The Equality Language Lab

By Juliana Jiménez

France’s Laboratoire de l’égalité brings you this awesome video, put together by Pacte Pour L’égalité, or Pact for Equality. Doesn’t require subtitles or translation.

Pacte Pour L’égalité  seeks to put pressure on France’s 2012 presidential candidates to address the obstacles toward equality between men and women.

The scenarios in the video serve mostly as metaphor of what it’s like to work or have a conversation with (some) men. I’ve had that experience many times, even if it’s just talking with friends or family. I never know if it’s “the gender thing,” or if it’s just me, and my ideas are just not that worthwhile and that’s why they get trampled in favor of someone else’s. But just having to ask yourself that question alone though, is definitely a self-esteem bummer and can affect how you contribute to the conversation, starting a vicious cycle of lack of assertiveness.

Now, the fact that that someone else is usually a man might push in favor of “the gender thing” — but again it might also be a matter of statistics, because most heated politics/religion/philosophy discussions I have are with men and not with women.

There are many, many linguistics and psychological studies on the differences between male and female discourse dynamics. University professor and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University Deborah Tannen says, for example, that

“Men grow up in a world in which a conversation is often a contest, either to achieve the upper hand or to prevent other people from pushing them around. For women, however, talking is often a way to exchange confirmation and support.”

Another 1976 landmark study demonstrates this concept by showing the difference between how often men interrupt other men vs. how often they interrupt women

“Early studies on interruptions and related phenomena seem to indicate a larger tendency on the part of men to interrupt in cross-sex conversations while in same-sex conversations no significant differences were found. Zimmerman/West (1975) reported the following results:

Same-sex conversations 1st Speaker 2nd Speaker Total
Overlaps 12 10 22
Interruptions 3 4 7
Cross-sex conversations Male Female Total
Overlaps 9 0 9
Interruptions 46 2 48

(based on Zimmerman/West 1975: 115-116)

Sad, but true. Another finding of a 1998 study shows not only how conversational style affects a peson’s standing in society but how that person’s standing affects the way they talk. This sentence is so packed with truth it almost made me cry/throw-up a little:

Men, the speakers of the dominant style, have more rights and privileges. They exhibit their privileges and produce them in every conversational situation. (Trömel-Plötz 1998: 447).”

These differences can be shown down to the very words we choose. Women will use words like “maybe”, “perhaps”, or qualifiers like “I think”, or “in my opinion.” If these sound like a 5th-grader’s essay it’s no coincidence (infantilization of women, I’m looking at you). Speaking and writing like this makes a person seem less confident, like he/she doesn’t know what she/he is talking about, which in turn could be taken as encouragement to speak over that person.

When I first realized this in a freshman linguistics class, I became very self-conscious about it, and have done pretty well over time in not using these words (although check out the “pretty” in that sentence… under-confident, sure, over-confident, never!)

I wonder what it would be like to have a very heated politics/religion/philosophy discussion with a group of women. I’m not sure everyone would be more tolerant and respectful; if you’re a woman and you’re having these discussions, chances are you started having them with men and learned how to argue like them. But I have a feeling they might just be. But what would be the off-side? Less bold ideas? What do you think? What are your experiences when arguing with either men or women?

Grad School = Gender Gap?

By Andrea Alarcón

A New York Times article on how women are flocking back to grad school while their male counterparts scramble for a job caught my attention. Not only because of the content, but because of the tone. It seemed as if though women are investing more in their future by being in debt and not taking any job that will not satisfy them. But, is it a wise choice?

The girl described in the article, who is now $200.000 in debt for a communications degree, is getting slammed in many places for being plain naive. We are all aware that at this point, women earn more degrees and do better than men in school. Yet getting good grades does not equate to having a great career.

There is still this heavy cultural message that men should be out there earning money and supporting themselves, and they feel more distressed by losing their breadwinner role,” said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families. “We’ve made much more progress overcoming the ‘feminine mystique’ than this masculine mystique.

