It seems as though many of my conversations in the past week have been built around feminism. With friends from the states, people here in paris, my family, and even at work. This seemingly perpetual conversation is centered around the the roles of women in society and the associated discourse. Now I am the first to admit that my life is riddled with privilege. Im white, american, financially comfortable, and I have social access, but at the end of the day I am still a woman which means I still feel the side effects of living in a patriarchy.
Its a question of performance in someways. The way both men and women choose to portray gender. This comes across in the language I use to describe myself and the language used towards me. Oftentimes being a women involves a series of calculated decisions this is evident in a Business Insider article that gained a lot of popularity this week. In which, the author added the growing list of words that women must strike from their vocabulary so as not to inadvertently subjugate themselves. She explained that women use the word “just” at a considerably higher frequency than men. “I just wanted to ask a question” “I just need a minute of your time” and in doing this we give power to the other. We declare that they can decide whether what we have to say is important. Another prime example of this is women’s excessive use of the word “sorry.” I find that women are constantly apologizing for their presence or existence by saying sorry. It’s very similar to the use of just, when someone bumps into us or inconveniences us, we apologize. Oddly enough this was pointed out by a Pantene video a little while back. Ever since then I have been trying to strike those words from my vocabulary. It’s strange to think that women must have an affected vocabulary to further our own equality.
In contrast there are certain words that when coming from men remind us of our inferior place in society. Sometimes this subjugation is accidental and well intentioned, such as times when I have been told “you really shouldn’t be traveling alone as a woman.” This typically comes from a place of concern for my physical safety. Which is in sentiment kind, but in reality putting limitations on my actions because of my gender. Perhaps men (and obviously not all men) should stop doing things that compromise my well being if I’m alone.
Other times, these comments are both sexist and ill intentioned. This presents a secondary challenge, since if someone is sexist in their worldview, getting mad at them, giving them a lecture on feminism, or trying to explain your point of view usually backfires. In these cases, men will usually tell me that I am essentially proving their point by being overly emotional, sensitive, or dramatic. My words are met with much mockery, but then again I’m not going to sit there and let someone tell Hillary cannot be president since she is a woman or that men and women cannot be friends. This usually results in me getting heated and flustered which does nothing for the situation.
Recently at work, I realized a whole new form of verbal oppression that I had never noticed before. I was telling someone about my plans work this summer, my time in Rwanda, and my research in general. They proceeded to say “you’re so lucky!” I was slightly taken aback and the more I thought about it, this is something that would never be said to my male counterpart. When men are successful in their careers and professional life, they are anything but lucky, they are hardworking, diligent, and perseverant.
There are many reasons why I am lucky, I was born into a race, nationality, class, and certain about of wealth that has afforded me a number of societal privileges. I have also had the continued support of friends and family as I go off on these odd adventures. To get this job, the necessary grants, and accomplish my research however, I have worked my ass off. I have made a number of sacrifices, spent many hours, and worked with a relentless attitude to get where I am. I am not lucky. I am dedicated.
The more I notice these patterns of language, in men and women, the harder it becomes to ignore it. I know plenty of good men. My father was the first feminist I ever met. But it still shocks me when I am faced with these micro forms of sexism. Some might say this subversive oppression is irrelevant, but they’d be wrong. Today, in the U.S. at least, social oppression has changed. In many ways minorities are equal. According to the law I should make the same salary as men with equal positions, but the reality is that I will probably make 0.77 cents on the dollar. In the eyes of the laws, blacks and whites are equal, but black are less likely to be hired for a job, and way more likely to be arrested by the police. The same goes for the LGBT community, who are in theory equal, but so far 10 black transgender women have been murdered in 2015. The complicated thing is that we have moved from a period of overt institutionalized identity oppression, when discrimination was legal, to a period of covert cultural oppression. It’s no longer about changing laws, it’s about changing mind sets, perspectives, and vocabularies, but I’m not sure how we’re going to do that.