A HEARTFELT COMMENT:
I have to confess that a reader recently wrote something so touching with such a level of understanding, it truly moved me. So I thought I should post his comment. The actual thread is here, in the comments of a previous post. It was based on gender-stereotyping in our society when it comes to the way men perceive women as ‘naming colours.’ I felt that as an architect, structural engineer and designer who has worked in the field for over 10 years, I could see that stereotypes such as this end up affecting those technical-brained minority of women who DO work in the engineering and construction industry and are not the caricatured ‘girly airhead’ that a lot of people would like to portray ‘women’ as. The debate also was about the ‘male-brain’, the ‘female-brain’ and colour perception. My reference to the ‘gender’ of the brain was based on an interesting study by Cambridge professor of Developmental Psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen on the ‘brain-wiring’ of those with ‘Aspie’ qualities. I was interested in his work on finding my own extremely high brain-systemizing quotient through his tests when I found after many years that the reason why I was interested since childhood more in those activities and occupations that are generally done by men, amongst many other characteristics, to be linked to traits seen in Asperger’s (the somewhat socially naive ‘inventor’-type Aspie, not the severely socially challenged type.) My brain systemizing quotient is 66/80. ‘Normal’ men according to Cohen have a score at ‘30’ and ‘nomal’ women have it at ‘24.’ Hardly any women at all have their “brain systemization” that high. Thankfully I scored in a very high range on the ‘empathy quotient’ too, which meant that the ‘extreme-male-brain’ or the ‘picture-thinking’ which is my usual way to process information had not come at the compromise of more ‘softer’ qualities. For more on Cohen’s book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Difference-Women-Extreme-Science/dp/0713996714
But despite having been interested and involved in those activities and occupations that have traditionally been ‘male’ (engineering, architecture, mountaineering, flying), yet being outspoken – and not docile – to assertively say what I think, I have never believed in compromising my femininity or ‘softness’ in looks or poise. Nor given up my love for cooking, nurturing, painting or even knitting for that matter, or those traditionally ‘feminine’ hobbies that can be practiced in solitude and alone. And unfortunately I found that this has few takers both amidst radical feminists and even amongst certain ‘geek-girls’ who I thought would be less complicated but found out sadly that that isn’t always the case. I do not believe in the ‘man’ifying of womanhood or changing my biological hormones or chromosomes to act outwardly as some gender that I am not. And although I have always preferred rationality and logic over emotion in my choices and thinking, I do not believe in the ‘extreme’asization of sexes and mannerisms or the either/or approach which seems to be the way both traditional and radical schools of thoughts and/or movements seem to promote.
In any case, what touched me incredibly is this writer’s empathy at the end of the comment. To know what strength it does require to maintain individuality without losing integrity. Especially for the women in architecture. So I decided to put this up.
Here is the comment:
“.….This(a reference to another comment terming “nothing inherently male” about computers, math or technology) fails to provide a complete survey of the entire landscape. From a biological perspective, there doesn’t seem to be inherent or biological differences between males and females on these fronts. If we lived in a world free of socially constructed gender roles, the chances of any given male or female infant growing up to be a mathematician, scientist, architect, or computer whiz would be theoretically equal. Well, we don’t live in a world like that. Little girls aren’t encouraged to go into these fields as readily as little boys. In many cases, they’re told that boys are better at math, and research on stereotype threat has demonstrated that these kinds of stereotypes actually lead to exactly the kinds of deficits that they tout. The stereotypes are self-fulfilling in that way. They lead to anxiety and stress, and contribute to their victims underperforming their male peers on math and science tests, undoubtedly sending many careening off into careers more “typically female.”
Just because we want something to be true (socially constructed stereotypes don’t exist, and have no adverse effect on women) doesn’t mean it is.
The fact that I point to these socially constructed gender roles as impediments to females’ success, does not mean I support them. (though I realize that there is a certain brand of feminist who love to kill the messenger if there aren’t any other worthy targets in the vicinity.) My point being that because of the extra barriers to entry for women trying to enter predominantly male fields, the ones who do make it would tend to be most qualified, the high achievers, the outliers. I will come back to this point in just a minute.
Men also have to subscribe to assigned stereotypes. Until recently, it was difficult to find many men working in the fields of nursing or teaching kindergarten (the nurturing professions) as these fields were, and still are to a large extent, seen as the province of women. And it’s still the case that most US courts will favour the mother in divorce/custody cases, as it’s assumed that children would be better off with their mothers, who are thought to be the inherently better parental option. You won’t see many men showing up to work with lipstick, or a nice blush to compliment their ties, or carrying purses. Nor will you be likely to find groups of men forming knitting clubs. There is nothing inherently female about any of the above activities – there’s no biological reason why I shouldn’t tote a nice purse around – yet, there exists a strong gender delineation there. The difference here is that my life won’t be adversely affected if I can’t throw some eyeliner on tomorrow morning before I head into the office. This is a gendered custom I can afford not to challenge. But what of the woman who is a natural born systems analyst or architectural engineer? Considering all of the obstacles that woman would have to break through, starting in childhood, to “make it” into and to the top of these fields, should we really expect that she wouldn’t be an outlier, that she wouldn’t be a somewhat atypical female? I can almost hear the feminist hive mind buzzing as I write this: “Typical female! The nerve!” I submit: Stephanie Meyer is not a multimillionaire because boys are lining up for her books, nor is the value of any modern sports franchise dependent on the burgeoning interest of young girls. Whether the forces that led to these differing interests are “inherent” or not is essentially irrelevant.
