I work with a great team at the Tinsley Institute, one of whom is the redoubtable Dr Karina Kreminski. I’ve known Karina for decades now and have worked alongside her for nearly five years. She’s formidable – highly skilled, an excellent communicator, a great researcher and writer, a deeply committed urban missionary.
The other day she posted this quote on social media from the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche from her book, Dear Ijeawele:
“We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”
A world full of women.
So all women feel this way?
I was surprised. Not Karina, surely. She always gives me the impression of ease and confidence, not of one folding herself into shapes to impress others.
So I commented on her post, asking whether she felt that way. Her reply was curt: “Of course!”
Another woman chimed in, “Of course! There’s no woman who doesn’t feel that way.”
And women kept commenting:
“This is how we live.”
“All women have felt that way.”
“So poignant and so true. Brought tears to my eyes just reading it this morning.”
Then one of my friends, a female Mennonite pastor from Pennsylvania, shared this:
“Yes. Always self evaluating, self editing, trying to guess how the men in the room will react to what I am communicating and how I am communicating it. Being sure not to come off too pushy too direct, too emotional, too ambitious, too complaining…. it’s exhausting….”
What the heck!
Why is this news to me? How did I not know this is how many women feel?
And then I got thinking about whether I ever felt that way.
Of course I care what other people think. I’m not insensitive to whether people find me likeable or not. And, yes, there are times when I’m especially aware of wanting to make a good impression.
But being conditioned to twisting myself into shapes to appear likeable? No.
Always self-evaluating, self-editing? No.
Being exhausted by continually asking myself if I’m coming off as too pushy, too ambitious, too emotional, etc? No.
Largely, I don’t care that much what others think, and that’s not because I’m an insensitive brute. It’s because I’m a man.
Shortly below Karina’s social media post I saw someone else had posted a link to a video titled, “Jordan Peterson Destroys the Myth of Male Privilege and the Patriarchy.” I watched it. Peterson thinks there’s no such thing as male privilege because men make up most of the prison population and the homeless population; most of the people who die in combat and by suicide are men; male students do worse than female students, etc.
The fundamental basis of the structure of society, according to Peterson, is not male power, it’s competence.
And yet here are all these competent, successful women, commenting on Karina’s post, saying they live every day with the exhaustion of second-guessing their responses based on their assumptions about how the men in the room will react.
Competent, successful men don’t check themselves like that, by and large. And the fact that we don’t is an expression of male privilege. We are in the privileged position of not having to continually self-evaluate.
Learning to check our male privilege isn’t easy. Acknowledging this difference — to yourself and to others — is a good first step. But there are no simple steps or magic bullets. It’s just hard work.
As New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes,
“We have to stop, listen and receive other people’s experiences, validate those experiences and honor the feeling with which they are expressed. And we have to center the speaker and not the listener, center the person who lacks the privilege and not the one who possesses it.”