Are women treated differently? Do we take things too personally? I would argue yes, we are treated differently and yes, we might benefit from taking things less seriously. A short story: While I was in advanced pilot training for HH-60Gs, I began to notice that my older, retired (circa 1990) academic instructors would refer to pilots as “he” and then would look over at me (the lone female) and say “OR she” while pointing at me and smiling. This was 2003, and it began to bother me, I’m sure anything repeated over and over that pointed out a difference between people would irk anyone. So, I did the natural thing, and complained to my fellow students about it one day when I couldn’t stand it anymore while one of the flight instructors from the flight line (i.e., not retired) prepped for a class.
“Ugh, it gets so annoying when the instructors say ‘Or she’ whenever they refer to the pilot” I complained, mimicking the sweeping gesture they always made prior to pointing to me. My classmates laughed, they felt the awkwardness too. But what could I do? It was just a small thing, I didn’t know why my instructors felt this compulsion to say “or she” but I wanted it to stop. We made jokes and made light of it, trying to find easy ways to deal with the situations when the flight instructor prepping for his course turned around and had an amazing idea. He suggested I pretend I was auditing the class for the “or she”. “What do you mean?” I asked. He said “keep a mini notebook in your pocket, and whenever they say ‘OR she ‘ and point at you, pull your notebook out with a big flourish, open it, tap your pencil on your tongue and make a big check mark and then fold it back up and put it back in your pocket… all without saying a thing”. Ha! This was genius. He continued “you don’t know why they are saying ‘or she’ which throws you of your game, throw them off theirs. No matter why they are saying it, I bet they will stop when they see you make any kind of deal about it” (PS- this guy made O-6).
We all enjoyed a few moments of the prospects of this idea and then we continued with our class. I appreciated the ingenuity of my instructor’s idea and it has stuck with me ever since.
The next day, I placed a mini 2” x 4” spiral notebook in my left pant pocket as was suggested by the flight line instructor and walked confidently into class like normal. I sat down and took notes, drew my system pictures, wrote the foot stompers and then when one of my instructors said “OR she…” with a big flourish and a point out at me, I stopped, put my pencil down, pulled out my notebook, opened it with painstaking overtness, made a checkmark as I grinned, folded it back up and put it back in my pocket. The instructor paused to look at me, obviously thrown off by my action, continued, and never said “OR she” again. At least, that was the last time I recall hearing “or she” during my training.
I wonder sometimes if we, as women and minorities, take things too personally when we feel the effects of implicit bias. It is natural for humans to discriminate against things that don’t resemble them, it’s a human phenomenon. I offer that if you don’t believe me, you take the implicit bias test hosted by Harvard. It is revealing how much bias you may have for certain people. Its innate, its cultural, it is reinforced by our confirmation biases. This is especially true for women, as we have all been brought up in a patriarchal society, taught that male traits are more valuable and immersed in a gender role society unconsciously teaching us our skills are inferior. New research is emerging showing scientific bias research has had against us for at least the last 200 years, from alpha males in wolves (no such thing) to emotionality being purely feminine. I have vivid memories of my instructors at the Academy teaching me that PMS was in the DMS IV and the injustice in that. It just didn’t make sense. And that was after they had removed some other women specific disorders, like female hysteria, that doctors used to take advantage of women.
Yes, this is enough to anger us but anger does not create progress. We cannot let past injustices rule our emotions or our future- being a victim does not provide a path to resolution, it only creates attention and sympathy. Finding paths to highlight injustices without accusing, berating or self handicapping is the goal of The Milieux Project.
Through story telling and antedotes, we can show our individual progress and capability that otherwise might get lost in the milieu. It’s the small things, the small innuendos, discrepancies, failures that we find our challenge in, not the outward and obvious discrimination. And it is in those challenges we can find our sisterhood and efficacy to inspire others to follow us, empower us and replace us.
#diversity #takethelead #skillcrush #teamveteran #stateofagile #follow #girls #work #empower