty turny conversations that kept us at the table an hour longer than it took to eat our food. During a discussion at school a bunch of my daughters classmates argued that there is no such thing as depression. It’s all in your head.

My daughter and her friends were furious. They know people personally who suffer from depression and know its no joke. In re-playing the argument for us the kid started rattling off statistics and data about how we know that depression is genetic, and when you stigmatize people they wont get help and it all gets worse.

All true unfortunately.

I asked if the teacher corrected the students when they were expressing opinions that were false and she said no, the teacher said she doesn’t want to push her opinions on anyone during discussions.

I have a problem with this kind of thinking. Correcting a FACT that someone has wrong is not “pushing your opinion.” Facts are objective and verifiable, opinions often judge facts, therefore opinions can sometimes change.

Beliefs are different. No evidence required for a belief which makes it inarguable. And this is exactly what makes it inadmissible as any part of a logical argument or defense of an opinion.

And then there’s bullshit, which is just prejudice hiding behind beliefs put forth as “my opinion.” People arguing from belief often try to say the facts are false and usually close with “we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

If I could wave a magic wand I would make deductive logic part of every K-12 curriculum in the US. And part of teacher training while we’re at it. I blame the creationists and the Koch Bros., but that’s a whole other discussion.

Anyway. We started digging into various social stigmas from the past like having acne, left-handedness or being Irish. Unfortunately it takes a couple of generations to reduce stigmas in society at large. There are still lots of stigmas in US society: mental illness, poverty, disability, abortion, HIV-AIDS, and of course obesity. I’m sure I missed a few.

It’s somewhat less common now for people to use words like “retard” and “fag” as pejoratives but few would hesitate to call someone fat. Or “fat bitch” – those two seem to just go together don’t they? Like peanut butter and jelly.

When we finally had to stop the conversation because homework was waiting, the kid was quite impressive tying together depression, stigma, gender bias, body image and the evils of Reddit in her closing remarks. I’m sure that wasn’t the final word on these topics.

Our talk reminded me of a book from the 1970’s that I once owned and foolishly lent out “Fat is a Feminist Issue”. And one recommended by a very thin friend that I read recently “Two Whole Cakes.”

Unfortunately being fat is something you can’t hide like mental illness, your abortion or your HIV status. It’s all out there and its an easy target. Fat is one stigma we will not overcome anytime soon. That statement is both a fact and an opinion.

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There are lots of ways to shut down women when they are speaking. For me the one that stings the most – even more than being called bossy, intimidating, strident or bitch – is the comment “Tell us what you really think.”

Not only does this remark effectively shut me up, it implies my strong opinion is laughable. Less valid because of how it’s expressed.

For good or ill I was born with strong opinions so I have been cut with this particular knife too many times to count. I take some responsibility because I know I do get going sometimes, hence the outlet of my Rant blog.

However, I’ve also spent the last umpteen years trying to squash my voice and style to fit someone else’s definition of acceptable. All that every got me was accusations of “cold and unemotional.” Can’t win for losing.

Just once I would like to hear someone acknowledge that when I am speaking strongly it’s because I care deeply.

If you use this expression, the next time someone around you is vehemently expressing their outrage rather than ridiculing, consider instead an observation that the topic is important to them. Or maybe ask why it’s a hot button issue for them, there is sure to be a reason – do you want to hear it?  Or share your perspective & your reasons.

Anything other than effectively saying “Shut up” would be appreciated by me and all the other loud-mouth, enthusiastic, outraged women out there.

And I will continue my struggle to moderate my emotions to a level that is more comfortable for the world.

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