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.

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.

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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Labels are important.

They tell you whats inside the can, they list the ingredients and they warn about potential danger. Labels can also be limiting.images

Labeling people by their socio-economic class, religion, sexual orientation, race, marital status or political party usually reduces rather than enhances what you know about a person.

Here’s my rundown:

  • Middle-class, whatever that means
  • Atheist, despite the heroic efforts of my Catholic mother
  • Heterosexual
  • Caucasian
  • Married
  • Progressive Democrat

From that list you may think you can now predict how I will vote, where I will shop, and what media I will consume. That’s why we like the shorthand of labels. And that’s why most people resist being slapped with a label.

Once again in an un-named media source a famous young woman felt it necessary to state that contrary to everything she had just said, she was not in fact a Feminist. The way people run from being called feminist makes it seem like racism, pedophilia, murder and mayhem all rolled into one.

I grow very weary of this narrative.

I can’t believe it’s still necessary to tell people that Feminism doesn’t mean you hate men, or refuse to shave, or want women to run the world. The negative stereotyping goes hand in hand with the false belief that sexism no longer exists.

Sexism is a current and serious problem in our society just like racism. Neither of these problems are going away. Too many people benefit from the status quo.

I am a Feminist. I call myself a Feminist because if I only get one label to tell you what you will get when you open this can, Feminist does the job. I invite you to use that label to describe me, my writing, my point of view, whatever.

I’m stopping now because I’m feeling the urge to rant about the misogynistic hegemony and its impact on girl singers of the 21st century and I dont have time for 5,000 words. If you are a feminist, or even vaguely support the idea that women should have the right to vote, own property, have bank accounts, divorce their husbands, have access to reproductive health care…then have the guts to claim to be a feminist.

I just realized I wrote practically this same blog in 2012 – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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