Photo: Kris Krüg

Stephanie Coontz. Photo: Kris Krüg via Wikipedia.

The article states that women are thinking more long-term and will in the end benefit more. Yet careers considered more female-prone earn less. Social work, communications, liberal arts degrees… the engineering department at my school was scarce with women. So, why are we racking up more debt if we earn less? Is it the lack of pressure of maintaining a family? We don’t have that bread-winner role?

I am myself applying to masters degrees in media, but I would not get into debt for it. Then again, I know I am lucky and have that choice… if I needed to get into debt, I don’t honestly know what choice I would make. What do you think? Is going to school during this crisis and burying yourself in debt a forward-thinking one or a foolish one? And why are women taking this path and not men?

Esperanza Spalding, singer, bassist, composer, in 2009.

Where Have All the Women Gone?

By Juliana Jiménez

There are few women musicians whose talent supersedes their looks. There are lots of singers, but it’s usually looks > talent, at least as far as society is concerned: Lady GagaBritney SpearsJessica Simpson, Madonna, etc. Even when they do have talent, their looks are highlighted a lot more than for male singers.

But full bands full of musical talent and creative genius? full of women? Not very likely. Can you think of one out of the top of your head? They don’t even have to be too good and/or successful. Or, think musical genius. Does a woman come to mind?

Umoja Orchestra, a Gainesville, Fla. band. Band handout.

Umoja Orchestra, a Gainesville, Fla. band. Band handout.

There’s a pattern here too. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with singing, but what about musicians who play instruments or compose? Why are there so few women bass players, drummers, trumpet players, sax players, lead guitarists? Why are some genres more accessible to women, like pop and indie rock, and others are not, like rap, salsa, metal or jazz (or punk, or vallenato, or classical, or ska, or reggae, or you-get-my-point)?

When it comes to solo musicians, there are exceptions, of course. The history of human civilization is rather long and male hegemony is not that complete, so a few, historically very recently, have squeezed through. Black-Haired Shakira (regardless of whether you like her or not, she writes her own music, plays guitar, harmonica, drums, sings, dances and writes her own lyrics–which are breathtaking in the first two CDs); Esperanza Spalding, jazz prodigy bassist, vocalist, band leader and composer; Edith Piaf, and Celia Cruz (no explanation needed), composer, producer and pianist Yoko Kanno, to name just a few.

Examples of all-male bands are too numerous to even attempt to start, but bands with one or two female members, that I am somewhat familiarized with, are for example, Bio Ritmo (salsa, Richmond, Va.), Monsieur Perine (jazz/pop, Bogotá, Colombia), Ekobios (salsa, Gainesville, Fla.), Umoja Orchestra (afrobeat/Latin/jazz, Gainesville, Fla.) where women usually sing and/or play auxiliary percussion instruments (which can be important, depending on the music genre. And in Bio Ritmo, the woman plays the piano and she is extremely talented). The women that I know in these bands are very talented, and I feel their musicality could go to greater depths –so obviously, this is in no way is trying to be disrespectful to the members of these bands, female or male– this is simply pointing out the current state of affairs, to question whether they are optimal and what can be improved about them.

I had this conversation with a male multi-instrumentalist/composer who is in a band of +/- 12 men and +/- 1 woman (singer). It went like this:

Me: “Why are there so few women musicians in bands?”

Him: “Because they don’t take the initiative.”

Me: “True. Why?”

Him: “Because they don’t care, they’re not interested.”

How true is this? And if it’s true, why aren’t they interested? Is it something inherent in women? Is it genetic, hormonal? In a sweep of collective generalization, what are they doing that they’re not out there making music? Cooking and having babies? 

Him: “Yes.”

This could be a possibility. Household chores and motherhood have kept women out of the workplace for many, many years, so the same could apply to activities that require a lot of dedication and time, like music. Then I am reminded that not everything has to do with feminism, not everything shitty that happens to women is a result of an unfair power imbalance. Yes, one should consider all possibilities. Maybe they’re uninterested, apathetic. Maybe they just don’t like making music that much. Maybe they have better, more important things to do, like being state leaders, philosophers, engineers. Oh, wait.

