Category Archives: patriarchy

Why Now?

I speculated with my husband a few weeks ago about why the #MeToo campaign has really gained traction now, finally, after all these decades of bad behavior. I have a theory that so many women of my generation watched what happened to Anita Hill, and said, “shit, that is NOT worth it” and remained silent.

There are factors like “social proof” in terms of watching other women reporting harassment and abuse, and having nothing happen. Or worse, you see how coming forward hurts others careers when speak up, so you decide it will not help your career to report.

But then when the Harasser in Chief took office, there was a cascade of old trauma that came to the fore, and women started to think, why NOT now? If we cannot lash out at the most powerful predator, at least let us expose the ones that are within reach. That was my theory, anyway. I also saw a possible tipping point after the Harvey Weinstein story really took hold, an unleashing of all these incidents that could no longer be joked about or contained.

why now ashwini tambe photo.JPG

Photo credit link – article from Ashwini Tambe

When I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast entitled “Why Now?” published on February 5, 2018, I was happy to note there is an actual term for this concept from social science called “horizontal action.” It originates from the concept of “horizontal violence” where it has been found that in colonial regimes, when people cannot lash out against the ruler, they lash out against people in their own lives.

When the pressure builds up and cannot blow the top off of a problem, it comes out sideways. Feminist studies professor Ashwini Tambe explains that “the election of Trump has served as a trigger, and it has provoked a great fury and impatience because he represents for many people the ultimate unpunished predator.” Horizontal action is a way that women have channeled in their lives their anger at the misogyny that has been building for far too long.

“It is so unbelievable that we have a president, who is the leader of the free world and does not care about the rights of women” (quote from the podcast). When someone who has bragged about kissing women and touching them against their will as though he owned them becomes our leader, we find ways to bring at men to account who committed other offenses.

This totally makes sense to me.

The podcast also describes other phenomena like “preference falsification” which blinds regimes to their citizen’s growing dissatisfaction. This describes how it seems surprising that the Wall came down, even when it looked like the Soviet Union may have been strong.

Please listen to this episode of Hidden Brain. I think it really helps to explain the psychology behind the secrecy of the abuse, and the reason many women stayed silent. We should not discount the trauma that shut people down who are in vulnerable circumstances.

We also need to keep speaking up and setting new norms around behavior, even though we may be perceived as “ugly” instead of polite. Women have been held back by centuries (perhaps millennia) of intimidation, oppression and violence.

It is time to hold men accountable and call out behavior that is wrong. At least, seeing how many women are doing this around us helps us know we are not alone. It is time to stop blaming victims for their inability to speak up earlier. We can all be a part of the solution to this problem now.

 

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Getting ugly

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Barbara Kingsolver entitled “#MeToo isn’t enough. Now women need to get ugly

It was a thought-provoking piece and I am still mulling it over today, in light of world news, and in light of experiences I have had in my life and career.

“Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal.”

She explains how we are so embedded within the patriarchy that sometimes it is difficult to perceive it. I have heard patriarchy likened to being a fish in water, but not knowing what “water” is – it is the stuff we swim around in every day. We do not know what it is because we have never been without it for any length of time. Patriarchy is like water: it envelopes our lives in such a way that it becomes our reality.

But fortunately humans are not fish. And our breathing is not dependent on the existence of the patriarchy, though it may seem like our livelihoods indeed depend on it for many.

I realize part of my aversion to corporate life these days reflects partly an exhaustion with a patriarchal system that does not value work based on merit. It privileges the contributions of one gender over another. It does not value people and their multiplicity of contributions, the range of what they could bring to the table when given an opportunity.

I am fortunate to work in a company that places a high value on employees as people, and usually lives up to that tenet of our mission. But looking at a wall of inductees to its highest scientific honor society, counting the ~70 people’s faces and realizing that just 10% of them our women, I sigh and wonder.

There are so many barriers to women attempting to enter realms of work like science, engineering, politics, higher management. Some of these barriers are internal: we lack  confidence or we are not sure we have the competence to enter. We erect higher standards for ourselves than men have to try these positions, and worry more about making mistakes.

The socialization of women and girls has evolved a bit in the 4+ decades since I was born. The availability of sports teams and competitive opportunities has allowed more of us to challenge ourselves and take leadership in new areas. And yet when we lack critical mass, we must work much harder to build professional alliances and networks.

getting ugly

The “old boys club” is very much a reality in many of the corporate environments where we work. My own experience has shown me that men who mentor and sponsor us at work can be professional and appropriate in their behavior. But patriarchy functions subtly here as well.

My boss treats me a bit like a daughter figure – I can tell he is proud of me and my achievements. He wants me to “brag” more and to make sure others know about my accomplishments.  He allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from my experiences. But he has also been protective of me in a way that may be different from how he has treated his male proteges. Whether that is an aspect of personality or of systemic bias, it is impossible to really separate out. We swim in patriarchy so clear vision is obscured.

This morning I will return to a project group of mostly men (25% women) to work on a design project for technology that needs an upgrade. I found myself wanting to share more of my creativity yesterday during the “ideation” phase of our human-centered design process. But I found myself holding back. I was not sure why. The group is unfamiliar to me, and that is a barrier sometimes.

It does no good to blame the patriarchy when we struggle to get our ideas out, when there are also internal barriers as well. But it does help to understand the context of why women are less confident putting themselves out there. Kingsolver notes: “It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real…” 

Exactly. This type of rape culture makes working “outside our comfort zone” a regular and daily occurrence. Is it any wonder that taking risks in business or engineering feels so dangerous? While many of us learn to live and even thrive in these environments, we also realize women are disproportionately attacked and thus we remain on guard for more of waking hours.

I am contemplating the the notion of getting ugly as Kingsolver recommends. I definitely think we need to dispense with making ourselves pretty and “acceptable” and comfortable for men. It simply does not serve anyone, ourselves or the wider world, to neglect the gifts and talents of half the world’s population.

Men have been ugly to women privately in ways that are now becoming public. And it has caused some seismic shifts in the way women realize how non-personal and cultural all of that behavior has been. I agree that we must never tolerate this behavior, and if that makes me ugly, I am fine with that.