I woke up this morning to an article on Vox about how there has been a spike in Twitter harassment of Megyn Kelly, one of Fox News' lead anchors and a moderator of the upcoming GOP debate. Editor's note: There is some language in both the Vox piece and in my own below.
It got my wheels turning (again) about the way that we speak about candidates or public figures who are women.
But first, a confession.
When I was younger (like middle school aged), I was very opinionated. Shocking, I know! And one of the opinions that I liked to tout around was that "Women should never be elected president because they're too emotional to lead a country. What if they had to make a big decision and just started crying or something??"
So, in the spirit of "We're all learning as we go, including me, and here are some things to consider delivered from a place of humility and respect for your opinion," here we go.
1. ACCIDENTAL SEXISM
It is SO easy to have some biases and prejudices that lie dormant until they're triggered. Then, suddenly, you have no idea where this vitriol came from!
Ex. Someone is watching the debates, and hears that Hillary Clinton took a bathroom break. "That is just like a woman," they might say. "Typical. I bet she took a pack of her girlfriends with her, didn't she?"
It turns out that all three candidates used the restroom during the commercial break. But why did that stir up angry feelings? Probably because somewhere deep inside us, we have some prejudices against women in leadership. And they come from years of seeing men in leadership.
I myself am very guilty of unconsciously trusting and putting more stock into the voices of men on NPR than the voices of women. This is something I'm actively working on. It comes from years of seeing mostly men in leadership positions, and being mentally trained to expect that a man's opinion holds more water than a woman's, simply because he's male.
2. SEXISM ON PURPOSE
Of course, there's also the kind of hate that flies out of our mouths and into the world. We all say things we wish we hadn't, but unless we peel back the layers of why we said them, they're going to keep getting said.
Ex: "Megyn Kelly is kind of bitchy, right? She's just not likable. Her face is always all pinched up. Just relax, girl! She's always so shrill and so angry."
"Hillary Clinton can't run a country. She can't even run her marriage! How am I supposed to trust someone with her finger on the button who hasn't been able to keep her own husband in line?"
I sought the opinion of a really smart friend of mine, Katie Glenn, who said:
"My barometer is nearly always: 'Is this terminology you ever hear used or brought up in reference to a man? If you can't think of a time or place that someone would say the same thing about a male candidate, it's probably sexist. Coded bigotry is everywhere. It doesn't have to be straight up saying, 'She's stupid because she's a woman.'"
This is such an easy trap! Don't let it happen to you!
Of course, many of us talk about male candidate's temperaments and qualifications, but few of us discuss what male candidates are wearing, whether we like their haircut, their spouse's past sexual indiscretions, or the timber of their voice.
Katie's thoughts are a solid jumping off point: if you find yourself on the verge of a criticism about a female candidate or public figure, think: "Is this something I would say about a man? Is there a version of this that is already said about men?" If the answer is no, maybe think twice before saying it. And if it's particularly nasty, just skip it altogether. Because:
3. EVERYDAY SEXISM
As I was saying:
Because if you are a living, breathing person (particularly a living, breathing male), you know a woman personally who has experienced sexism. In fact, you may share a home with her!
Any woman - not just political candidates or famous people - who has worked in a professional environment has run up against sexism at one point or another.
We've sat in meetings and been told that we're pretty, but not taken very seriously. We've been passed over for projects in favor of a male colleague when we were the more qualified person for the job. We've been belittled and "head patted" and "Aren't you adorable'd?" We've been overlooked because we're too "plain," or we "don't put enough effort" into our appearance. People have assumed that we'll go along with anything because if we're women, we also must want to avoid the stress that comes with a dissenting opinion. And we've certainly been objectified in the workplace.
It's very frustrating. And it happens when people don't take the time to Stop, Look, and Listen to their own inner monologue.
Now here's the part where I say that I'm a straight, white, upper/middle class woman who is speaking about experiencing sexism from a place of privilege, and that I am aware that there are women of color and across the LGBT spectrum who experience sexism in a very different (and often much more intense and limiting) way.
The bottom line is, we have to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. If nothing else, these three rules are key to not saying anything offensive while we're working on excavating our latent prejudice:
- Is it kind?
- Is it true?
- Is it necessary?
Because you can fall anywhere on the political spectrum and still be a person of integrity on this issue. Because being a feminist doesn't have anything to do with being angry or hateful. Because the smartest people are the ones whose opinions are well-researched and kindly spoken. Because being nice is a perfect starting point, but digging deep into our hearts to find the dusty corners of uncomfortable bias that we didn't even know we were carrying?
THAT is where change happens.