While dealing with a fairly ridiculous troll over at Ana Mardoll’s place, I ran into a quote from her that rings oh-so-true.
Yes, he did change his tone [when he realized he was talking to an infertile IVF patient].
And I feel so conflicted over that. On the one hand, I appreciate that he didn’t continue to asshole at me once he finally grasped that he was talking to an infertile IVF patient. Achievement unlocked for not knowingly assholing on an infertile woman. *ding* But on the other hand, I shouldn’t have to pull out my medical history and present as vulnerable and hurt before I will be taken seriously in this conversation as a Woman Who Knows.
Context is a conversation she had on Twitter with Richard Dawkins.
Here’s why it hits home: I have, so often, run into the situation where I have to make myself look vulnerable in order to be taken seriously. And it’s bullshit, every time.
I’ve heard men complain before about women “manipulating” emotions by crying or otherwise emoting, to make men feel sorry for us in order to get our way. Do you know why we do that, assholes? Because you have trained us to know that you won’t listen to a thing we have to say otherwise!
Take, for example, approximately a year ago, when I was incredibly pregnant, unemployed, and desperately trying to get Medicaid coverage before, y’know, a baby slid out of me. Did the dozen or so times I showed up at the local office, face shiny and scrubbed, with my nice clothes on and my documents showing that I was eligible freshly printed and organized, make it happen? No. Did the times I went online and bravely tried to slog through the (intentionally?) confusing website, trusting like a good-hearted little girl that if I followed the instructions and did what I was supposed to do I would get the coverage I needed and merited – did those make it happen? No. How about the times I patiently waited to speak to someone and calmly explained my situation, using all the logic and rhetoric I’ve been trained in for my entire life? HAHA, no.
No, what made it happen was when I pitched a goddamn fit, refused to leave the office until someone agreed to give me some goddamn coverage, spent over an hour on hold, and then alternately screamed and sobbed as only a pregnant woman can at the person who finally answered the phone. Yeah, that did it. I had coverage after that.
What have we learned, ladies and gentlemen?
Well, let’s start with the most optimistic – we’ve learned that even government employees have a heart, and that nobody’s going to toss a terrified, panicked pregnant woman out to squirt out a child on the side of the road. So… yay for that. I guess. It’s nice to know that when you demand empathy, people still have some empathy left to give.
But we’ve also learned that all your intellect, all your logic, all your documentation and professionalism and optimism and competence are pretty much useless if the person you’re talking to dismisses you out of hand. The only weapon you have left at that point is pity. And in order to evoke someone’s pity, you have to make yourself pitiful.
I don’t like pitching fits. I don’t want to be the sort of person who throws a temper tantrum when she doesn’t get her way. But goddamnit, if the world is determined to tell me that that’s the only way to get the things I need – that my child needs – then that is what I’ll do.
It’s especially egregious because when women pitch fits, it’s a short-term victory at the cost of long-term respect. I know that. It’s a bargain I have to make sometimes when something is too important to just let it go and let myself be ignored. I know that by screaming and crying and refusing to go away I’m playing right into the stereotype of the irrational overemotional woman. I know that it means people will be even less likely to listen to me the next time. I know that for some people, the argument is won the moment the opposition cries. But it’s still sometimes the only option. And it sucks, it sucks so bad, that women have to weigh those options, that we have to choose whether to damage our long-term and overall credibility in order to achieve something important today. It sucks that people won’t just listen to us in the first place. But they demonstrate time and time again that they won’t.
We saw this in play recently in Texas. When the legislature ran roughshod over the rules in order to silence Wendy Davis, when those who tried to point out how the rules had been ignored were silenced and talked over. When women who had tried in good faith to abide by the rules and be civil and play fair, and who were abused and ignored and had those same rules twisted against them in response. When the gallery erupted during the last 10 minutes, the governor called it “mob rule.” I didn’t see that. I saw women doing what we always have to do, in the end – if the men who have power refuse to play by the rules and refuse to listen to us when we are calm and rational, then we will stop being calm and rational and we will break the rules just like they do. It’s not fair, that we have to do that in order to be listened to, but there it is.
We shouldn’t have to make ourselves weak and vulnerable to be heard. We shouldn’t have to debase ourselves to strangers in order to earn the respect we should have had from the get-go. We shouldn’t have to break down and cry or scream before we’re taken seriously. But so often… we do.
(Thing the first: I’m writing this from a women’s perspective, because I am a woman and I have first-hand experience with this. There are countless examples from my own life where people refuse to listen to what I say unless I get over-emotional first – and then, although they listen, they accuse me of being irrational and manipulative. *headdesk* However, the Medicaid situation likely had as much to do with classism as it did with sexism. A man in my position would likely face the same trouble – more, because desperate emotion in men is often read as aggression and threat. I had very little fear that I’d be led out in handcuffs; for a man, that might have been a very real possibility. What I wrote above, though couched in feminist terms, could be applied equally to anyone who is marginalized and has a hard time getting their voice heard.)
(Thing the second: yes, yes, yes, I’m writing about serious stuff that makes me cranky when I SHOULD be writing about the fact that my baby is now one year old! I’ll go write about that now, and hopefully it’ll be posted tonight or tomorrow – but this was poking at me and I had to write about it.)