My girlfriend recently showed me this article. If you’re at all interested in the following ramblings, I suggest you read it. It’s more eloquent than I have any hope of being.
I want to talk about this idea, but I’m also hyper aware of the possibility that I’ll mansplain it all to fuckery. So let’s shift the focus and talk about me “for a change”. As a card carrying beta male (legit, in my ID photo I’m not even staring straight into the camera. Them’s the rules) I have a hard time asserting myself like a chest beating dominant alpha. It’s not that I lack faith in my abilities, but it likely stems from a deficiency of confidence in my ability to present in a way commensurate with powerful people. I know I’m no blind passenger, but I’m not excited by the prospect of grabbing the reins for myself. Everybody wants to rule the world, except for those of us who don’t.
One of the ways this lack of assertiveness transpires is through language. Have you read any of my writing before? I mean really read it? Nigh on every sentence has a sneaky little modifier or two dropped in there. They’re surreptitious, but when they amass together they form a larger meaning, as the mortar sticking my words together. I never have a strong opinion. Everything is filtered through a weasel word. Everything’s “kind of” stated or “slightly” hesitant. It’s “really” “pretty much” “just” “sorta” “a little” weak. Like I have no faith in my own thoughts, like my words need a constant disclaimer lest someone come back later to challenge me. Well I guess I did say that, but you’re right. My writing is naught but sticks, waiting for some big bad alpha wolf to come and blow it down. I’ve talked with my girlfriend before about it and she’s asked me why I haven’t consciously tried to change it. Well that’s just how I talk I say. My words wouldn’t feel like me if they didn’t sound like I do. It rings true.
When I talk, I cushion what I say. If I’m making a request at work, I’ll couch my demands. Would you mind doing this or I just thought this or that, I’m wondering if you could something else they were meant to have finished hours prior. I apologise constantly, often before I’ve even started a sentence, as if imposing on others was a crime and I wasn’t worth their time. Out in public I’ll almost bump into someone and say sorry. Instead of softly and non-aggressively saying “hey” if I need to ask someone something, it’ll be sorry to bother you or excuse me. I know I’m asking a favour, but does that mean I need to prostate myself before them as a doormat? I’m sure it hasn’t gone far towards garnering respect or admiration from others and it’s very possible to be friendly without mitigating your desires or status.
Here’s the thing. I’m still a guy. I’m still a white guy who comes from a privileged middle class upbringing. I’ve been very fortunate to experience life from a filtered perspective from which I don’t go into the world assuming it’s actively trying to hurt or negate me. I’m not a giant, but I don’t look like a pushover either. When I’m interacting with people, I bring these views with me to the conversation. They can see these things too and it affects how I’m perceived. Even if I’m apologising, making myself less of a threat, seconding my own opinion as a way of permitting them to crush it, I’ve still got huge amounts of cultural cache backing me up. Being a guy, this kind of behaviour coupled with a friendly mentality can often even work in my favour. Politeness as a variation from the norm is sometimes seen as a virtue and aids the achievement of my vector.
If I was a woman, would I hold the same privileges? In 99.9 (ad infinitum) percent of cases, no. Apologising or minimizing your requests lowers their status. When you’re living within a society that actively wants to reinforce regressive and outdated gender roles, anything that weakens you is seen as feminine. It’s beyond absurd (and that’s a whooole different discussion), but these little modifiers subtly imply to others that their opinion is more important, because this is “just” what you think. I don’t want to speak for women because as many stories as I hear about the bullshit they endure on a daily basis, I’ve never fully been able to see the world without the male bias I’ve been afforded. It’s been that pervasive in my life. I’d like to support as much as I can, even if that’s often limited to raising awareness and shutting the fuck up while someone who’s been slighted can have a chance to speak up. Much as I want to help, the benefits this society has afforded me simply because of what hangs between my legs serves as an imposition between the culture I’d like to foster and my right to talk on it. Language has power and as it’s currently set up it only bolsters the dominant gender hegemony. To defer or apologise is what a woman does, because frankly it’s embarrassing that she’s even speaking while the males are talking. Vomit. Can we progress as a species? We consider ourselves evolved, right? Then why are we stuck in such archaic thought patterns?
It’s 2015 everyone. Can we act like it?