Let’s take a break from the GOP’s war on women, shall we? I’ll return to it, but for now I’d like to talk about myself. Let’s be honest; everyone loves the internet because it readily feeds their narcissism and/or voyeuristic desires, and I’m not above that. Also, I think conversations about the everyday choices and struggles of being a feminist in the world are interesting and important.
I spent the past two years in a graduate program for Women’s & Gender Studies. In my experience, graduate school was deeply flawed but also a magical place; sometimes it felt like bookish, feminist summer camp.
So you can imagine my surprise when I recently received an email at work the other day addressed “Dear Sirs.” The logic behind such causal misogyny is startling. Perhaps the idea of a woman responding to his email was so absurd that he couldn’t imagine it. Or perhaps he was trying to prohibit a woman from reading/responding to his email with such an opening. More likely, he believed what my 6th grade English teacher taught me:
When you are unsure of the gender of your audience or you are writing about an unspecified 3rd person, just use “he” because the “she” is implied.
I spent the next seven or eight years writing like that, making my own experience the implied and unspoken “she” because I didn’t want to make my writing sound awkward. It’s heartbreaking to think of generations of women avoiding female pronouns, and in doing so being unable to see themselves reflected in their own writing, because they were told that to do so would sound awkward. I still remember how liberating it was when I first read “she or he.” Not only were women and men included, but the “she” came first. It still feels like a mini-revolution every time I read it.
Part of the reason why that little moment still feels so revolutionary is specifically because it is just a little awkward. It is not what we expect, so it reads as slightly off balance in a way that might make you pause and consider what we were expecting and why that might be problematic. We only have to reconsider our assumptions when we’re made uncomfortable, and so there is very real power in that moment. It’s that moment, for example, when someone tells a racist or sexist or generally obnoxious joke and you don’t laugh. And as women, we’ve all been so conditions to be polite and considerate, we avoid awkwardness like the plague, even when doing so requires making ourselves smaller and smaller.
Awkwardness, then can be a very powerful way to make ourselves bigger. Tea & Strumpets homework assignment: Let’s all try to make someone feel a little awkward today, to balance all the “dear sirs” in the world.