Saturday, 7 January 2006

Me, my goat and women

Do you know what gets my goat? Well, you do know what gets my goat: I tell you more or less twice a week. No, but do you know what really gets my goat? It’s women who define themselves (or are defined by other people) in relation to someone else. Newspapers write, ‘A 75-year-old grandmother blah blah blah…’ Why can’t they say, ‘A 75-year-old woman blah blah blah…’ If the fact that she’s got grandchildren has nothing to do with the matter in hand, why mention it? Why can’t she just be this human being who’s done something or to whom something’s been done? When was the last time you read the same kind of thing about a man?

What am I? A 57-year-old cat owner? I am that, but I wouldn’t define myself as such.

But some women are their worst enemies in that respect. They undervalue themselves and their achievements. Either that or, when they haven’t achieved much (or so they think), they boast about their spouses’ accomplishments in ridiculous terms. Not long ago, I heard a woman say – with no hint of irony – something like, “My genius hubby thinks that…” and there followed some incredibly banal remark. I wonder how many times a day that particular ‘hubby’ tells his wife he’s a genius and could be a member of Mensa if he wanted to (that is, if he wanted to associate with right-wing extremists).

My goat is especially got when the ‘little’ woman says, “I’m computer illiterate. I’ll have to ask my fiancé [aaaargh!] how to switch on the computer.” I only exaggerate a tiny bit. (I also know I’ve touched on that subject in the past, but, oh, how it annoys me!). Since when is it ok to admit to being illiterate in anything? Lady, if you’re computer illiterate, please learn how to use that now-indispensable machine and stop relying on a man for anything that doesn’t require sheer brawn. You have a brain – presumably. Use it! And remember that, on average, women live a lot longer than men and therefore you might suddenly find yourself lumbered with all sorts of things you can’t do (actually, learning how to put up shelves is quite useful too, and the same applies to the few men who survive their women and who can’t boil an egg or use the washing machine).

Slap, slap, slap! Slapping all the women who behave as if the term homo sapiens doesn't apply to them.


  1. Couldn't agree more. One of my favorite working women's books is Hardball for Women by Pat Heim. She mentions women's tendency to downplay their role in organizations. For instance, a woman might say, "I work at Smith and Jones Insurance" instead of "I'm the head of East Coast operations at Smith and Jones Insurance," fearing that the latter will sound like she's bragging.

    In their/our defense, I think that women tend to downplay our abilities and accomplishments in large part because other women are quick to shun us if we appear to be bragging. It's the gender version of "keeping it real." I can't tell you how many times I've had to suffer through snide looks and snubs after refusing to self-deprecate -- I'm not bragging, mind you, just being honest and polite. But some women (and men) are staggeringly insecure. I can't be bothered with such people, and in a way their disapproval of my refusal to verbally flagellate myself helps me quickly weed out those I wouldn't want to befriend. But those experiences have made me wary. I'm always dealing with the tension between "Demand respect" and "Downplay abilities." My view is that if someone's threatened by my accomplishments, it's HER/HIS problem, so I usually fall on the side of honesty, but in truth, it's difficult because it can be isolating.

    Where I draw the line with no regrets is with student behavior, especially forms of address. I've had students say to me, "Kristen, Dr. Smith said I should talk to you," which completely frosts my *ss because (a) I HATE being called Kristen, and (b) Dr. Smith is a man who got his doctorate 5 years after I got mine. I always correct that behavior because I think it's essential that students learn to accept women in authority positions and to address them appropriately.

    Last, amusing point: There's some interesting research on gender bias in sports commentary. Commentators tend to downplay female athletes' performance ("That was a great little jump shot") and to define the athletes in terms of relationships, especially those that brand them as heterosexual. Female athletes are more likely to be referred to by first name, and their successes are more likely to be attributes to social support (whereas male athletes' successes are attributes to hard work and determination).

    It reminds me of the whole idea of "maternal instinct" -- good fathers bust their butts to be there for their kids, but good mothers are driven by "instinct." Where's the accomplishment in that?

    Okay, I'll stop now. Clearly you pushed a button. :-)

  2. Yes, this resonates with me, as they currently say (over and over). Women need to realize their femininity is not enhanced by dragging in some (usually motheaten) man to [fill in the blank] because you're just too delicate or dizzy [or whatever] to [fill in the blank] your own damn self. For God's sake, if you know how to do it, do it and be proud of it. If you don't know how to do it, learn how to do it and DO IT. Don't be cute, or sweet, or inept, or ineffectual. Just be a freestanding human being and do it. xoxo

  3. Oh, I SO agree! Whack!

    About 15 years ago I first started noticing the "grandmother" bit. My husband and I were at a college reunion dinner. Some woman was introduced from the podium as "a grandmother of three." An elderly woman yelled out, "well, isn't her husband a grandFATHER of three?"
    *light bulb went off in my head* I had just accepted this before that time.