Another possibility he points out is that maybe testosterone is needed to be able to play something like drums, (just like you need testosterone to play football, he says, and you don’t need it for ballet. For ballet you need flexibility, which women have more of, and that’s why each has its due gender distributions).

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding. Wikipedia.

If that’s true, first, we would have to assume that women either a) have no natural inclination for music, or b) they like it, but they are incapable of reaching the level of skill necessary to start or be in a band, or c) they like it, they can have skill, but they lack the necessary level of creativity to lead and create music, not just consume it. You can also see this reflected in a lot of lyrics, ancient and contemporary, which present the scenario of women as audience and men as “creators” (religious pun intended).

Here we can go back to music prodigies like Esperanza Spalding and Shakira, who prove it’s not inherent in womanhood to lack musicality.

So if it’s not genes or hormones — in other words, nature — then it must be nurture. This is about being active vs. passive, about feeling the confidence to create, to contribute to society something that is strong and beautiful and worthwhile, like music can be. This is part of what holds back many women to this day, when it’s not prohibited by law for them to do certain things, but they are still “not interested”.

But before we understand why this happens, lets look at what this musical status quo means, for men, for women, and for humanity as a whole.

More on that on the next post.

5manual de la buena esposa

What Started It All

By Juliana Jiménez

In January last year, I received a forwarded email from a male member of my own family. It was one of those cheesy email jokes that get forwarded around. The subject line was: “How the world changed when I was born: The Good Wife’s Manual”. The body of the email said “Go back to the basics!” and then a few of these:

"Listen to him. His problems are more important than yours."

The images say things like, “Let him speak first, remember that his issues are more important than yours”, “A good wife always knows her place,” and “Look beautiful.” 

There were about a dozen of these. As I read in disbelief I was expecting – hoping – to find at least a shed of an ironic twist. I tried to find the humor in it, but I couldn’t. I could not get it out of my head. Was there something wrong with me? Why did I feel like there was something else here? If I were black, and someone sent me a slavery manual saying “Let’s go back to the basics! LOL!” was I supposed to take that in jest as well? What if I were Jewish and someone sent me a Nazi manual? If this was different, how so? I felt I just couldn’t ignore this. So I wrote back, asking some of these questions, knowing that there would be a reply, and that it might not be apologetic or understanding.

A few weeks later, I ran across “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedanthe seminal feminist text, perhaps “the one that started it all” back in the 60s, and after that family confrontation, I felt compelled to pick it up.

After that, came “The Second Sex” by philosopher Simone de Beauvior, and then New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof‘s “Half the Sky”, books that have deeply transformed my view of the human experience.

I woke up to a reality much, much sadder than I expected, and that I would’ve liked, for my own sake. Some nights, I sort of wished I hadn’t read them, because waking up to reality, to the responsibility of being human, can be painful. But if I were to accept the fact that before being a woman, I am a human, I had to accept that responsibility, and live up to it. This blog aims to put into words and actions this new view, our new ability to dissect and analyze the underlying and sometimes not-so-subtle reality of misogyny we live in to this day.

I cried with those books. I cried for many women I know who are defined by the men in their lives, for so many women that live as second-class citizens. These are women who die from honor killings, acid attacks, starvation, stonings or preventable diseases, women who cannot drive or own property –but who are themselves seen as male property, women who are sold into prostitution, women who are raped and then blamed for it –women who, in short, live subhuman lives, simply because they are women. To borrow from the words of Nicholas Kristof, “the central moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery. In the 20th Century it was totalitarianism. Now, it is the oppression of women and girls around the world.”

Misogyny and sexism have many different manifestations. We aim to shed light on the problems and solutions around us, and to explore these issues in conflict zones, the media, pop culture, philosophy and in our own lives.

My contribution to this blog I owe to that cheesy email, and to the awakening it spurred.