The Credibility Gap: How Sexism Shapes Human Knowledge | Soraya Chemaly | TEDxBarcelonaWomen


Translator: Helena Jonsson
Reviewer: Thuy Ta I write about girls and women every day. I write about gender and culture. Sometimes, I write about
very graphic violence, sexualized violence various forms of discrimination. And there’s an angry response. People… send threats. They can get very ugly. But nothing I’ve written recently
has upset people as much as something that I wrote
about public bathrooms. Last December, I was in a museum with my family and
one of my daughters went to the bathroom. Half an hour later she wasn’t back. So I went to look and she was at the very
beginning of a line. How many people here, how many women here,
have stood in line for a public bathroom? Make noise. (Noise) Or gone into a men’s room? (Noise) Or gotten frustrated and walked away? (Noise) So I didn’t do any of that. I embarrassed my daughter,
and I counted the women and the children. There were fifty… women and children. And next to them was an empty men’s room. Men would go in and out,
sometimes making jokes. So I went home and I wrote about public space and gender. And I said that equal sized bathrooms with stalls
do not serve people the way they should, and that we needed to fix this. Generally speaking,
our public space is designed, not just bathrooms, but public space, to suit the needs of a single man, usually straight,
who is not breastfeeding, not pregnant,
doesn’t have his period, maybe doesn’t have a pelvic floor issue
that we heard about this morning. And… so I thought maybe public space
should serve everybody equally. And for the next week,
many, many, many irate people told me how to stand
and urinate like a man, because it would empower me. And then they told me I was lying. It couldn’t be true that women were breastfeeding
in public bathrooms. And it went on and on and on and on, until finally I wrote the 10
most sexist responses to the article. It wasn’t the lines
that were bothering people. It was the idea that I was demanding that society meet the needs
of women and our bodies. This was very upsetting to people. In general though, public bathrooms are just one way
that we demonstrate the male centeredness of life. We don’t pay attention to this.
It’s part of the air we breathe. So, if you look at these examples,
which I’m not going to read off. All of them are examples of something
we don’t think about. And I’m going to talk briefly
about a couple. After crisis, girls and women are up to
fourteen times as likely to die because their bodily needs,
their greater exposure to violence, is something that isn’t taken
necessarily into account in immediate circumstances. Artificial hearts today will fit 80%
of men’s chest cavities but only 20% of women’s. And this is something
that we never ever talk about. But, these are symptoms of something
that I would argue that’s different, and that is actually a male centeredness
to how we think of knowing, how we as human beings know. So one of the first stories
that I remembered hearing, I was about 5, it was about my great grand mother,
and it went like this. “When she was 14, the beautiful girl” – and it always started that way
because why else would this happen – “the girl was walking in her village
and a handsome man on a horse rode in, swept her off her feet,
made her his wife” – that’s a euphemism – “and off they went, traveled the world
and had seven children. And here we all are today.” The next time I heard it though, I was 11
and I had much more information. When I was 9, in my schoolyard,
a boy threatened to rape me. Street harassment –
which has never ended – had already started. It was very aggressive
street harassment where I lived, and no one talked about any of this. It was something
that was hard for me to understand. So this time, I took a deep breath and I said: “You know what, she was kidnapped,
assaulted and dragged across the planet. The person who did this
should be punished.” And that was my great grandfather.
He was a 105 and we loved him. He always laughed
and he took care of everybody. But I thought, how it is possible
that we’re telling this story this way. And this is what philosopher
Miranda Fricker has a name for; she calls it epistemic injustice. Both my great grandmother, who had no social construction
to help her understand her life, and I, were being denied
the right to be knowers. At the point at which she lived
we just didn’t talk about these things. Feminist had not come up with words like
sexual assault, domestic violence, postpartum depression. There was literally no way to know
what was happening to her. And so, part of this
that we all experience fairly regularly, is something called testimonial injustice, which is that when someone hears us,
they actually have a prejudice that doesn’t allow them
to think we’re credible. So we go into spaces that are workplaces,
or educational environments, and there’s a credibility deficit. So if you look at this chart these are just different areas
and sectors of the economy, and what the image is,
it’s masculine versus feminine space in terms of the proportion of people, or the proportion of awards
that are granted. There’s something interesting about this. We know what these numbers look like, and they really haven’t changed much
over the last 25 years. But there’s an interesting
verbal activity that’s going on. In mixed gender groups,
in male-dominated spaces, and – who are we kidding –
all spaces are male-dominated except the home and nurturing. So teaching or nursing, being administrative assistant,
which still in the United States is the number one job for the women,
the same as 1950. Those are male-dominated spaces, and in those spaces
we have less credibility. We know this from implicit bias. Implicit bias research basically says,
all of it that we look at, if you have just the male sounding name, you have a much higher
likelihood of getting a job, getting an academic mentor,
getting a good review, getting an award in your field. That’s not a guess, that’s something that’s been measured
over and over again. But when you look at a picture like these,
which I’m going to skip backwards to, if you look at this chart,
what you’re actually seeing is a reflection of how our community
evaluates knowledge. What we are saying about knowledge? And what we’re saying about knowledge
is that men are more competent, they’re more reliable,
they’re more trustworthy. And that’s something that I didn’t realize
was persuasive enough for all women… (Excuse me) until I wrote something called
“Ten Words Every Girl Should Know”. And the 10 words were:
“Stop interrupting me”, “I just said that” and “No explanation needed”. And for one year still
everyday I get messages from women who say “Everyday in my work life
I have a need to say this. I have a way to say,
put up my hand and say “I just said that”, “Don’t interrupt me”,
“No explanation needed”. Now if you think about it,
those phrases are different ways of saying “I know, I can look this way,
