Alexandra Petri has a piece in the Washington Post which I find sadly disturbing on Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m sorry, Mikhail, if I could? Didn’t mean to cut you off there. Can we agree that this wall maybe isn’t quite doing what it should be doing? Just looking at everything everyone’s been saying, it seems like we could consider removing it. Possibly. I don’t know, what does the room feel?”
As Petri explains it:
You will think that you have stated the case simply and effectively, and everyone else will wonder why you were so Terrifyingly Angry. Instead, you have to translate. You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error. (In fact, as Sloane Crosley pointed out in an essay earlier this year, the time you are most likely to say “I’m sorry” is the time when you feel that you, personally, have just been grievously wronged. Not vice versa.)
Not withstanding all the incredible advances women in the law have fought for and gained, it makes me think about how hard it still must often be for women (or indeed for all except white males) in the courtroom to find just the right balance of strength and acceptability.
As an almost 66 year-old white male with all kinds of extra labels of privilege, including what is probably best described as a somewhat deteriorated Masterpiece Theater (AKA Master Race Theatre) accent, I think I may have started to experience a tiny version of the phenomenon.
When I am in a group of people outside my professional circle, I sometimes feel that I am no longer able to influence the direction of the conversation. My age, and perhaps my reduced energy, have the effect that my words no longer carry the same presumption of significance that they used to enjoy. I have even now had the, common for many experience, of hearing my ideas attributed to someone else, usually someone sitting close to me in a meeting. (The opposite still happens, but only within my professional community.)
I hope this does not sound like a complaint, or arrogance. I suppose I am suggesting that we could all do with the right balance of humility and strength, and be respected for it. It’s hard for all of us to find the balance, but most of us face so many extra barriers to doing so. A world desperately in need of every idea loses so much by this awful waste.
Thanks so much for this and for pointing out what so many of us experience daily, now that you are experiencing it! We are sad for you, but grateful that you would share your experience to teach others.
Richard, what you are reflecting on here is implicit bias and how it affects women, minorities, immigrants, people with accents or disabilities are treated based on biased perceptions of reality. Sorry to hear you have experienced this. You are not alone. Some of us experience this every day, in professional settings, at the grocery, at fancy stores, in front of our children or parents (or we see our parents experience it which hurts in a different way) every day. It takes a lot of focus and hard work to overcome this disenfranchising behavior (both by the persons or groups that do it (most often without awareness that they are putting us down or ignoring or excluding us), and by the person being treated as not equal. Do not let it quiet you down, or get you down. Thanks for blogging about it. It permeates our culture. So thanks for noticing it, and writing this blog about it.
Still so True! When I started trial practice in the early 1980s I quickly observed that male opposing counsel could make long objections to evidence that allowed them to score points with the trier of fact, but that I, a mere woman, had better make my objection succinct and to the point before the eyes of the males in the room glazed over because I was ‘rambling” or being a “shrew.”