This article started last quarter with confusion, frustration, and anger.
Anger at a fellow woman’s words.
We were sitting in a group, discussing our progress in leading writing workshop groups for a lower division writing class, when one guy—the only man in our huddle—spoke up. He described a situation he’d encountered in which a man had made the only woman in the workshop group uncomfortable with his writing. This guy, our fellow workshop leader, asked us as peers and as women, “What should I have said to her after this incident?”
I didn’t speak up at this time because I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I let the silence hang. I have come to regret that. I don’t know what I should have said, but I should have said something, anything but what was said next.
Because the person who broke the silence, a female workshop leader, said something that I will never forget. She started authoritatively, “Because many men,” and here she broke off with a smirk, like okay, I’ll drop the act and just tell it like it is. “Because most men tend to dismiss anything women say or feel, it would be incredible for her if you could just start by validating her feeling of discomfort.”
Incredible. The word incredible means, roughly, “impossible to believe.” It implies that whatever is incredible is utterly unexpected, likely unprecedented, perhaps unimaginable.
Well, I guess there are those who would agree that men validating women is incredible. After all, Jennifer Lawrence did get up in front of a large crowd, armed with social media, to announce to the world that it is “fundamental to the female experience to be mistreated and feel ashamed of it.” That almost makes me ask a different kind of question. Like… am I not a woman if I have not been mistreated and felt ashamed of it? Am I not a woman if the men in my life treat me with respect, care, and love? Am I not a woman if I don’t answer a guy’s honest attempt to help with sarcastic, haughty—dare I say it—mansplaining?
I think not.
We are women even when we are not mistreated, and we are women even when we do not feel ashamed. Why must womanhood imply war? This doesn’t have to be about women fighting against men. We are women, and our words are powerful. That does not mean we need to weaponize them. Women’s words can be the starting point for a different, stronger narrative.
If we want to see a different world, we have to do our part in creating it. Regardless of what we have been told, our words do shape our world. We have a responsibility to speak not only about problems and criminals, but about dreams, possibilities, and the small moments that inspire hope. Like a man asking a group of women for our advice about how to treat another woman with respect. Unlike our peer who answered him, he understood the importance of women’s words. That’s why he sought them out. And we need to talk about this too, to tell the men in our lives that they can and should be and are better than what other women have painted them to be. They are capable of respecting us, loving us, treating us with fairness. They need to hear this from us because we wield the power of women’s words. I don’t take that lightly.
As women, we must demand the support, encouragement, and validation we deserve. We are women, not Barbie dolls. We will not be posed or cast in roles that are beneath us. I don’t just mean this for Jennifer Lawrence. I mean it for all of us who play roles in our lives.
Yes, our success is challenged. But it is not enough to tell ourselves and each other about those challenges. We have to start talking more about the ways that we and others have met those challenges. I disagree that mistreatment or shame can be described as “fundamental” to our identity. What is fundamental is our strength, our tenacity, and our success. We need not be who we are because of how we have been treated. We can be who we are because of the way that we demand to be treated. And let’s give ourselves the credit we deserve. Let’s give credit where credit is due, to women, men, everyone.
I would like to believe in a future in which I will hear more about what women can do than what women cannot do from other women. I would like to know that my little sisters will grow up hearing that run like a girl is about success, not shame. And I would like to know that we welcome the men who do the right thing in supporting, encouraging, and admiring who we actually fundamentally are.
Nora Yagolnitser is a staff writer at The Triton. If you are interested in submitting an opinion piece, you may do so here.