I can dress this way, and I can have knowledge”,
which is a difficult thing to do. Now the thing that really struck me
when I did research about this topic, was how early it begins. So we’ve talked about
implicit bias in the workplace and we’ve talked about it in education. But all of us have implicit biases
that we don’t talk about, and those are in our homes. So inequality actually begins in homes. And the interesting thing about it is that out in the world
this is very interceptional, meaning race affects
the way we think of people, class affects the way we think of people, sexuality affects
the way we think of people. But in homes, generally speaking, gender is the thing that is most salient
when we have interactions. So parents, in study after study, demonstrate that they believe boys,
the most important thing is intelligence. They ask a lot of questions.
“Is my son smart?” “Is my son a genius?” For girls, it’s about their appearance.
“Is my daughter pretty?” “Is she ugly?” They also sex segregate chores, which is true in all families
except single family homes. So girls will do traditionally girl chores
and boys will do traditionally boy chores. In the same way they distribute chores,
they have conversations with children. And most conversations
starting with girls are about helping, with boys it is about play. Now teachers and parents both,
when they talk to girls and boys, they have a different ways of speaking. And what they’re saying
to girls and boys is very different. They interrupt girls much more
than they interrupt boys, and they talk over girls much more
than they talk over boys. That senses a very powerful message
about whose voices is important. They also often expect different things
in terms of boy and girl regulation, who is capable of controlling themselves. Boys and girls actually have the same
ability to control themselves. But we have different expectations, and those biases affect the way
parents and teachers interact with boys and girls both. An important component
in childhood to me, is religion. How many people here
have gone to religious services, in either a synagogue
or a mosque or a church, where women cannot serve
with authority as clerics? Yes? Boys go in to those spaces
and they learn that they have authority. Girls go in to those spaces
and they learn to be silent. And what they end up with
is a sex based entitlement to public voice and public power. Now, those things –
voice, speech, knowledge – are all intrinsic human characteristics. But they are really masculinized. So we use words, like mankind, and we use images of human beings
that are all men all the time. And when we do that we erase women. So in this room for example, how many people has said mankind
and not thought about it? Anyone? And when we do that, if we say a word like actor,
a word like actress, over and over again, we’re reinforcing this idea that man is at the center,
men are at the center and women are something else,
slightly different. So this is generic, but if you look at the specific image here you can see how the men are represented
versus how the women are represented. Those are very different images. The men are whole people. They look competent. They look able. They look thoughtful. The women are objectified. They’re dehumanized. They are swirling in chaos.
Their heads are swirling in chaos. So what on earth could they be thinking? I mean, when I looked at this I think
“What are they thinking?” So one day I thought
what are our images of powerful women? Where are they? And I googled “venerable women”, looking for some wise women,
maybe old women, maybe mystiques, maybe even just allegorical figures
like most of our female statues. Google comes back at me and it says: “Do you mean venerable men
or vulnerable women?” (Laughter) So…. You have to laugh, right? Everybody says that feminists
don’t have a sense of humor. You cannot be a feminist,
unless you have a sense of humor. It’s a rule, ok? (Applause) I thought, that’s an amazing thing. Now, this is my family’s
original all male panel. The little boy in the very front
that went by very fast, was my great grandfather
who ended up on the horse. These are our all male panels today. The chart that I showed you is room after room after room
that looks like these. And to me, this is a collective image of ignorance. It’s ignorance about humanity. Because, generally speaking, if you have this level of sex segregation
throughout our culture, there’s no way that it can contain
our experiences as women. And so the decisions that are made
in these spaces are deeply immoral. We need to be raising children to understand that sexism,
racism, misogyny, those are irritating things in our lives. They are like pet projects that were supposed to take care of
in our spare time. Those are unethical things
that are inhumane and result in injustice. (Applause) So I thought, alright,
we have all of these venerable men. And for a thousand or more years, they’ve been making
philosophical decisions, for all of us, cultural decisions,
and religious decisions. What does the accumulated wisdom
of our world say when we google “are women”? And what you get –
if I can get the clicker to work – what you get when you say “are women” is the response,
the number one response: “Evil”. (Laughter) OK? I even took a screen capture. The number one response from the world
searching about women is “are they evil?” Now, in spaces where there are
not a lot of women, especially in leadership, the higher you go,
the fewer women there are. In those spaces,
men talk 75% more than women. And we have an interesting listener bias. And the listener bias is that
when women speak as little as 30%, men and women both think
we are dominating. I find that fascinating
because what it says to me is, despite the stereotype
that women talk more, and we may indeed use more words,
which is a different issue, but in those contexts, in those contexts, what it says to me is that the culture expectation
is that we are supposed to talk less. We’re supposed to be quiet. And all of that is tied to
whether we can be knowers. So when feminists say,
as they have been for centuries, are women human? This is what we’re talking about. We are objectified, we are silenced. Those stories that we all have, they are not out in the world
as profusely as they need to be. And so, when I see those rooms full of men even though they may individually
be wonderful people, and they may be making
what they think are ethical decisions, there’s a epistemological flaw
in the culture, that means they simply
are not diverse enough to capture what we need to capture
for the world to be a more just place. (Applause) So, I was going to close by saying: Everything has to change,
and I am going to leave that to you. But I can’t do that. So I have three things. I really believe that –
to borrow science construct – small changes in initial condition
can yield exponential difference. And I really wanted to leave you with something that anybody
could do everyday. And it won’t cost money.
