Sarah Cooper recently released a satirical series of illustrations about how women can be less threatening. Undoubtedly, you’ve already seen them, as they’ve gone viral.
Since Sarah published these illustrations, there have been a lot of articles about how they reflect the reality of our world. You’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who hasn’t had to dial down her personality to fit into societal norms. I’m not going to go into how this affects women, and trans people, in terms of othering them and “putting them in their place,” because that’s been discussed quite a bit recently. There’s another consequence of these kinds of expectations that I haven’t seen anyone talk about.
Women make up over 58% of the workforce and half of the U.S. population. So, what happens when society teaches half of the population to be submissive and to punt their power to the person with whom they are speaking – regardless of the gender or age of that person? Eventually, the population as a whole expects people to coddle them.
People don’t expect to hear “no.” People don’t expect to hear “that’s not how you do this.” People don’t expect to hear “I’m not going to accept substandard work from you.”
People view matter-of-fact statements as personal slights. By marginalizing half of the population, we’re making people, in general, more emotionally fragile.
I say “we’re making” because it’s not just men who foster the idea that a woman shouldn’t speak plainly. Sadly, women do it, as well. We can get caught in the cycle of societal norms, even if those norms are bad for us.
I used to be very assertive until I worked for a company that was very traditional and didn’t value change. They were the kind of place that would say “You didn’t say anything wrong, but it was how you said it. You should try saying it this way….”
In one instance, an intern did something incorrectly. Apparently, saying “You need to redo this. It looks nothing like the example I gave you,” was rude of me. What I should have said was “Would you mind redoing this?”
The intern actually said “I spent all day doing this, I don’t want to do it again” and then threw down her notebook. Note that this petulance was okay. My direct correction of her shoddy work was not.
Later the next day, another intern redid the task in one hour – as opposed to the “all day” that it took the first intern to do it incorrectly.
What the first interned learned was that it’s okay to do things the wrong way. It’s okay to do that and if someone tells you it’s not okay, then that person is wrong and out of line.
As an editor, I’ve seen this behavior with freelancers when I (or other editors) give them notes like “Be more careful about typos.” Some freelancers become indignant and swear there weren’t any typos, as if editors invent them just to be bitches.
The lesson in Sarah Cooper’s illustrations isn’t only about the marginalization of women in the workforce, it’s also about the effect that has on the fragility of a person’s sense of self.
Millennials get flack for being “entitled.” Guess what Boomers and GenXers? By expecting women to coddle people in the workforce, this is our fault. If you want Millennials to buck up and stop expecting pats on the back for doing subpar work, then stop expecting more than half of the workforce to be mice.
This is why feminism is good for society as a whole, because marginalizing women affects society as a whole – yes, normative men, misogyny negatively affects your life, too.
I’m not saying that I’ve never been upset over someone correcting me. I’m human. Sometimes things illogically get under our skin. But we should welcome correction.
It’s really great when someone corrects something you’ve done. That means you can learn from it and then you become smarter and better than you were.
And don’t we all want to be better?
Feature image via Farrah Sanjari/Flickr