I’d like to talk about two of my favorite Stanford men. Both of them are STEM majors (one is working at a start-up and the other is in his PhD program at MIT). These two individuals are two of the smartest people I have ever met in my life. Not only are they capable and amused by scientific and mathematical concepts that would made a normal person insane, but they can also both converse on history and culture, which is why I am their token fuzzy friend. I have a really scientific approach to my work, borne out of the way my brain works and also the excellent training I got from my undergraduate adviser. What I loved about history, and the reason I majored in that and not something else, was that history required evidence, research, piecing together data and constructing a larger narrative from the pieces of evidence. Or at least the history I was doing did. Either way, at Stanford the Techies seem to have a superiority complex about what they are studying as if majors should be chosen solely on the following criteria 1)How much money it will make and B) How hard it is. The two individuals in question are the kinds of people who love, sweat and breathe what they study, just like me, which is why we get along.
My field is one of the few that is still dominated by men on the fuzzy side of things, so I took a lot of courses with a lot of men over time (this was especially true because I studied Asia, which every white man apparently needs to carry out his colonial fantasies on at some point in their undergrad career). Some of the men I took classes with were great. They argued with me like I was another man they respected and we hung out on the weekends in a completely appropriate manner. However, there were classes where I got treated like I was a talking dog. I have been called aggressive, aggravating, bitchy, difficult, unfeminine and all sorts of other fun words for the crime of thinking I have the right debate about issues as an equal.
The high school I went to had some serious advantages. There were so few people who wanted to challenge me that I pretty much got used to being allowed to say what I want and do what I want. The few times the male students decided to be jerks the teachers schooled them quickly or they were embarrassed by me. I was raised with a woman who would have been really angry if she had gone to a parent teacher conference and was told by the teachers that her daughter was quiet and needed to speak up more. So before getting to Stanford I got inoculated with a shot to prevent me from losing my voice.
This has come in handy in weeding people out. I still have some male friends who tell me when and where and how to exercise my voice, I do what I want anyway. There is something more insidious than the name calling, however, and that is
to delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation
Mansplaining happens to me a lot because I happen to be in multiple fields where people think it’s perfectly acceptable dinner conversation to spout off their uneducated views about China, Education, Poverty, History, etc. etc. It’s incredibly frustrating when it happens, when someone with condescending tone and usually an over-usage of SAT terms tries to explain to me something I already obviously know. The reason I brought up the two engineers into this is even though I’ve known many engineers to be guilty of that, these two have not done that to me in the many years I have know them. This is despite the fact that they have knowledge I don’t have. But the true marker of intelligence and humility is knowing what you don’t know and being willing to learn from someone else. I don’t espouse opinions about things I don’t know about, and if my students stumble on a question I don’t know the answer to, I will tell them “I don’t know but I will find out.” The thing about my historical training is that I have the ability now to find out about anything, so I am confident that I can do that and then I report back. I understand that there is a lot of pressure on men to appear to be knowledgeable about all the things and that with some people it has resulted in some rewards to keep doing this, but when they encounter a woman equally well educated it’s just insulting. It shows a basic lack of respect for my intellect. I’ve actually seen the male version of me argue in the same way I do and be handed a cigar and entrance into the club. Nine times out of ten the dudes continue the debate even after I have clearly displayed my knowledge and then they continue it until eventually getting so angry they stamp off and tell me that I am “angsty” or some variation of a bitch. That’s how I know I’ve won, and usually I wasn’t even trying to play the game. For a brief and silly period in my life, I actually tried to moderate myself and “feminize” my tone and speaking style, but I decided that was a bad idea. I want don’t a seat as the trusty and adorable side-kick, I want a seat at the big table in my own right. And I want them to have to deal with my existence. Because I am here, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. And eventually, you are going to have to open the door because I am a relentless bitch.