Female Like Me
Years of gender research has yielded years of gender data…and no real change.
Back in grad school, there was a professor at Mills College who systematically gave all white students a C in her Black History class. She announced this at the top of the first lecture on the first day, just so everyone was clear. Even with the most diligent study, no white person could have more than an average understanding of the black experience after only one 4-month course, ergo the average grade, she explained.
She was right. I took the class, I turned in B-level coursework, I got a C, and I consider that grade generous. In reality, I failed. After four months, I still didn’t know the first thing about black history or the black experience. I committed a negligible amount of time toward understanding centuries of human right violations and oppression. Some that I often perpetuated. Up until then I had been skating by on the inaccurate, arrogant assumption that my interest in civil equality was the same as living up to the ideals that I espoused.
There has been a glut of epiphanies lately from men regarding their odious past behavior toward women. They’re just now starting to get it, but they can clearly see how women are treated different and unfairly. Some men, so motivated by their new-found understanding, even go so far as to publish a blog post calling for action.
It’s cute. Their little glimmers of understanding.
I wonder if it ever occurred to any man to spend a few months living like a woman. Going all in on a gender-updated version of John Howard Griffin’s investigative nonfiction book Black Like Me.
I have proposed this and men go straight to “I don’t want to wear high heels and a bra” (as if our clothes are imbued with everything one needs to know about the female experience). Clothes are the least of our problem. Men, if you really want to see what it’s like to be a woman, you could:
· Take a 30% pay cut.
· Encourage colleagues to interrupt you, explain subjects in which you have advanced degrees, disparage, discourage, and tacitly objectify you in subtle ways on a daily basis.
· For every reaction you have, get told you’re overreacting.
· Arrange it so that every new meeting begins with an uncomfortable disadvantage by informing the appointment that they are the smarter and more accomplished one, so it might be a good idea for them to break down complex ideas or go slow.
· Be exclude them from activities with your colleagues.
· Pitch to dozens of investors or managers who only invest in or promote their friends.
· Stage strangers to yell unwelcome comments about your looks. (And throw in some physical intimidation once a week or so)
· Read tweets from the President that undermine any progress you’ve made.
· If you’re over 35 have everyone ask you why you don’t want kids. If you’re under 35 have everyone ask you about your kids or when you’re going to have some kids.
· If you do have kids, assume the roll of primary care taker so you have no time for leisure or self-improvement.
· Make sure everyone at work knows your kids compromise your credibility, because you’re really a mom first and foremost.
After living like this for 4 months (plus reading, lectures, essays, and exams), an intelligent man might have an average understanding of what it’s like to be a woman.
It’s crazy making. For real. BF Skinner showed that random variance in reinforcement for positive behavior lead to insanity in rats. Human example: praise for making great coffee and no praise for landing a new big client. This sort of gender-biased treatment isn’t sexual harassment, but it is damaging to our mental-health. How could anyone maintain a normal level of optimism, when daily life is set up to make you feel confused, frustrated and shamed?
Gender inequity is a hard problem. It’s going to take more than an epiphany, a hashtag and a blog post to really move the needle. Years of gender studies have yielded years of gender data and no real conclusions or roadmaps. There have to be better solutions than sensitivity training, policy and litigation. Gender inequality is a problem that touches every person, every institution and 52% of the population. Yet mesothelioma gets more money and attention for research and eradication.
Men who take responsibility for their transgressions are not brave, they’re doing what a decent human should do. Unfortunately, living a decent human life just perpetuates the status quo. It isn’t enough to make high-impact change.