May 27, 2015

Women Speaking Up (and other things on my mind lately)

I didn’t intend to do a links post quite so soon after my last one, but a few things I read recently have been rattling around inside my head — and what are blogs for if not to document that?

  • Deborah Cameron, a feminist sociolinguistics professor and the author of the excellent The Myth of Mars and Venus, wrote a post titled Why Women Talk Less that offers an in-depth, systemic analysis of why women are marginalised in public arenas.

  • Cameron’s post resonated with a lot of thoughts I’ve been having lately, about gender and politics and wider inequality and essentially living a life I can bear, even if it’s not strictly about all of these things. The following passages in particular really spoke to me, in the same way Carol Tavris’ “but the point is to direct our attention to the straitjacket, not its dutiful wearer” did a few years ago:
    What happens when people talk is affected by group dynamics. The speakers who contribute most aren’t always the ones who behave most assertively; often they’re the ones who get most support from other people. They are able to gain and hold onto the floor—without needing to act like jerks—because others invite them to speak, listen attentively to what they say, ask them questions and make responses which encourage them to continue.
    (…)
    A study of the performance evaluations given to men and women in the IT industry found that women’s evaluations, but not men’s, frequently included criticisms of their ‘abrasive’ manner. Like ‘bossy’ and ‘strident’ (also words which are rarely applied to men), ‘abrasive’ is code for ‘she talks too much/too forcefully’. It’s a clear double standard: what’s acceptable in men becomes a problem when women do it. This is one reason why advice to be more assertive can backfire. It also suggests that women who don’t speak up may not have a problem with assertiveness at all. Some may be choosing not to compete directly with men, because they think the costs outweigh the benefits.
    (…)
    The way girls and women police their own and each other’s behaviour is another factor that contributes to the problem. Criticizing individuals is not the answer; what we need to do is address the conditions that make their behaviour a rational choice. [Emphasis mine.]
    It’s possible that the connection will only make sense in my head, but this is essentially what I was getting at the other day when I wrote about the film Pride and the importance of solidarity and support. Over the years I’ve come to resent hyper-individualised advice to “be assertive”, “try harder” and “put myself out there”, even if I know there are a few (fewer than is generally acknowledged) specific circumstances where it can be useful. I don’t know how to find a way to work towards meaningful change within a rigged social system while acknowledging that urging specific individuals (often quiet women like me) to go against the grain of their personality and risk social backlash isn’t really the answer. It becomes a double-bind: if we do it, there are consequences. If we don’t, suddenly the blame is shifted to us.

    I do know one thing, though: a systemic analysis helps, because it can potentially inoculate us against feelings of self-blame and inadequacy that can have a really damaging effect. I’ve been thinking a lot about different circumstances in my life when I felt I could or couldn’t speak up or take action — the dynamics were similar regardless of whether it was about engaging in activism, raising my hand at a meeting, finding the motivation to continue writing, or speaking up about harassment. I felt paralysed, small and ashamed whenever I internalised toxic messages that equated speaking up solely with prestigious individual traits like courage, strength or conviction, and which ignored that not doing so is very often a rational, sensible choice based on a careful analysis of costs and benefits that’s well-grounded in facts — in short, it’s a direct result of how vulnerable you are and how much you can afford to risk. I gave up whenever I was told it was me who was at fault and took that message to heart. Conversely, I felt empowered whenever I happened to have access to networks of support that counterbalanced or at the very least minimised such risks.

    I don’t know where to go from here except to try my best to be generous and consistent in offering encouragement to others and in amplifying their voices.

    Support is everything. This is my new life motto.

  • Other things: Ireland says yes to same-sex marriage – in pictures. These made me happy.

  • How “austerity” will exacerbate the effects of the digital divide.

  • No more austerity, please—and don’t forget about inequality, says Nobel Prize-winning economist.

  • This is not new, but I hadn’t come across it until last week. Malinda Lo recommends stories featuring lesbian/bisexual/queer female main characters. Many I love and many I want to read.

  • Judith Butler speaks out against her work being co-opted for transphobic purposes.

  • Books about women don’t win big awards: some data: Nicola Griffith does for adult awards what I did for YA a few year ago; unsurprisingly, the results are not dissimilar.

