Originally, I wasn’t going to write this post.
But, normally, I’m not the kind of person that stands on the brink of rage with any sort of consistency. I can’t recall the last time I truly wanted to punch someone… but dwelling on thoughts while listening to an anthem of Kendrick Lamar during an inspiring workout session can do that to you.
So here I am. Because I’m sick of the blatant sexism women still encounter in the work place. Because I’m tired of seeing women quit their jobs because a company’s HR turns silent under the gaze of their CEO. Because I want to help men who don’t understand why they offended the girl next to them.
It’s about meaning. Context. It’s about problems being embedded in history—and though they may not seem problematic in a single context they are, in actuality, a cultural problem.
I’ve been pretty lucky, especially considering that I’ve dealt with the video game and entertainment industry in the past, but this week I hit my boiling point.
Disclaimer: The experience written of here is not representative of my workplace, which has actually been an extremely fair environment to be a part of. Or really even Pete for that matter, because he has come around.
Because I’m a Girl
My eyes glanced to the upload fail signal that flashed across the screen; whatever editing work I completed over the past two hours vanished into the depths of the internet. I took a sip of hot tea, embracing my optimism as the warmth passed from my throat to stomach. My work was going to come back. I knew it.
I clicked open once more. Nothing.
“Shit!” I pounded my keyboard.
“What did you say?” My new co-worker glanced over from his desktop, startled.
“Oh I know,” he cut me off, “I just figured you wouldn’t say things like that.”
“Why?” I asked, generally curious.
“Well, because you’re girl.”
“You should hear me when I play Halo.” I replied, laughing it off. I’m an idealist after all.
After that moment, my co-worker (let’s call him Pete) didn’t see eye to eye on really much of anything we discussed. Almost everything became an argument, which is something that, as a rhetorician, can be exciting. But arguments are only stimulating if the other person actually acknowledges that other viewpoints have the possibility of existing outside of their own. We argued over the value of fiction and non-fiction, over religion and souls, over the use of dialect and words and the preservation of the environment and wildlife. All heated subjects. All things trapped and protected in his head, safe from facing the perception of others.
“Books in general are such an amazing medium for entertainment.” I said as I explained how forms of entertainment, like video games, can be used with an educational purpose—my defense against his viewpoint that video games are a waste of time.
“Yeah, well maybe the books you read are for entertainment,” he scoffed.
“You read fiction, which is for entertainment. I read [non-fiction] for education.”
At that point I wanted to fall out of the non-existent chair of my standing desk. I will spare you the rest of the argument. Somehow, we eventually strayed into the topic of poetry.
“I don’t like Keats. The way he was portrayed in Bright Star… he just seems so puny and weak. He died so young. I didn’t even finish the movie.”
“He died from Tuberculous! Do you know how many authors died from that during his time period? I love how he wrote so much on mortality. In contrast to his life….”
“You would like Keats.”
“Why would I like Keats?” I questioned sternly.
“Because you’re a girl.”
Strike Two. There I go. Out of my fictional chair.
“What does that have to do with it?”
“If you were to take a group of 1000 girls and 1000 boys and survey them, I think you’d find that the girls enjoyed poetry like Keats.”
“What have you read by Keats?”
“Not much, really.”
I immediately drilled Pete. What proof of there was this? What pool of people was he pulling from? I know plenty of women who despise poetry and, conversely, many men who love it. I was at the end of my wick, which happens to be absurdly long.
But there is only so much you can take when it is implied that your years studying fiction were a waste. That your hobbies are a waste. And let’s not forget that the only reason you enjoy specific things in your life is because you just so happen to be a woman. Did I mention that there was a third strike when he said he wasn’t surprised I like horses because I’m a girl?
Ah, sweet, sweet dear ignorant Pete.
I stopped talking after that, but not before warning him that he better be careful where he tread with that train of thought, lest he tread into the hornet’s nest. Close-mindedness is perhaps my largest pet peeve.
My lady parts aren’t the reason I love horses. I love horses because I grew up with them. Because they provided me with companionship and freedom. There is no better feeling in the world than knowing that an animal ten times your size trusts you enough to get on its back and share the sensation of running across an open field.
I love Keats because of the contrast of his short life and his focus on mortality. His life and prose are filled with so much tragic and beautiful truth.
The overall problem with Pete’s reasoning, and why I was so upset by it, wasn’t because he was implying that using profanity was bad or that I liked horses or Keats. I do, in fact, like those things and I don’t necessarily think profanity is bad depending on circumstance. Rather Pete’s rational was upsetting because it inferred that these things were gendered in a frivolous way. I was less of a woman because I said a cuss word. I liked Keats not because of his themes but because he was a silly romantic poet who was weak and died young—and that’s what girls like. I liked horses because I grew up as a little girl who wore pink dresses and wished for a pony—and that’s what girls like. In reasoning this way he is disseminating gender stereotypes that continue to paint women in a sensitive and simple light. And that if we don’t fall into these terms, then our femininity is sacrificed.
I’m done with that. I’m constantly surrounded amazing and empowering women in my life; neither they nor I deserve being pushed into these categories. We are complicated, intelligent, strong, competitive, diligent, and hardworking. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment that perpetuated these strengths and avoided negative stereotypes entirely. My mom always worked, and still works, hard for our family. And even though she is absurdly close to my dad, she never backs off from her own opinions or wants or needs even when they contrast deeply from his. My dad encouraged, and still encourages, me to be myself—to go outside and play in the mud. To slide tackle in soccer. To play with the boys. To shoot compound bows in the backyard. To rescue snakes and other random creatures.
He was never worried these things would make me any less of a woman. He also never assumed I would love horses or Romantic British poets because I’m a woman. What a different life I would lead if he, or my entire family, did think that—I would be forced into an identity I didn’t want, which is something that still happens to women, and even men, today.
This isn’t to say that stereotypes are not prevalent in both genders—they absolutely are. But when we close ourselves off and believe that they hold true they can be harmful and even life-altering. That’s why I have a problem with you, Pete. Initially I thought my reaction to Pete’s statements were overkill, that what he said didn’t matter. But it does, and by participating in and therefore perpetuating these stereotypes, we enter a cycle we have been trying to escape for decades, if not centuries.