Compilation of role models, highlighting the unicorn-level excellence (that's like, the highest level) of women in uniform. Military culture, wars, and culture wars. Have fun!
Rebecca Watson, also known as Skepchick, and Rebecca Solnit are two women who recently wrote articles describing dismissal in their professional lives. I found these two articles within days of each other, and they prompted a revelation for me. I think their work will strike a chord with military women who’ve shared a certain experience…
Rebecca Watson wrote “It Stands to Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too” for Slate about her run-in with the skeptic community after she began injecting a little feminist perspective into her blog posts and talks.
As I got to the elevator, a man who I had not yet spoken with directly broke away from the group and joined me. As the doors closed, he said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?” I politely declined and got off the elevator when it hit my floor.
A few days later, I was making a video about the trip and I decided to use that as an example of how not to behave at conferences if you want to make women feel safe and comfortable…
What I said in my video, exactly, was, “Guys, don’t do that,” with a bit of a laugh and a shrug. What legions of angry atheists apparently heard was, “Guys, I won’t stop hating men until I get 2 million YouTube comments calling me a ‘cunt.’ ” The skeptics boldly rose to the imagined challenge.
Rebecca Solnit’s “The Problem With Men Explaining Things” on Mother Jones describes a man who took the time to explain her own book after hearing she’d written something on the subject.
So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book—with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.
I’m not here to chime in on sexism in the skeptic community, nor within academia; I’ve never liked Richard Dawkins, and I’m still too young to know if “men explaining things” will taper off once I develop my own expertise. It’s possible that a few stress lines might help advertise my experience and buttress my opinions. I was actually struck by the deaf ears present in both articles. Solnit addresses it outright, framed as an arrogant act of silencing, while Watson focuses on the personal attacks and threats leveled at her for mentioning that she felt discomfort at a convention for skeptics.
This happens in the military too. I’ve been ignored and spoken over so many times that I took it as a personal trait, something I was causing with my tone or mannerisms. While wearing a higher rank on my collar, with more education under my belt, I still expected men to direct their conversations around me unless I forced their attention. A former coworker texted an important personal question after I left the Marine Corps, a question that I was the best person to ask, and I was blown away. Why is that? Reading these two articles helped me realize that I was so used to being disregarded (like the Rebeccas) by certain types of Marines that a normal level of attention, a response that incorporated something I’d wanted to communicate, felt like extraordinary success.
My first post for this blog that touched on gender issues was an optimistic response to a report on the second of two women dropping out of an experimental infantry training program. I received several comments on my post, and I joined similar discussions elsewhere online. In discussions like these, infinite men explain the limitations of female physical performance, how other men respond to women in uniform, and what would be best for women. Not once have I been asked how I fared physically in the Marine Corps, or how male Marines responded to me, despite identifying myself as a female Marine to provide context each time I joined the fray. Whether the comment is an angry agenda-push, complete disregard of actual events because predicting something dire is more fun, or weirdly apologetic; it’s still a decision handed down, not a two-way conversation.
How does this relate to the American Dream? Simply because I had a conversation with my husband after reading these articles, and we discussed the differences in goals between men and women. We talked about the traditional American Dream, defined by James Truslow Adams in 1931 as, “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” For American immigrants, this was the dream of an open country, escape from an unwanted life, adventure, and limitless opportunity. For a man, that is. For a woman, this dream probably only spun images of a bigger house to clean, a strange language, isolation, and children who would come to identify with a culture other than her own.
The new American Dream for me is to make every choice correctly, no exceptions: to excel in marriage, parenting, education, career, friendships, and personal development. Otherwise, I’m deathly afraid that even one perceived degree of failure will cause me to be disregarded at every turn.
My husband’s dream is a positive home environment and a good job. That’s it. He knows that his voice will carry whenever he has something to say. Meanwhile, I can’t give an opinion on a women’s issue in the branch of service to which I dedicated the best part of a decade without being explained to death.When I choose to maintain a personal communication channel like this blog, I take the risk that if I let even one ball drop, say if I gain weight or deal with strain in my marriage, there are thousands of strangers willing to use that imperfection to belittle and harass me. I’ve seen it too many times now, under the articles of too many female writers. Rebecca Watson is just one prominent example. I can’t read Rebecca Solnit’s article and believe this is limited to the internet, either.
If that’s really all there is to my over-complicated goals, to feel a little bit of confidence that I won’t be batted aside and disregarded because someone found a picture of me wearing ridiculous sweatpants, I can’t help but think that more women than just me feel the effects of this shaky foundation. I’d like to find a way to stress a little less, wherever the change has to occur.
What do you think, are women heard less than men?