  4. I expect a lot of comments on this one, J - whole herds of goats being got throughout the blogosphere.

    Just a few weeks ago, I walked out my front door to go to work, only to discover my car had a flat tire. Now, we are members of AAA (they provide emergency road services, such as changing flats, unlocking your car if you leave the key in, towing, etc.), but since the car was sitting right in front of my house and I had the requisite tools for the job, I changed it myself. Took me under 20 minutes. When I went in to work and explained to my coworkers and my first client why I was a little late, the reactions ranged from horror that I had soiled my hands (the client) to applause for my "heroic deed" (my boss). I indignantly asked them all why it should be considered remarkable in any way - both reactions were insulting, implying that I (and all women, I suppose) might not be capable of dealing with the daily round of life's little challenges. They all replied that MOST women don't know how to change a tire! ??? IMO, everyone who operates a motor vehicle should know how to do basic maintenance and some emergency repair. That's just being responsible - a trait that presumably is not gender-linked, as far as I'm aware. Sheesh.

  5. We chaps can find it just as frustrating. Yesterday my OH rang from her house, which is fully internetted, broadbanded and TV'd and radioed because she had to drive to Leeds and wanted to know what the weather was going to be like. She doesn't know how to turn the computer on, let alone look at the BBC weatherpage, so I suggested teletext. So she told me she can't even work that. She admittted that now they have freeview she doesn't even know how to get the TV onto a channel to watch, and if she does by accident she's stuck on that one becaseue she can't change. And this is a house with three teens in it, and she's been a single mum for four years. Aaaaaaaaaargh.
    I still don't know if it's genuine or an act.
    Drives me bonkers, so we'll have to find a way to do something about it.
    It's 2006, get over it!

  6. I think your writing would make a wonderful weekly column in a major newspaper. Have you thought of shopping it around? At first, I wasn't sure if your concept would be overly negative and whiny ( have to admit) but it isn't at all. You are so intelligent and you have an unerring instinct for finding and exposing the fake, the unjust, the overblown, the idiotic---all the while keeping a sense of humor (mostly sardonic)about it that keeps bitterness out of bounds. I have grown to really admire and appreciate you even more than I did before I started reading your blog. Think about finding a more public forum, why don't you?

  7. I remember meeting a woman in her sixties who introduced herself as Nan. Turned out (although this wasn't made clear for several months) she was called Virginia but as soon as she became a grandmother, her family, husband included, jettisoned her given name and she became known purely in terms of her relationship to her offspring's offspring. I found that horrifying.

  8. With regard to Laura's comment:

    There were two series on TV recently.One was called Grumpy Old Men, and was composed of middle-aged and older famous men talking about what they hated about modern life.

    Then they followed it with Grumpy Old Women.

    Guess which one was negative and whiny, and which one was absolutely hilarious?

  9. Red Queen- the comments probably had something to do with their own inability to change a tire. In this day and age more and more people just don't have a clue how to perform basic maintenance tasks on their cars. I almost smacked a boy in class once who tried to dismiss my some comment I made about cars on the basis that I was a girl and had no idea what I was talking about. I asked him if he changed his own oil. Shut him up pretty quick.

  10. Wow, this slap has struck a chord! I’m pleased and dismayed at the same time, because it means that a lot of us feel exasperated by this situation and unable to correct it, except blow by blow.

    WW, I admire you for being so resolute in your determination to be ‘acknowledged’. I would be annoyed (that’s an understatement) too by the experiences you describe. I notice a lot of what you refer to re. sports commentary in other fields as well. It’s all around us. I appreciate your detailed comments.

    LOL, M! I couldn’t agree more – obviously.

    TLP, one can spend years in blissful ignorance and then… Once it hits, though, it’s impossible to overlook and accept.

    D, I haven’t owned or driven a car for 30 years but I know I’d still be able to change a tyre if the need arose and if the bolts weren’t too tight for me. There’s really nothing to it, is there? But, of course, men make it sound as if it's brain surgery. LOL!

    TB, why don’t you teach your OH to do all those things. Do you live too far away? What about arranging for her to go on a course? I really deplore the fact that some women resist any suggestion to acquire more practical knowledge. It’s very frustrating.

    L, I'm overwhelmed by your lovely compliments. What you wish for me could perhaps happen if I lived in a small provincial town – I could get hired as the local ‘grump’, but London is already awash with female columnists with a lot more talent and humour than I have. One of whom, who took part in the programme mentioned by Lulu below, I’ve had the pleasure to get to know a little bit and greatly admire for her common sense.

    GSE, what you tell us is appalling. Just as bad as being addressed by one’s husband’s first and last names and thereby losing all of one’s identity.

    L, those programmes were a joy to watch. I kept saying, “Yes, that’s it!” Wonderful!

    Good for you for putting that boy right, N. (Thanks for visiting too.)

