Saturday, January 06, 2007

gender issues: talked about way too much; not enough done about it

the other day, i received an e-mail from someone at harvard medical school trying to form a hms chinese community. how refreshingly nice, i thought, as my impression of the hms people was that they are workaholics who care not for community. i am not one to join organizations grouping me with people who are supposedly the same, as i have never quite fit in. freshman year, i thought maybe i'd make more asian friends and excitedly signed up for the asian american association and chinese american associations. i never quite made friends with those kids and mysteriously fell off the mailing lists a few weeks after joining. despite this, i still like to think about the possibility of having a community; sometimes it gets old being alone.

it is likely this loneliness, or some derivation of it, that caused the formation of the women's center. never one to have much respect for groups that encouraged "women just being women" as it struck me as fluff, i did not waste too much of my time considering the merits or lack thereof of the center until a discussion at dinner the other day. my one roommate said that she thought a women's center was unnecessary, as there can never be equality if different genders are engaging in separate activities.

i do not advocate that men and women function in completely different societies, but if we continue this "equalization" of men and women we would just have women assimilating into the society that men have created. this is not to say that women could not do well playing by men's rules, but those rules are certainly ones by which the women are not used to playing. most (if not all) of the differences between men and women are imposed by society rather than biological in origin; this is what causes adult men and women to have, with great probability and on average, sufficiently different personalities for society to associate different traits with "male" and "female."

we can compare the assimilation of women into male-dominated society, then, to something like the assimilation of an immigrant group into american society--some assumed physical differences (asian people tend to be smaller; women tend to be smaller), no assumed biological mental differences, assumed goal of equal playing field where people are evaluated based on skill rather than some weighted evaluation (think affirmation action). the successful immigrant groups could not have risen in status and power without joining together to help each other out. take the chinese-american community, for instance. the general sentiment among them, at least among the community i know in pittsburgh, is one of "we are weak, but if we join together we will be stronger, and one day people will listen to us." do you know _how_ much people help each other out? when i was growing up, my parents' chinese friends would help each other find apartments, teach each other how to drive cars, drive those without cars to the grocery store, and pretty much do anything within limit to make sure those "fresh off the boat" would be able to get a decent start in the new land. of course there was competition between chinese people when they crossed each other's paths in the real world, but the most important thing was to promote the image of the chinese as a race.

back to the subject of women. why do women not help each other out like this? in many cases, they do. although i admit to knowing nothing about the implementation save for the weekly e-mails, the harvard women's center is a good example of women joining together, if not helping each other in their assimilation. i would say the biggest reasons women do not help each other out are the same reasons many chinese do not identify with the chinese community: competition and to be cool. competition is a biological thing--people tend to compete with those most similar to themselves because they are fighting for the same niche--ultimately, they would attract the same sort of mates so the to be better than other things of the same "class" is beneficial, yada yada yada. the being cool part is also a big deal, something that people tend to ignore. perhaps until i got to harvard, it was certainly never cool to be chinese. it is generally not cool to be part of a minority group, and after all asians are the nerdy, backward minority, are they not? i mean, being asian did not automatically make me uncool, but asians will generally agree that at least before college, they had to work in order to break the stereotypes. the same way, it's really not cool to be a woman in many respect. certainly when you are trying to get your way for something, being a woman with cleavage or wearing a short skirt is helpful. but if you want to be taken seriously--girl, are you kidding? you better chug those beers, run those sub-seven-minute miles, and participate in those halo tournaments like one of the boys. and if you are caught association with too many other women--sorry, no longer cool.

it is way past my bedtime, but the main points you should take away are that there is a big difference between the way men and women are treated in society, society has created male and female cultures, one way to have equality is for women to become like men, and it is very important for women to recognize that they should help each other out. another important thing is that i don't actually advocate full "assimilation" of women into our present male-dominated society. you see, the assimilation is never a true assimilation, both for immigration and for this gender divide; ideally, each group would learn from the other. okay, really bedtime... more tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, the next day...

my other roommate and i had a discussion about how women are treated at harvard. she has written an article about this here:
http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=516545

1 comment:

Brigit said...

Yaaay Jean! This is a great post!

I think you can actually combine the two tactics you discuss here: assimilating to the "man's world" and helping other women out. Helping other women attain success IS a part of the "man's world"--men help other men become successful all the time! I think that this contributes to that inherent confidence (and almost a sense of entitlement to power) men have that women seem to lack. Men treat each other as important, powerful, leaders, so women need to start doing that, too.

Now let's all go burn our bras!

GO JEAN!