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Will I Declare?

juliah's picture

In class on Thursday, during our modified version of the “Question” activity, as well as during the new “Statement” exercise, my group identified one overarching concern: not one of us “answered” the questions, or even made a succinct, declarative statement in response to the issue at hand. We seemed utterly incapable of distilling a broad question (like mine, “Where does gender begin?”) into a concise, concrete statement. All of the responses merely bloated the issue at hand with nebulous words such as “universe” invading almost everyone’s question series. Our responses were also riddled with shaky, timid statements that could easily be retracted, or our words were hedged with disclaimers. Why is this? Why are we seemingly (I am noting my inability to write fully declarative sentences here, as I automatically used a weak word like “seemingly”) unable to make decisive statements and stand behind them? Why are we afraid of answering our own questions?

In a TED talk given in 2010 (which I have posted a link for), Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg addressed the cause and possible cure for such rampant uncertainty. She made the case that increasing the number of women in high-level positions would be profoundly beneficial. The first point in her argument is the most pertinent to the questions at hand: women need to claim their seat at the table. Additionally, she cites data that shows that “women systematically underestimate their own abilities.” These two concerns, why most of us were unable to ask and answer questions with more fervor, and Sandberg’s point that even women in high-level positions act with levels of uncertainty, go hand in hand. I know I was definitely guilty of one of the “universe” questions. The entire exercise made me uncomfortable, especially when we had to make forthright statements. After all, who am I to claim my own thoughts? Such systemic flaws may seem less pervasive in an institution like Bryn Mawr, which encourages and empowers women, but they exist. I must use this awareness to sit up, ask questions, and own my statements.

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Maya's picture

Owning our convictions

I agree with Juliah and I noticed this is in my group as well. We came up with great questions, but I did not even know where to begin when answering these questions. I think it is partly due to the fact that I have never thought about these questions before, but it is also because I did not want to be wrong in my answers. This class is a very supportive enviornment, but I have been living my entire life in a different enviornment. I don't even think I was fully aware of this enviornment until I got older. I have always been one to speak up and share my opinions, but usually I only do this when I am almost certain I will be right or supported. And depending on the subject and the group I am a part of, the percentage of times I will say something will go down. When I think back to my classes in high school, I am realizing that those times that I was slightly more timid and did not always say what I thought, were times where my class had a fair number of boys in it and we were discussing a topic that I was not completely sure about. There were also many girls in my class who almost never spoke up; I was one of few.

This makes me feel angry, not at anybody in particular, but at our entire culture. Women are taught, still, that it is better to be seen and not heard. Women were never allowed to grow up and speak their minds. It is definitely better today than it was even 50 years ago, however, we still have a long way to go. Sheryl Sandberg describes in her TED talk speech when she met with a senior government official and two women (who were also seniors in their department) for a meeting and instead of sitting at the table with everybody, the two women sat in the corner. This shocked me because not only were they part of the discussion, but they were also fairly high ranking senior officials as well and just because they were women, they chose to sit to the side. Sheryl Sandberg said to this that, "No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side not at the table." I agree.