I keep thinking about gender, and specifically, gendered communication styles.
I am a member of a small but growing department, and we were having a check-in and reflection about how things have been going, and what could be better in the future when the organization collaborates with other outside organizations the way we have been.
I couldn’t help but notice that the one male member of our small team was talking about how he had just scheduled meetings with several people at the outside organization and asked them to come help him with what he needed to help make his work better.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were saying things like, “Well, I didn’t know if they really meant it when they said they would help,” or “I’m sure they’re busy and I didn’t want to overwhelm them,” or “Can we get more clarity about acceptable ways and times to contact people moving forward?”
I also kept pseudo-apologizing for not just reaching out as he had, by saying things like, “Well, maybe it’s just me, but…” and going on to give an example of the way our department could facilitate and support interaction with these outside people, including scheduling regular meetings with them.
But if he felt like he needed to meet with them, he just did it.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were struggling, and not sure what resources we could even draw on outside of ourselves.
What resources we were allowed to draw on.
The women at the table seemed to need permission – for these meetings to be sanctioned from our supervisors.
It would have never occurred to me to reach out to any of them unannounced, without getting the go-ahead.
And clearly it’s not just me.
So why is that?
In a world where it could be argued that you get what you can advocate for, we do a disservice to half the population by not teaching them to ever expect anyone else will help them meet their needs, or worse, teaching us to feel ashamed for having them in the first place.
We all seemed to feel that we should be able to do this work on our own, without help. He assumed he could get the help he rightfully needed.
There’s a pretty big divide there.
I’ve been reading a lot more about emotional labor recently. Instances like this make me realize I’m doing so much more emotional labor than I even realize I’m doing, all of the time.
When I needed something, instead of asking for it, my first thought was whether I was inconveniencing anyone. Whether they would be willing to help me. Whether I was allowed to ask for help or admit to needing it. Pretty much all of my thoughts were about other people and their needs and their thoughts, and in the meantime, my own needs were going unmet.
And I could have just walked in their door and told them to help me?
Even my supervisor, who apparently has an open door policy, I would never stop by to ask for advice without setting up a meeting first. Why?
Clearly there are benefits to both. We want to be aware of and responsive to others’ needs, but not at the expense of our own. We want to be able to advocate proactively for our own needs to be met, but not but not expect or demand so much that we do others harm. There is a middle ground. But how many people live there?
Here was a table of grown women who were in desperate need of help and didn’t ever consider asking for it, until a meeting was set for us to give feedback. Until we were given permission to ask by our female supervisor, who at least on some level understands that a forum might be necessary for such things.
I’m feeling some kind of way, y’all.
Painting broad strokes with a very large brush, men have no idea how much space they take up, and no one has any idea how much emotional labor women are doing (even for each other) all the time.
I’m learning that the best and sometimes only way to get the help and support I need is to ask for it. I’m getting better at asking. But I clearly don’t even have any idea how bad I was at asking to begin with.
Even that woman in the picture at the top of this post – it’s hard to tell whether the hand over her mouth is someone else’s or her own. But it kind of looks like her own. Patriarchy teaches us to silence ourselves.
It’s why even though I identify as genderfluid or non-binary, I use she/her pronouns. Being given that label at birth and socialized to be a woman in society has left deep marks on me. Deeper than I even know or understand. It has shaped me in ways I may never fully comprehend, regardless of the fact that I didn’t choose it. It was chosen for me, put on me, and that has real, visceral, ramifications on my life and experience. Including a lot of negative ones. Identifying, even peripherally, with womanhood is the only way I know how to make sense of those ramifications and find other people who have experienced and continue to experience the same. Because of the way my body looks, others will put that label on me no matter what, and it affects me in so many ways that I’m aware of and so, so many that I’m not.
I’m feeling some kind of way.
Some kind of despair and grief.
That I have no idea what it would be to walk into a room and assume that other people are there to help me, that I’m not a burden to them. That I deserve to have my needs met and should have them met, even if I have to do the work of seeking out the people who might meet them.
I was reminded today of something that one of my graduate professors said. She said, if a woman and a man apply for the same job, the man always negotiates the salary higher, and the woman never even tries. She just accepts whatever number they say, because she’s been taught not to ask too much of others. Even now, if I applied for a job that pays a dollar less an hour than what I currently make, I wouldn’t ask if they could go higher. I would assume that’s the best I can get.
I keep thinking of a post I saw on Facebook, where a poly woman was saying that she was seeing metamours get things she didn’t get and feeling jealous, even though she knew she had never asked for them. She was afraid to ask her partner for things, even knowing them and knowing the fear was irrational. I’ve been there, too, clinging to the edge of a relationship, afraid to ask for anything I wasn’t already getting. Afraid to admit I have needs exceeding what has been accounted for already.
This body of mine comes so full of fear. Fear that was given to me. Fear that I don’t know how to shake off.
I don’t know how to teach myself that confidence and entitlement that half the world walks around with, or un-teach myself this fear and shame that seems to run as deep as my bones.
But I’m trying.
And if you’re a man, reading this: know that you have no idea how much space you’re taking up. Remember that. Remember it.