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For the Men: Woman Like Me

When I first registered for college, I was a political science and communications major. Shortly after I graduated from high school, things changed and I felt called to ministry in the church. I wasn't sure what it would look like, but I thought seminary and ordination would be in my future. I was incredibly excited about this possibility, and I knew that at the very least, I had been called to study theology. When I told one of my friends who happens the son of a Southern Baptist minister, he quoted the Bible at me and told me I couldn't do it because I'm a woman.

When my mother was starting college, she received a full ride scholarship to the college in her town. Her high school guidance counselor told her she shouldn't take it because she'd be taking the place of a man. She went anyway, but has frequently looked back on that moment and wondered about her abilities, especially when it came to traditionally male disciplines like math and science.

There is no way I can make those who are not women understand the discrimination that a woman faces day in and day out. I wish it was possible for men to do a "Black Like Me" sort of investigative journalism story, but it would only scratch the surface of the misogyny (internal and external) women face every single day.

Every time I discuss the pay gap, the lack of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, the fact that only 17% of national political offices are held by women, I get rebuffed. I get told that I don't understand the statistics (despite having done my research and read article after articles that breaks down the statistics and take a look at the actual studies). I get told that the perception of discrimination is not the same as intentional discrimination - as though hiring managers must wake up in the morning thinking "I'm going to discriminate against women today" in order for the statistic to be legitimately reflective of discrimination. I get told that these things can be explained because "women just don't want to go into those fields." I get told that I don't understand it.

But I do, far more than they know.

So I issue this challenge to the men in my life.

For one week, I want you to consider how others would perceive you if you made that decision as a woman.

Before you speak up and disagree with an authority figure in class, think: are you merely being assertive, or could you be painted as a "bitch"? Would being called a bitch stop you from speaking up?

Before you go out dancing, consider what message your clothes may be sending about you - should you cover up so you don't accidentally "advertise" to an unscrupulous person and risk sexual assault?

When you do go out and get a drink in a bar, consider how carefully you have to watch your drink so that someone doesn't slip a drug in (this actually happens - a friend of mine was roofied just last night and woke up in the ER).

If you're applying for jobs, consider whether or not being a woman could get in the way of you being hired - is this a position of power over others? Statistically, you're less likely to get the job. And if it's an entry level one with opportunity for advancement, consider how easy it'll be for you to move up. Again, assertiveness for a man is often perceived as bitchiness for a female.

Think about what it'd be like if you decided to run for office. Would you have a better chance of winning? What would the media say about you? How would it be perceived if you showed emotion - like crying - in a setting with constituents, talking about something important to you?

These are the things women must consider day in and day out. When considering jobs, it is important for women to see other women in those same positions of power - it's much harder to be the pioneer in a position of power than it is to follow someone else's already blazed trail. If I know a woman can do it, I'm more likely to try.

When going out, we have to keep a careful eye on our surroundings for our own safety - 1 in 6 women will be the victim of either an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. When deciding on clothing, we have to think about whether or not it would give men the wrong perception that we are their property and that we're "advertising."

Women still have a long way to go - we do have a lot more opportunities and possibilities than our mothers before us or their mothers before them - but until we stop seeing "What designer are you wearing?" as a legitimate question for the female Secretary of State, we still have lots of work to do. And it would help if we had empathetic men on our side, men who recognized the privilege that being male affords them.

So take a few minutes this week, strap on a pair of pumps, and walk a few miles in my shoes. You might just be surprised.


  1. I challenge you then Dianna that while I am trying to put myself into woman's shoes you put yourself into a man's. Here are some question's to think about. Are my words or actions dishonoring the women around me? Will my honest attempt at friendship with a woman be misconstrewed into me pursuing her? How can I seek a relationship with a woman when they are already assume that I am only seeking sex? Am I treating everyone with equality? Will women think less of me because I am an emotional male? (Don't try to tell me they don't I have first hand experience that says otherwise)

    Don't get me wrong I agree that there is a problem within the world of discrimination toward not only women but also toward minority's. However the greatest discrimination around is when women and minorities tell themselves that they can't do something simply because of who they are or their gender.

