Sexism is so ingrained in our culture that sometimes it’s hard to see it in the everyday, let alone notice the harmful effects sexism is having. Sometimes it takes someone pointing out the gender dynamics at play to notice what is going on.
Jocelyn is a chaplain, and one day on school camp she saw an opportunity to help students on an activity by letting the teacher see the situation through a gendered lens. This is her story:
I joined the group partway through one of the activities and the group was struggling to complete their challenge. The teacher, who was an older man who had been teaching for a long time, started the conversation by saying to me, “Why are boys so confident they can do this and girls aren’t?”
I responded fairly flippantly, “Because boys are told they’re smart and girls are told they’re flighty.” I immediately softened the statement by adding, “Not so explicitly, but in lots of little ways by the culture.”
A little bit later he again observed, “The girls have good ideas, but why aren’t they speaking up?”
So I came from a linguistics perspective, saying, “In linguistics we analyse gender in conversations, and what is consistent is that men will interrupt and talk over people but women won’t talk over others.”
I didn’t saying anything else, but he had obviously been thinking and observing, because not long into the next activity he just said “That’s amazing.”
“What I was saying before?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, and by the time we got to the next activity he was a full blown convert.
The students were sending one person at a time across the course, when the smart thing to do would be to send three to five across at once. The boys were in charge of doing this and one girl had an idea but couldn’t get a word in to suggest it. The teacher started challenging the students on this dynamic. Initially he asked, “Who gets listened to, the person with the best idea or the loudest voice?”
Then he said, “Some people have good ideas and need to make themselves heard.”
He went on to say, “Jocelyn has just pointed out to me that boys talk over girls and don’t listen to them, and I think the girls have some good ideas and that the boys need to listen.”
Eventually, he named the girl who clearly had the right idea but lacked the confidence to talk over the boys (thus breaking social convention) and told her to say her idea.