In a recent conversation about women in tech, an acquaintance who supported more women in the field described us as more “personable” and less “aggressive.” It’s great that my friend supports diversity, but their reasons bothered me.
There’s a difference between a descriptive view of the world as it is and asserting that this is the way it should be.
While adjectives such as “personable” and “helpful” may be mostly accurate at describing those who identify as female in a particular cultural context, we’re forgetting to make the distinction between nature and nurture: between what is socialized and what is biology. We take a (potentially) accurate description and forget that this may not reflect the way that things were meant to be.
Thus, a push for equality in the workforce based on transient societal gender expectations doesn’t help us long-term to dismantle stereotypes and implicit biases about what women should and should not be doing in the world.
Because these attitudes and assumptions about women also stem from a particular cultural background, there’s an element of cultural blindness and superiority involved.
There’s a sense in which one particular culture’s understanding of women is assumed to be the definition of womanhood for all cultures. Family roles and household expectations vary within different contexts and situations, and by overvaluing one particular interpretation of such things, we devalue other’s experiences and cultures.
This post isn’t just about gender, though.
These stereotypes are also very true of other ways we classify people, including their race and ethnicity.
We can look at statistics about median income and level of education parsed by race and ethnicity and conclude that some groups of people “just aren’t as smart” or “just don’t work as hard” as others.
Or, we can take those as evidence of the concrete impacts of systemic injustice.
Again: a descriptive look at the data as it is does not mean it describes the way “it was meant to be” or “it should be.”
My call to all of us, is to consider what norms and perceptions we take for granted, and challenge them.
It might be to challenge the power dynamics in a meeting: noticing and speaking out when the same person is talked over time and time again. It might be to notice when someone’s contribution or work is unacknowledged, and make sure they are being appropriately recognized. It might be to challenge our ideas of who we consider “leader” or “talented,” and make sure that our committees and decision-making teams aren’t made up of people who look like us.
Yes, there are broken and unjust systems in this world, but they are created by and perpetuated by people. Will you join me in working concretely towards a world as it should be, where all people are honored and respected because they are human, beautifully and wonderfully created in the image of God?