  11. To 'the beep' - Some women make a lifestyle of helplessness because it gets them attention from men. You can cure her by refusing to participate. When she calls and asks something ridiculous that you know she's capable of doing/finding out for herself, you should act just as ignorant/helpless - ask her, in your dimmest, most vacant tone, 'Oh, my - I wonder what you should do?' Of course, you might have to ask yourself whether, in your heart of hearts, you don't get just a teensy ego-boost for being the go-to guy...! Just my 2 cents :>)

  12. I would never dream to teach OH anything. She has three teens in the house who do it all for her, and RQ, you are right, the middle (male) one is the one she goes to for all that stuff. Makes him feel responsible now his dad is elsewhere I guess.
    She is deeply resistant to learning anything to do with technology though, and it drives me bonkers. It's a sort of faux femininity, 'Women can't do that, it's a man thing' I could and do occasionally scream with frustration. Wouldn't even buy a decent twin oven recently because it was too technical and she'd never be able to 'fly' it. Drives me bonkers. Esp as I came from a single parent household and am used, including later in work life, to women being equal. But I adore her in every other way.

  13. excellent topic! I don't have much to add except my own pet peeve, why do people feel they have to include the gender when referring to an occupation that has most typically been held by men in the past; for example 'lady doctor, or lady lawyer'. This annoys me to no end.

  14. Wow, there's so much here to respond to - not only your post, but also in the comments.

    I had a conversation recently in which my sister was telling me about a dinner out with a co-worker in which, apparently, the co-worker bragged about (in my sister's words) "Not doing all that stuff that is traditionally 'women's work.' She says she doesn't cook, she doesn't clean, she doesn't do laundry..." Then my sister, a 33-year old recently married lawyer, said to me "And she wonders why she can't get a man."

    I almost threw up. This is horrifying to me on so many levels. A) perhaps "getting a man" is not her primary concern. B) Since when is cooking, cleaning and doing laundry REALLY what it takes to "get a man?" Obviously, at some point co-worker will realize that this is something most people should be able to do for themselves, or stop posturing because most single men I know cook, clean and do their own laundry. But to hear this from my own sister, an accomplished woman in her own right, really made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I wanted to slap her but I didn't think she'd even get it.

    My holiday card from her had the return address: "Mr & Mrs. Husband's Name." Now she's not even Mrs. Hername Husband's last name? This is astounding to me, and it seems like something from 2-3 generations ago. I don't know any Mrs. John Smiths my age, or even my mother's age, and yet my own sister is now Mrs. John Smith. She irons her husband's shirts and gets up early to make him lunch, even though they both commute into the City together for their jobs.

    My mother kept her maiden name and worked her whole life.

    Please join me in slapping my sister. And pray with me that one day she'll wake up the woman she used to be.

  15. gawd, i loathe the sort of manufactured ditziness you describe!

    i remember bashing wing mirrors on my way home from work one evening and the woman whose car it was handed me her phone number on a piece of paper and said: 'you can talk through the cost of repair with my husband later'! i was gobsmacked and when i called, she in fact answered, so i launched into the conversation, but she cut in right away to pass the phone to her husband

    you have to wonder why the pankhursts bothered sometimes!

    but oh, there is more, much more to say on this subject but i'll leave it at that (and rather sheepishly confess that i've yet to learn how to change a tyre - makes mental note to self!)

    can we upgrade the slap to a hearty thwack this time??!!


  16. Sigh. I do so find it all so saddening too. Why??? In this day and age still? Gah. I think the easiest to spot sign on the internet is the prevalence of handles that are variations on "bobsmom" or "joesgirl." For the record, it's not just the female-centric sites that have this phenomenon - it's ALL of them. I honestly did not realize the full extent to which so many women could not exist as their own person - even in freaking cyberspace they have to be attached to some other human to have meaning. God.

    (Also, I full admit that bitching about internet handles is awfully rich talk for someone with the world's least creative variation on "katie.")

  17. I have no more advice for you, TB: some women are beyond help. She’s lucky you love her so much. And I’m glad I’ve met at least one man who finds that kind of behaviour annoying.

    L, I would never say, ‘lady doctor’, etc. There have been female professionals for quite a while now and there’s no need to point that fact out. On the other hand, I find calling actresses ‘actors’ very very silly.

    CJB, I’m slapping your sister very hard indeed. I don’t wish her any misfortune, but she would wake up if, g-d forbid, she found herself on her own again, wouldn’t she?

    UC, the Pankhursts have no rest whatsoever, the poor things: they’re constantly turning in their graves.

    Yes, a thwack and a kick and everything else that hurts.

    I notice those too, K. That’s a sure sign. Although, for my part, I’m not even my mother’s daughter on the Net; I am my mother. (Shut up, Sigmund!)


    Re: women's sports and disqualifying qualifiers, as it were, The Onion comes through just in time:


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