Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Assertiveness And Gender Politics, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks us to evaluate assertiveness and gender politics in the workplace, relationships, educational environments, or where ever else they come into play. I started to write this post about success (and the techniques I have seen used to find it), and I may still post that effort on another day, but instead I will talk about gender politics in the community where I presently reside. I am not from here, or as locals have been wont to say I "ain't from 'round here", so this commentary might sound judgmental and perhaps even condescending. I don't mean for it to come across that way, but I do want to look at the gender dynamics I observe very frequently here as a relative outsider to them.

Women in this community, for the most part, are not expected to be terribly outspoken. That is to say that those who are outspoken and under the age of fifty tend to look peculiar to the rest of the group. Women are expected to do more behind the scenes work to accomplish their goals and desires. Conversely, men make bold statements full of hyperbole (and swearing in many cases). Coming from a major city where plenty of women quickly spoke their minds on politics, religion, economics, and whatever else they felt like, this "gentile" mindset sometimes disorients me. When I brought a wife who "ain't from 'round here" to this place (I first live here as a single man) and who is definitely outspoken, it was very hard for her. People gave us both peculiar looks, and some even openly ostracized her or both of us. We have overcome some of those early "outsider" attitudes, but it still bothers some people (I think, anyway) that my wife holds an office in a political party when I don't, or that she is so free with her opinion. I know it bothers her (she tells me, for one thing), but it disturbs me. Many of the smartest people I know happen to be women, so why not listen to their ideas? I know it causes some strange looks from men that I almost always respond to questions with "I'll talk to my wife and get back to you." I've been called all manner of derisive names (which I don't care to write down) because I consult with or even let my wife in on decisions I make about how I spend my time. I won't say I was exactly raised to do that, but it is how I run my life and how I act in my home and marriage. We are equal partners who share in our responsibilities.

I also notice that tradesmen here have a habit of verifying things my wife tells them by asking me. They did it a lot to my mother when she built a home here, often asking my father "Your wife asked us to" whatever it was, then "Is that okay with you?" He finally got them cured of it by explaining it was "her house, she can do whatever she wants, don't ask me anymore." My wife recently asked a landscaper to trim some plants around our house, and he pulled over in front of me while I was walking to work to ask "Is what she said okay?" Their attitude seems to say "I know you're the one who writes the checks, so I better ask you." Fortunately most of the ones I have dealt with once have learned not to bother asking again.

The women in this community also do a great deal to organize events. They work with school and club fundraisers, Vacation Bible School, Relay For Life, and myriad other groups here. Men tend to fund these events through their businesses in lieu of spending the volunteer hours. These duty separations appear to be the case even when both spouses in a couple work. There are certainly men who give a great deal of their time to various projects, but besides a choice few in my age bracket (myself included), most of those men are retired or advanced enough in their careers not to need to worry about time spent out of the office now and then.

I can understand a lot of the dynamics of gender politics here. I grew up in Atlanta, where the South still has some influence, and I grew up visiting South Georgia often. Still, I got used to women being more able to share their opinions publicly without ridicule, or without being ostracized by most people for it. Women were definitely vocal in community groups and politics. In short, I notice that too many people here still think "the good ole boys" still need to run things. I'm just fine with that attitude going away, personally, and I'm happy to support my wife in her vocal nature as a small way of breaking down such stereotypes.

-- Robert

P.S.: I apologize that my post did not specifically point out one thing I meant to include in my explanation of gender politics here: assertiveness is not a trait appreciated in women here, unless it relates to advocating for their children. Aggressiveness is openly derided, but even women are simply assertive with their opinions are thought of as "uppity" in many cases. It is unfortunate.


thailandchani said...

There will always be that kind of backward thinking. Some communities cloak it better than others but it's there.

Robert said...

Yes, I'm sure you're right, but cosmopolitan communities at least have people in them that do not expect women to sit in the back (or nowhere) and be quiet. I grew up in a very different world from this one, so I take notice of these attitudes more readily.

Julie Pippert said...

You just hit right at the heart of my albatross, Robert. I realize it isn't this way all the time everywhere or even here or there. But this is the point I hinted at with my "different degrees of tolerance for men and women" and "mixed reviews." Thanks for tackling this angle. I think it's important that it be considered, and love that it came from a male.

I just want to take Ellie out for a coffee right now. A jog and a coffee, or a green tea with lemonade. Non sweetened, with little ice. <-- More things that add to my Freak of Nature status in the south.

I imagine my husband woudl liek to take you out for a coffee just to hear another man who gets it.

How many times does he get a call from me---the person at home in charge of the house and awfully handy at it too---saying, "Will you please talk to this &^$^* plumber and tell him there IS SO a chain length issue in the toilet tank that causes it to run?"

He says yes and waits for it.

"*&^#%&#*%#" I say, "I'm a woman not RETARDED. I'm sure I could give this guy a run for money in intelligence so why does he presume he needs the man. *(&^#&*#(#%& and (*#&#%@^*@^*(@%#* but what I really want to say is (&#^&#%)&$) and (^%#%^#!!"

LOL ;)

Gwen said...

Ah, how I love living near a big city north of the Mason-Dixon, even if it is provincial and Midwestern! I would wither and die on the vine down there (and nearly did during my year stint in Dallas). Even though I grew up in another country, in a very conservative culture, I was raised by two smart, outspoken Northerners who did not understand the idea that women should not be heard.

And Julie, no to the unsweetened tea! One wonderful thing the south has given us is Swayt Tea. LOVE!

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le35 said...