    It is very easy for either of us to say that we don't understand the other's point but when we truly seek to what will we find? When I have tried to encourage women to seek these things I simply get told "They won't let me cause I am a woman". If every woman were as self assured as you Dianna, nothing could stop them. Perhaps instead of blaming society woman could try not stopping when someone says "No you are a woman". Self confidence and perserverance will undo discrimination anyday.

    I will say again, there is a problem with how women are treated. They are not honored equally and should be. It is something we should all fight for. But please don't blame me, because the pressue society puts on me is great as well.
    Your Brother


  2. Your last line reminds me of a statement I heard a few weeks ago. It was at a legislative coffee, where Brookings residents were standing up to demand action from our legislators to reduce the proposed cuts to schools and medicare. One woman (who happens to be my Mary Kay lady) gave an incredibly well-reasoned and impassioned plea for schools and nursing homes (reminding us that many small towns have few employment options other than those institutions about to be cut) that included hard statistics and examples of what other states have done to find funding for these needs. She finished up with a statement that perhaps the reason our legislature couldn't find more creative solutions was the lack of female legislators, and she told our three men to "pull on your pantyhose and four inch heels and go back to Pierre and get something done."

    I would support this woman completely if she decided to run in the next election.

  3. Part 1:

    Sam, I'd like to address, if I can, the questions you would have me ask myself, and give you a bit more reading material concerning the perspective of women.

    Why do you think actions when you approach women are misconstrued?

    Because men have acted badly before and if we don't know you, we cannot take the risk of giving you the benefit of the doubt. Because women are taught every day of their lives (by the actions of men in their lives, by our fellow women, and by society at large) that they need to be careful about who they allow to approach them, simply by the statistical likelihood of sexual assault.

    Here's a helpful article to read on why approaching strange women, even if just as a friend, gets you bad reactions:

    I'll quote the pertinent part:

    "When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety."

    The entire article is well worth a read. I know, very well, that you might be a genuinely nice guy, that you may have no ulterior motives than to compliment me on my shirt, but I can't see inside your head, I can't tell motives. So I would hope that you would forgive women for being a little guarded about that. We don't assume that you're seeking sex. We assume that you might sexually assault us (which is an act that is about power, not sex) and we do that for our own safety. I know at least four women who have been sexually assaulted in their lives. If we're guarded in communications with you, it's not because we're man-haters and it's not because we disregard your feelings. It's because we need to do it to be safe and our safety takes priority over your awkwardness.

    See, delving into these questions is important.

  4. Part 2 (the comment was too long):

    As far as the emotional male part, think about the different reactions to politicians who express emotions. Sure, Boehner's been ridiculed for crying, but no one has suggested that he's incapable of governing - the farthest I've seen anyone go is to suggest that he might be a little weak. In contrast, Hillary Clinton crying in New Hampshire was met with questions about her emotional stability, about whether or not she'd be able to properly govern, whether or not it'd be good to have her hand on the nuclear launch codes. You being made fun of for crying and my ability to do my job being called into question are two different things.

    I agree that the burden of masculinity we place on men is harmful, but it is harmful inasmuch as it serves to reinforce the concept that femininity is a negative aspect and should be repressed. Who are "out of control" emotions associated with? Women. So when we make fun of men for exhibiting feminine emotions, we're reinforcing the idea that feminine things are weak and useless and that masculinity is better.

    Does that make sense?

    I want the women around me to be self confident, to be self assured and to see that they can do whatever they set their minds to.

    But the purpose of this post is to clarify for the menfolk in my life that it can be awfully, awfully hard to have self confidence and to go after those jobs, those goals, those dreams, when your entire life you're being told that you can't, that "no, you're a woman." These examples aren't just isolated incidences - I only used those personal stories as anecdotes to provide a picture with my point. They are representative of what many women are told day in and day out.