  • Angela Carter would have been 75 this year, and there’s a new edition of The Bloody Chamber (with a gorgeous cover) to mark the occasion. It’s been great to read pieces about her work by other writers I adore, namely Kelly Link and Laura Miller.

  • Speaking of Kelly Link, did you know she was recently interviewed by Helen Oyeyemi?

  • RIP Tanith Lee :(

  • The wonderful Christine Heppermann on retelling fairy tales:
    Writing the fairy tale–based poems in my collection Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty helped me make sense of the ugliness around and inside of me without losing hope. I plunged into the wolf’s belly and eventually emerged feeling…what? Not unscathed. Not triumphant. Not like I have all the answers. More like I’m glad I asked the questions and like I might just have the courage to keep asking.
  • We already know that Shaun Tan is amazing, but here’s further evidence: sculptural illustrations for the Grimms’ fairy tales.

  • Lastly, today I said goodbye to Lady Business — a very sad but necessarily step. You can find a fuller explanation and a retrospective of my contributions to the site by following the link.

    I’ll be back soon with actual bookish thoughts (and an excessively long post on The Wire, probably.)
  • 16 comments:

    1. Tanith Lee died??? Ugh. That's terrible.

      I saw those Shaun Tan sculptures the other day and all I can say is I want them ALL. So gorgeous.

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      1. It is :( Seems so sudden, too. I need to read Disturbed by Her Song, which sounds amazing and has been on my TBR pile for a long time.

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    2. Thanks for the links, some really great stuff! Loved the Cameron article :)

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      1. You're welcome - I hope you enjoy reading them!

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    3. Criticizing individuals is not the answer; what we need to do is address the conditions that make their behaviour a rational choice.

      YES, THIS, 1000%. This is probably the most coherent articulation of what "choice feminism" should be: room for people to make their own choices, but also room to examine the systems that encourage those choices without shaming people for taking those suggestions. So useful. Thanks!

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      1. She put it brilliantly, didn't she? I love the feeling of immediate recognition and enormous relief you get when you find such a clear articulation of something that's important to you.

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    4. Aw damn I didn't realize Tanith Lee died. ): I was just thinking about my favorite books by her, too.

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      1. :(

        Which one is your favourite? She's written so much and I've only read a small share of them. Lots to discover still.

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      2. I feel the same way! Her catalog is so huge and I always feel like I've only scratched the surface. My favorite book by her is The Silver Metal Lover, but it's a close call.

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    5. I am a professor, so I speak for a living. And yet, when I am in meetings with my colleagues, I rarely speak up even when I have something to say. One reason is I like to think for a moment before I speak, and the moment has usually passed by the time I get my thoughts together. The real reason though goes back a step further. I want to think before I speak because of a terrible fear of embarrassment. I don't want to say the wrong thing. I really do believe this is, in part, due to gender. And this is evidenced by our meetings. While we are pretty evenly split male-female, and our associate dean is female, still it is mainly the men who speak during our meetings.

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      1. It's hard and incredibly prevalent, isn't it? Like Cameron says, the change has to be systemic, but individual acts of support help. I want to keep that firmly in mind from now on.

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    6. Tanith Lee passed?! How did I not know this?!

      As for leaving Lady Business, I can totally sympathize. Library jobs are more exhausting than folks realize; it's hard to find the energy and motivation for much else at times.

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      1. It was making the rounds on Twitter when I was online the other day - but it was the holiday, so I suspect a lot of people will have missed it.

        And yeah - it's sad and I really wish life was different and blah :(

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    7. I was just talking to some of my female co-workers about this; every single one of us has received the feedback that we need to "be leaders" more and "show confidence." I have never heard of a male co-worker getting this feedback. It's so frustrating on all levels, especially because it assumes that only one leadership style exists and can be successful.

      Reading between the lines, seems like you have been having a rough time over the past several months. I'm so sorry - if ever you want to talk, I hope you know I'm here for you!

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      1. Yes, absolutely - I couldn't agree more. I tend to prefer more cooperative leadership styles, and I've known really effectively men AND woman who employ them with success.

        It's been a mixed bag - I haven't been miserable, not by far, but life and work keep throwing challenges my way. And thank you <3 It's mostly stuff I've mentioned briefly already in our e-mails, but I really appreciate you saying that. *hugs*

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    8. Support is everything is an excellent life motto. Really interesting food for thought, Ana. Thank you!

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.