Although I don't drink coffee or sweet tea (another way that I'm out of sinc here in the south) I'd love to visit Starbucks and go for a great hot chocolate. :) I can't pass up this week's Hump Day Hmm even though I'm horribly sick.

As for being an outspoken woman, things here just seem to get tougher and tougher that way, and I even feel like I'm toning it down!

Robert said...

Gee, and I got all excited when I saw eight comments on here, and I find there were three of them that were spam (and one is my own). Still, thanks for the comments.

Julie, one of the reason most of my friends in life are female is probably because I "get it". Ask my wife, her friends have often been known to call and talk to me because they want my point of view on some relationship issue. I am a man smart enough to know that no man "understands women" but I understand them as well as I can hope to at this point. I cannot stand men who feel the need to check with me. Your comment reminds me of something I dealt with as a young boy. My Dad had made me official "broker screener" or "telemarketer screener" of the house, so I knew just to tell them he was unavailable whenever they called. One time, though, a man said "I'll hold." I still hung up, but he called right back and said "You don't hang up on me, son!" so I held the phone away from my mouth but close enough so he heard me and said, "Dad, can you please explain to this idiot that I am not his son?" My Dad took the phone and chewed the man out for five minutes before slamming it down. I got a real kick out of watching that.

Gwen, I sometimes worry that keeping my wonderful wife here makes her "wither on the vine" because she is SO not a Southern Belle/subjugated woman type. And sorry, sweet tea is colored syrup water to me (when done right) and nasty (when done wrong). You're welcome to it, though. Now you need to try grits, boiled peanuts, and Boston Butt BBQ. :)

And yeah, I could've told you Ellie's not into coffee or tea, but she'd probably go for a cocoa. :) Isn't it nice how well I know her?

Anonymous said...

Wow, what kind of backwards hill-billy town do you live in (just kidding, I'm sure it is lovely)?!?! Perhaps the kind that would never elect a female president (I gotta get my political digs out somewhere other than my blog)? So glad that I live in New England, but just the same, there is always a little bit of that underlying sentiment that still goes around.

Robert said...

Well, Angela, I hate to tell you this, but the political powers that be in this town are very much in your party (or have been until me and mine got here). Eight years ago, the Democratic Primary in this town was considered the election because no one bothered to run Republican, or those few poor souls who did were destroyed in the general election. So, before you assume these hill-billies aren't the type to side with you, you might want to look at the history. The town where I grew up was, conversely, extremely conservative politically, and had almost the opposite dynamic (no one bothered to run as Democrat there quite often because it was a waste of time). My hometown elected a female Republican to the state house when there were almost no women in Georgia politics at all. The Republicans in this state elected a woman to a state-wide office before the Democrats did by several years, despite the Democrats having control of almost every major state-wide office and both houses from Reconstruction times until about 2002.

And no, I'm not defensive. It's just awfully funny for me to hear you say what you did. :)

I would be far more surprised, though, if the Democrats here voted for Hillary this time around over Barack because now the blacks make up a large part of their voting base. We (the Republicans here) have helped a lot of people realize they don't fit with the Democrats anymore. When our senator was here last week, he told us a line from his one-time opponent for governor and later friend Zell Miller (whom he followed in his senate seat after Zell retired from it) who helped re-elect George Bush. Zell said "People from Georgia aren't on the left are on the right, they're in K-Mart." What he meant was we're people who care more about the value of a dollar and the person that worked to earn it than much of anything else here.

Robert said...

In general, though, Angela (in your defense), I'd tend to agree with your concerns about this town sometimes seeming rather backward. :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting, my comment was meant more for the woman aspect of the candidate more than for the party. If they keep needing to defer to the man for all these issues, they certainly wouldn't be able to handle a woman running the country.

And another thought I had about your friend with the Korean DIL was that there would be no way she would vote for Obama because of his race. Open your eyes people!! Race and gender don't matter!!

Robert said...

I am certain that the associate with the Korean daughter-in-law would be considering McCain, Huckabee, Clinton, and then Obama last. You are probably right, but that has to do with a lot of factors. As for most of the male or female white people of this community, I think a lot of them would not for either Clinton or Obama. Prejudice is the easy answer for why, but I think they're simpler in their reasons: neither Clinton nor Obama has offered much of interest to them. Global warming, universal health care, and diplomatic solutions in the War on Terror ring pretty hollow to people here. Like the governor said, they're not on the left or right, they're in K-Mart. They're more interested in finding good deals to help them care for their own families than anything as grand as those three ideas sound. The Democratic policies on Global Warming are driving inflation (strike one), universal health care sounds too European (strike two), and diplomacy here involves a double-barrelled shotgun being uncocked to make a point, not fancy words (strike three). And since people here love the Braves, three strikes means your out. Yes, I know I'm being trite, but honestly, that's how Clinton and Obama come across to people here. She's too negative and he's too unbelievable to a lot of them. If I had to make a bet, though, Obama would get some votes from the group I'm talking about before Clinton, because at least he sounds positive in his message. She sounds terribly negative. I have first-hand experience in two campaigns seeing how that sort of negativity sells here, especially from an "educated white woman": a woman ran against our present state representative (when he first ran) and he beat her handily as a Republican in the primary, then she ran against the sitting state senator and he beat her more handily in the general election as a Democrat (she switched, not him). Now she's preparing to be beaten handily again by the state rep in the general election as she tries for that seat as a Democrat. Everything in her campaign sounds almost exactly like Clinton: your life is hard, this place is down-trodden, you're education - depressing, negative, uninspiring. McCain at least wins their hearts as a war hero, but they're not keen on him. He just might win by default, basically.

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