    For further elaboration: I didn't go into biology (which I believe I could have done quite well in) because I didn't know any female scientists and thus had no examples to follow - I didn't want to "blaze the trail" at that time, so to speak. I can't speak enough to the importance of examples and role models - you have never had a lack of them. Many women have. If we see a woman achieving and doing something great, that sends the message that "Hey, I can do that too." That's why I live the life I live because I know for Vera, for my cousin Grace, for my younger female cousins, I am an example. I am a role model.

    A lot of us cannot become self confident, self assured women until we have examples of that to follow. And one of the ways for that to happen is for men to come alongside us and understand what it is like to walk a day in our shoes.

  5. I would also like to respond to your comment, Samuel.

    First of all, thank you for taking up Dianna's initial challenge. I think it will be eye-opening for you in unexpected ways.

    Secondly, I want to emphasize that I don't believe that Dianna was attempting to dismiss the difficulties men face in life; only to encourage a better understanding of her experience, which is representative of all women in many ways. Walking around in someone else's shoes is ALWAYS a good thing in my opinion. Whether they have it harder than you, easier than you, or practically the same.

    Finally, to the questions you suggested she (and I would guess, by extension, all women) should ask. It struck me that some of them were questions that everyone should ask of themselves, practically all the time no matter their sex. "Are my words or actions dishonoring the (women, men, children, African Americans, senior citizens, disabled, etc.) people around me?" I may be completely missing the point you were trying to make with this question and if I am, please feel free to clear up my mistake on it. I just don't see it as a question that is a particular burden on men as regards to women as opposed to person (especially, in my opinion, Christian person) as regards to another person. The same goes for the "Am I treating everyone with equality?" question. As a white woman who grew up in the South, I can assure you that I have plenty of concern about whether my upbringing has caused me to treat people unequally over race. That's not only a male to female issue, either.

    The second and third questions could just as easily be spoken by a woman talking about attempting friendship with a man. Or, if you prefer to make it a little more in keeping with what society says: How can I have a friendship with a man when we are both constantly told that it's sex or nothing between us? The questions of friendship misconstrual are two-way streets. I speak as someone who has had multiple platonic relationships messed up because one or the other person (yes, that includes me! :-) ) develop unrequited feelings. It's just complicated. (Also, don't assume that all women "already assume" anything. Just like men are all different, so are women.)

    As for your final question: Will women think less of me because I am an emotional male? All I can say is I'm sorry that you have been mistreated for that quality and I hope that men and women can make progress together on reducing (I have no hope for eliminating) the ridiculous "rules" about how men have to be and how women have to be.

  6. Interesting challenge. I'm sad to say a lot of these I have trouble really imagining because they're so far outside of my experience. I don't consider assertive women "bitchy", and I can't really imagine what it's like even to be labeled bitchy in the derogatory, gender-based sense, or how I might internalize that label. Same with running for office. Honestly I don't think I've ever had a problem being taken seriously. So I sympathize, or want to, and yet, I've never been there.

    That's not to say one gender's hardships can't be understood by the other, but it might take some patient explaining to really convey it.

    The hardship that's by far the most striking, and one I do often think about, is that women have to put up with warranted fear of being sexually assaulted. I often go for long walks late at night by myself in the city, and my female friends often express that they wish they could do something like that. The only thing I have to think about when I'm on my own is what I have on me that's worth stealing.

    I hate that women I don't know are sometimes worried about my intentions, and that if I start a conversation somewhere in her head will be "what's this guy really after?" when the answer is, most often, nothing. Or if I'm walking down a lonely street (especially at night) and cross paths with a woman and would otherwise like to say hello, I can sense that she is afraid of me, and that bothers me.

    Of course this annoyance is nothing compared to being the one who is actually worrying, and again the worrying and the precaution are sadly justified. But I hope women at least realize that it is discouraging at times to be assumed (for safety) some kind of predator, guilty until proven innocent.

    One thing I've heard some of the women in my life complain about that you haven't directly addressed is that it's sometimes a struggle for them to be taken seriously in what they say by men. This is especially true of women who are physically small and softspoken. That's probably the thing I take for granted most often: that people take me seriously.

    Dianna (or others), do you find that men often don't take you seriously, and do you take that to be because of your sex?


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