I’m Speaking.

by Kristina Harris

A few weeks ago the US Vice Presidential debate took place in Utah. Not like the location matters an inch since it was all pretty much virtualized. But we all watched from screens around the world and experienced something we all know too well. An uninformed, less qualified person, explaining away nonsense over your rational, evidence based, response.

It was infuriating to watch live as this man thought his smug righteousness came off as anything close to charming. Content aside, women everywhere rolled their eyes in solidarity, knowing all too well the careful waltz Kamala Harris had danced for an hour: the tango of the angry woman, or the polite doormat. To be frank, both options are utterly useless.

Whether you are in a Zoom meeting, in a classroom, on a date, out with friends, women everywhere have been trying to unlearn the social etiquette that allows their points, opinions, objections, and concerns to be indiscriminately steamrolled.

About a month before Kamala Harris told the world she was speaking, I was out with some friends in Camden and the topic of mansplaining came up. The group mainly consisted of women, which is probably why my friend felt so comfortable to chat about how much she loathed this particular social injustice. One of my girlfriends was talking about how annoying it was, and the boy of the group feigned innocence while he mansplained mansplaining. He was clearly uncomfortable and proceeded to get wildly drunk. The girl stood her ground and said, ‘hey Tony, I just said I hate when people do that, why did you do that?’

‘I’m just joking Lizzie! Jesus, can you relax. I’m just joking.’

Well, if you can guess, Lizzie did anything but relax. But why was it on her to relax? Why is it always on her to relax? Tony, you made a poorly timed, poorly executed joke. AND it wasn’t funny or original. This is how it often plays out when someone expresses discomfort. Why is it when you voice what makes you uncomfortable, you have to spend the majority of your time comforting your offender?

‘No, of course you’re not like that.’

‘I didn’t mean you.’

‘I know you didn’t mean to be offensive.’

‘Sorry. No, you go ahead.’

‘I know you’re not a misogynist.’ Well, you know what Ted, I frankly do not know that about you. We just met. But I am saying this because  you’re now upset that you have offended me and somehow it is my responsibility to put you back together.

I know it’s no walk in the park to hear that you made a social blunder. It is exceptionally uncomfortable to meet your imperfections and look them in the eye. It is even more uncomfortable to try to change ingrained habits. But just because it is hard, uncomfortable, and different, doesn’t mean we don’t even try.

In fact, the things that are the hardest for us are the things we need to double our efforts on. For years, men have talked over women. The way of the world is that women speaking up  just isn’t as correct as their self-assured male counterparts. Just because that’s the way it has always been, doesn’t mean that is the way it always has to be. We used to have a bucket as a toilet, until someone said, no, that’s enough of that. This is gross, and there is a better way to do things. And I need to say here and now, this is substantially easier for me to say as a woman who has everything to gain by having safer spaces. I know this onus is on my male counterparts. And I won’t sit here and say it won’t be a challenge. I know it will be uncomfortable. But it is necessary. It is that simple. It is 2020. We aren’t s***ting in buckets, and we aren’t talking over women.

Photo by Alex Edelman/Shuttershock