Despite half a life of being a social anthropologist at heart, I just don’t understand people sometimes. This exchange is from early 2018, but it struck just enough nerve that I took notes and promised myself to revisit.
I have told *aspiring* male tv writers what i do for a *living* (write tv) and they’ve responded that they’d be “glad to take a look at my stuff”, and I’m not even so much mad as I am baffled by that confidence.
— Jenny Jaffe (@jennyjaffe) February 3, 2018
More than confidence, I think many such comments are rooted in fragility. Like, if I don’t offer up some advice or express some degree of superiority, I’m less of a person. It’s like a rooster, strutting around as if he’s done something, because if he doesn’t, well, he’s less of a cock. The responses further illustrate the extent of the problem.
When giving birth to twins, my mother's OBGYN questioned her discomfort from contractions, "It can't hurt that badly."
— Mona Holmes (@monaeatsLA) February 3, 2018
Whenever men heard that I write books, they automatically assume it's children's books. They're not
— Alma Katsu (@almakatsu) February 3, 2018
I used to get a version of that when I was a teacher. Most people assumed I taught one of the early grades. I spent 12 years teaching high school math.
— Cora Lee 📚 (@Cora_Lee49) February 3, 2018
— Parsimoniously Yours (@OverclocktRobot) February 4, 2018
This would almost be comical if it weren’t so damn sad. And though I might be able to grasp the root of such exchanges, I’ll never understand letting this need for unchecked superiority take that much control of your life, particularly aligned on some arbitrary social basis like gender.
First of all, nearly everything I’ve learned, I learned from women:
- Algebra (and at the time I loved algebra): Miss Castilaw
- Chemistry (through I’ve forgotten many of the details, a basic inquisitive knowledge remains): Mrs. Therrell
- Trigonometry (bemusing when not baffling): Mrs. Campbell
- Biology, and first learning that perhaps I could write (non fiction): Mrs. Kees
- Journalism, and the second chance at proving that perhaps I could write: Miss Baker
- Foreign languages, French and Spanish in high school: Mrs. King and Miss Baker, respectively
- Anthropology: Dr. Donna Budani
- Critical Writing and digging below text to find context: Anne Thalheimer and Dr. Kristen Poole
- Cooking…and just getting things done: My mama!
Secondly, while I realize the behavior may not be exclusive to men, white men, or any other specific group—it’s a product of the environment in which someone develops as a person—I really just don’t get it. I don’t understand the notion that I, as a man, should ever suggest to any woman that perhaps I can do something better than she can, simply because I’m a man. I’ve had men treat me that way due to my age, lack of affluence/prestige, or assumed lack of experience or knowledge, but the idea that I should do the same to anyone else simply because they are a woman (or for any other birth trait) is both foreign and repulsive to me.
Perhaps it’s my own privilege showing—like the privilege of learning from amazing women throughout my life, or the privilege of meandering through academia filled with kick-ass women—and men who understood individuality of talent and knowledge. Or perhaps I’m speaking from the privilege that the men in my childhood were so emotionally absent that I didn’t learn that any fragility or insecurity I might feel can be solved by belittling other individuals—or worse, groups of people. I’ll gladly own that privilege.
It seems only fitting to leave a bit of advice for men who do feel the need to behave this way. Please read Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, by Amy Cuddy. Yes, a woman.
Let her show you ways to build your own confidence—true confidence—so belittling others will no longer be needed. Nastiness feeds the ego but for a moment—true confidence feeds it for a lifetime.