It may even save you money. It doesn’t acquire
that you build an institution, as wonderful as the institutions are. But it requires you to think about
the small details of life, in a new way, in a different way. And, so the first thing I would say is: Be knowers, not pleasers. We are still, all of us collectively,
creating an environment for children, in school and at home, where they are learning
that girls are pleasers, that we should be more quiet,
that we should be more helpful. You know, when we do chores right now,
boys are more likely to get paid, and they’re more likely to get paid more. That’s just purely a function
of implicit bias in home, but it establishes
as a pattern for adulthood. Teach children that girls are not just pleasers,
but that they can be knowers. And when you teach manners, don’t have those manners be about
“ladies and gentlemen”. Politeness norms are extremely
gendered for children, So boys, for example, can be more crude.
They can joke. They can curse. And that might not be great in school, but those very disruptive behaviors
take up verbal space, and that’s what rewarded in adulthood. We actually actively teach girls
not to behave that way. When they are 20, we are like: “Hey, get more confident
and ask for that raise.” It is no way to undo
the socialization of 20 or 25 years, when you’ve been biting your tongue,
because you’ve been taught to do that. The second thing is that you need
to practice at equality at home. And you need to take it
into institutions with you. So the dynamic that I am talking about, it may be that in your own home
there’s a chore gap. Generally speaking, in all of the world, women are still doing
an overwhelming amount of domestic work. It turns out that one of the greatest
indicator of a girl’s ambition, particularly in terms of trying to reach
a high level job with a salary, is if she has a father in a home
who does cross gender chores. Now think about that. It just means – I don’t like taking out the garbage – it means I take out the garbage
and my husband makes dinner. It’s a small thing. We don’t even think about it,
we’re trying to be more efficient. That has to go into schools. One of the biggest vectors for sexism
that I can ever imagine is the way our schools teach children. First of all, it’s sex segregated by default, because teachers tend
to be overwhelmingly women. And they are excellent women,
but we need men to teach. We need men to be nurturers. We need them to be setting
examples in schools. We need them to be interacting
with both boys and girls, whether it is a
sex segregated school or not. It’s more a matter of
how integrated the teaching staff maybe. That sends a very strong
message to children. School also have a volunteer culture. How many people in here that have children
have to volunteer in their schools? What I have found in my experience –
I have 3 children, they’re all teenagers – overwhelmingly,
mothers are still volunteering, whether or not they work is irrelevant. Fathers show up. They do some of the big money fundraising. And they do the outside things,
like build cabins on special days. But we need those volunteer cultures to also reflect the big change
in our lives, the social transformations. I’m going to leave you by saying: My great grandmother
literally lost her voice. People remember her sitting on the veranda
at the end of her life, trembling. And she never spoke. Today we would have words for that. We would talk about trauma. But that wasn’t the case then.
They said that she lost her mind. And so I thought this isn’t a person
who lost her mind. This is a person faced with
an incomprehensible life. And she’s kept her mind,
she’s kept her mind to herself, which was her only recourse. The change that we have now
is that we can talk about these things. And that’s important. So the last thing I would tell you
is I am here telling her story, which is a huge change
in the last 50 years. And you have that power too. Don’t bite your tongue. Most of the men I know whom I love, they really don’t understand
what rape is to a woman’s life. They understand the act of rape,
but not the fact of rape. And those images that I showed you
of vulnerable women and venerable men, those are images of people
who need more information, and they need women’s information. So thank you so much for being here
at the end of the day. (Applause)

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