Bullish: Speak Up Like A Competent Badass In Class And At Work

There’s nothing unladylike about having an inner male alter ago to call upon when needed. We can let the academics argue about how much of gender is constructed, but I think that being able to have role models of the opposite gender is a valuable exercise in mental flexibility, and that a little androgyny is good for accessing the full spectrum of the human experience. My inner Captain Picard has no trouble speaking up. (Imagining I’m him also has the unintended consequence that nerdy women are really attracted to me, and don’t know why! Okay, kidding.)

(Note: I’ve since become aware of many non-fictional female role models in adulthood. For instance: Rita Levi-Montalcini!)

Some tips for speaking up 

First of all, Ada, I thought your advice – jotting down at least 3 things to discuss for each book/article you had to read for class, so that you don’t feel unprepared – was pretty much perfect. That’s an excellent idea.

For those who have well-developed things to say and have a hard time actually interjecting those things into the discussion, I’d suggest a couple of baby steps:

1)      Goal for next class: Focus on the most vocal person who is not an asshole. Someone, male or female, who’s doing a good job of speaking up and contributing. When does he talk? Does he raise his hand? Does he interrupt or wait for natural pauses? Watch him like a hawk for the whole class. Count how many times he talked. Next class, your goal is to talk half as much as that.

2)      Similarly: Keep a scorecard. For a small class, jot down how many times each person spoke. For a large class, maybe track boys versus girls, or whatever other metric makes sense.

3)      Pick a class nemesis. Is someone always making silly points, talking out his ass when he didn’t do the reading, or just being aggressively wrong? Keep notes on everything he says. Wait for him to contradict himself. Ask, “Earlier, on the point about Chaucer, you said X; but now, you’re saying not-X. How do you think those two views fit together?” Like a martial artist, use your enemy’s own strength (well, commentary) against him! Also, pointing out other people’s contradictions is really satisfying (see this column on debating and boxing).

4)      Start with questions. If you really were raised to be a silent, helpful, ladylike sprite of a girl (are there any of those left?), then your girl-training surely tells you that everyone likes a girl who is interested in what others have to say. Start with genuine questions that indicate that you would like someone who made an interesting comment to elaborate. Then: Is some dude always dominating conversations? Question his assumptions. Debate in the form of questions: “That’s really interesting. Takahashi’s four-part case for the blah blah of gene research blah blah recessive trait certainly don’t justify blah blah Chomskian analysis. What, exactly, in the text led you to that conclusion?”

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    • Kj

      Ha! I have a male alter-ego named Kron that I invented when I had to learn how to lead in Ballroom dance. Kron dance very good, yes! Maybe I should let Kron out in a workplace environment more (without the ridiculous barbarian accent of course).

      The thing is, it’s just so hard to speak up sometimes. I find that in almost every professional situation I find myself in, when I voice my opinion and push to have my suggestion implemented, people just shoot me down – and if I push harder to try and convince them, they treat my suggestions like I am trying to create conflict, or a petty fight.

      I don’t know what it is that I do – I think I’m pretty good at being firm but diplomatic, but in the end I always just cave because I prefer to maintain social harmony instead of getting my way and causing friction within the group.

      …and then most of the time I end up being right, and we are all screwed over because of the bad decision making process, and we end up sleeping in the rain (funny story! Not.)

      Anyways, I just don’t know how to be unwaveringly confident about my opinions without coming off as a harpy, which is what I assume happens since I feel like I am often not taken seriously.

    • David

      Competition is a good thing. Sexism is a real phenomenon. Fostering an environment that promotes fairness and competition is not easy to say the least. How weird (and just plain wrong) was that when rumors went around that dodge ball was a no go because some kids feeling were hurt when they would lose. The men and women that are ingauged in a competition for the same scarce resources (jobs, raises, respect) are equally sexist of eachother. Someone is going to get knocked out. I didn’t get the job at Hooters waiting tables because I’m a man. I am also less like to be hired as a kindergaden and elementary school teacher because I am a man. If women want to play dodge ball, and they are knocked out, cry me a river. Get the referee to watch the instant replay.

    • Tania

      “[...] women in countries with far more serious sexism [...]” YES, this. I’m constantly explaining to people, when I inform them I’m a feminist and they say stupid shit like “oh, but it’s practically equal in Canada, what can you even do?” that I can become a still-quite-rare lady with a business degree, and that I can work towards helping women in places where they have almost no rights to things we in the first world don’t even think about having access to.

    • Save1Star

      Thanks for this- I thought I was the only one with an inner male alter ego LOL. I also needed the “how to shut up” section a lot more than the learn to speak section, as well as the reminder that not all of my sisters rock their job like me ;)

    • Jennifer Dziura

      Thanks, everyone! I have been chatting about the opposite-gender-alter-ego thing with others for a few days now, and apparently lots of women have male role models and alter egos (and are easily able to imagine themselves as the protagonist in a commercial or movie), and the reverse is far less true. Even if it’s like a commercial where the woman drives a racecar and is rewarded with beer. What an interesting topic for some future time.


    • Christina K.

      I love the assertive message of this article. I am sick of hearing many of the 20something females in my office drone on about being victimized by the good ol’ boys networks that are present in corporate America. Yes, they exist. And yes, they suck. But blaming your exclusion on a lack of football knowledge and distaste for beer is pathetic. Come up with something truly interesting and impressive to say and people, male and female, will listen.

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