Some women, against all odds, are able to buck the stereotypes. Gipsy Geek works in an extremely male- dominated field. In order for her to have built a career for herself there, she would have to endure far greater hazing than any of the men did. Additionally, if she is as stunning as those eyes might suggest, then the hazing must have been doubly worse. I realize it’s terribly un-PC, but one issue that isn’t spoken of enough in regards to gender stereotyping, is that specific flavour of bias faced by intelligent and talented women who are beautiful and sexy, but not slutty, and who don’t downplay their feminine sides. To be able to hold on to this brand of feminine identity AND be successful in a male dominated field takes an immense amount of strength. And I, for one, think this should be rewarded, especially by other women, because if there is any hope of us breaking free of these deeply embedded gender myths it will only be through the example of women who are willing to stand alone. – D
Reader who wrote this – I cannot thank you enough – it really brought a lump in my throat and all I can say is thank you for nailing the isolation I have often faced. People think it is easy. It is not. Often if you have too many interests, you will never ‘fit’ nor be accepted in any one group. And somehow this becomes doubly difficult if you are a woman who has not compromised femininity entirely for feminism. Few men understand the strength it takes to keep going. And women, even if they understand it, resort to more envy and back-stabbing than loving support. Thank you reader, for your insight and empathy. My reason for placing your comment is both for its wisdom about gender roles and out of gratitude.
And thanks to him, I received an apology, by someone whose intentions were good, but who had misunderstood. And hers was a true, genuine misunderstanding compared to what I had faced earlier and later by a bunch of girls who I mistakenly thought I was defending but found sadly that you will be accepted in certain geek-girl groups only if you go all the way and maintain a dorky appearance and are no threat to the geek-narc-queen. I found even in girl-geekdom intense territoriality and a vicious brand of intellectual-competition-and-annihilation (that could put even girly girls to shame) exists and women who flock around the ‘geek-King’ can be incredibly vicious in their power structure and politics and display a peculiar form of ruthless unempathetic cerebral NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and backhanded politics. Perhaps those who are bullied for being geeks turn cyber-bullies instead? Or maybe the true measure of character at the end just comes down to goodness and ethics that hearts contain, and how secure you are with yourself – whether one is a geek or a non-geek.
I am finished defending any ‘group.’ And choose individuality. Yet. Again. And men and women who are similar to me. Or those women who understand the value of the blend between feminism and femininity. And goodness. And for those who wish to term self-respect as pride, frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn. You are only proving Freud’s projection theory true. Multi-dimensionality and paradoxes have few takers in the world, and even fewer supporters. Sad, but true.
And those who can’t stand multi-dimensionality in others, deal with it. Take your group bullying and cyber-harassing/blocking/virusing/ganging elsewhere. You’re up against one that has climbed many rocky cliffs before. In real life. And is not afraid of her strength nor her curves. And may I point out, that there is a difference between strength and power. A secure woman stands for the former. The bully uses and salivates for the latter. And therein lies the difference. Whatever the form or disguise. Real strength comes from within. It needs no followers and is self-sufficient, self-generative. Conversely, ‘power’ from controlling others. It craves for followers for its sustenance. So women who wish to engage in power plays, take it elsewhere. Please. This is my cliff. And it has no foothold for those who are insecure and manipulative.
* * *
Sidetracked Alert : I have been a long-time advocate against female bullying and had written a well-received piece about it in the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph a few years back. But to learn more about bullying go here – the site run by a no-nonsense Bill Maher-loving & Rene-Magritte loving say-it-as-it-is Dr. Palmatier. For a book on female bullies from school to office – a good book – here. There is also a good book on female politics at work: Nan Mooney’s ‘I can’t believe she did that : Why women betray other women at work.’ http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0312322062
Also to introverted girls in school (the Lisa Simpsons and similar ones) who have faced bullying before, I want to say: Those who will criticize you one way or the other, that is a form of using their positions of power. To them you have to say- ‘Your approval neither needed nor desired’. One of the hardest yet most liberating things of life is to learn to say : “I do not wish to engage in giving those bullies even a single minute of my time, nor the space of even a neuron in my brain.” But getting to this stage is absolutely worth it. The weirdness of life is that when you play a victim (whether you really are or not) you will have more people being understanding. But if you find inner strength and self-affirmation through your own introspection and effort, it will be termed as ‘pride.’ Maybe it is just ‘self-respect’ and ‘self-reliance’? Women complain ‘there are not enough girls with healthy self-esteem’ – but when one comes along, there will be lengths taken to shoot that person down. (Translation of the shooter’s stance: ‘I, alone, am the example of a woman with self-esteem and I will help only those who come to my fold and who cannot threaten my superiority and affiliation with powerful men. Any other will be seen as a threat, and I shall not rest till she has been demolished.’ ) This is another form of bullying although it is disguised in more covert ways. And so women still will unfortunately largely remain the ones who will not let other self-assured women come to the surface. It is a sad truth of life which has to be accepted, but girls in high school reading this, remember that self assurance is the key to not suffer the consequences of bullying. As Eleanor Roosevelt said : ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ And if it still continues, here’s another quote of her (where I’ve replaced ‘heart’ with ‘brain.’): “Do what you feel in your brain to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
* * *