Why innocuous preferences are not.

Let’s just get this out there right now. If someone is more comfortable because of someone’s gender rather than their level of expertise, cultural gender bias is at play.

I am a cisgender woman who prefers women doctors. Why? Because women are less likely by the numbers to assault, make disrespectful comments, or assume I’m an idiot.  That’s not because individual men are bad, that’s society. Masculinity is associated with power; therefore, men are less likely to have been told when they were taking too much power. (yes, yes… N. A. M.)

Yes, I just acknowledged that my choice of medical professionals is influenced by sexism in our culture. No, that does not make me or anyone a “bad”  person.

Gendered assumptions like: Women are “catty”? Men are more likely to think logically or women more empathetically? Girls and more mature for their age? Women care more about keeping their own spaces clean? All of these are assumptions which are taught and reinforced by culture, and most of them are value-neutral on their surface (i. e. not good or bad, more or less admirable)

Let’s just look at the “who cares about cleanliness” assumption. Think about the TV and movie depictions of teen rooms. Whose are light and clever? Whose are dark and messy? When a girl’s room is dark, is usually symbolizes her conflicted or unhappy nature. A dark boy’s room? Mysterious and deep, interesting and full of potential. Decorating itself is a related phenomenon! How many straight male decorators have you seen on HGTV? Not builder types, but the color of paint, shape of curtains, which dodad belongs on the coffee table decorators.

TV and movies today reflect some of what we are comfortable with and some of aspirations. That is why I point to them. But sure, it’s over simplified, and not perfect.  Still when our media, created by us, is fairly uniform… It does tell us something.

So what?

A single, or even a few gender assumptions are not harmful, right? Yeah, but it’s not just a few. The weight of our myriad  of gendered assumptions becomes a powerful limitation on most people. A few who can game the system (think football players who make multimillion for running around well with a ball, or models who live out massively exaggerated  gendered assumptions visually) get extremely generously rewarded. Many find ways to fit or flex into what is asked, often easily with the help of how we were raised, social praise, and economic success. But for many, this disconnect is literally painful, and social scorn, the work of rejecting a mal-fitting child raising, and/or economic alienation (but which I mean struggles to find keep or be promoted in a job) disincentive personal expression over gendered conformity.

Not so neutral

Here is the fact we like to deny. Value is not some extrinsic, objective reality. What people are willing to pay is hugely influenced by our cultural, political, and power based thinking. Gender affects how much we think things are worth.  This is a chicken/egg situation: men are driven towards professions worth more, and professions are less highly valued as they become more and more feminine dominated. (See: teaching, secretarial/administrative work, even physicians. )

One cause of this, is that the modern workforce  was shaped during years when traits that men held were valued more, so many traditionally women’s tasks were undervalued, resulting in economic gaps between people who do work in fields we think of as masculine led (engineering) and those who work in fields we think of as feminine led (childcare, which is expensive by exists on the backs of minimum wage earning college graduates).

So, yes, your supposedly personal preference may be influenced by cultural sexism. No, that does not make you a bad person. Refusing to consider the unintended consequences now that you know better? Well, I’ll leave the judgment up to you.

Power

If you are the “more experienced” of a group, the person technically in charge, or otherwise the ‘normal’ or ‘insider’, you have power. Pretending you do not have power does not make it go away. Just because you do not “feel” like you have power, or just because people with *more* power or power over you exist, does not negate the power you have over others.
Therefore, just remember: Your small words of affirmation can make someone’s day. Your thoughtless teasing can wound deeper than your intentions by a factor of 10. Your off handed criticism may be heard as a deep and searing negation of other’s effort.
In one large organization where I spent many years attempting to belong, people are told that “power over” is bad.  Therefore, a culture of always pretending and trying to be “one of the peons” has developed.  Therefore, too many people with authority do not take responsibility for the extra weight and power of their words and actions bestowed by positional authority.

Then, regardless of intention: harm happens.   The outsiders, newbies, or underling is only permitted to ask for the tools they need for their job,  after they have determined that the powerful-person will say “yes” Otherwise, the underling is BLAMED for the fact that the powerful-person feels sad about having to say no.  “How dare you ask?”   

As the one who is inside/powerful/authority, it’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to act in ways which build up, not tear down. Use your power well.

Take them down

Simply put, I support the removal of monuments to confederate history. I believe it’s OK to take down even statues of founders who were blemished people but generally regarded as doing more good than harm.

Because I think it’s important to distinguish between removing history and changing how we tell it.

Names on schools, Monuments, street names, and statues are not just there to remember history, but to teach what is worthy of admiration and imitation. The movement here in the US is going to feel like changing history for sure, because we want to tell the side of the story, the names of people who were forcibly silenced and intentionally ignored by school books.

Yes, people who advocate for these changes are trying to make a scary social change: one where being racist disqualifies a person from being a role model. One where we name schools and put up statues to people whom we hope our children will grow up to be like. Not discriminating. Not ignoring the indigenous people.

This is not about being offended or not, it’s about being honest about why we have monuments, and it is to describe heros. And racism, sexism, exploitation is nor heroic. Noticing the poor is. Fighting for equality is.