Stuff guys get away with saying

September 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

My girlfriend shared with me an irritating workplace experience she had recently. She and a female colleague were conversing about hair products, when they were interrupted by a male colleague who said this: “You both seem like intelligent women, why on earth are you talking about hair spray?”

Let’s unpack. My friend’s male colleague is assuming that there has to be certain topics that are intelligent topics, and others that are not.  Put differently, intelligence is not how you talk about something, but what you talk about. And he decided that the topic of hair products is not a smart topic–certainly, not something that smart people would be talking about. I assume that this guy meant no harm from what he said, but his statement is harmful–maybe not in isolation, but certainly in context, that is, historically there has been judgments made much like his–that fields and interests predominantly taken up by women are less smart, less valuable. That judgement has harmful consequences, for example, lower pay in professions dominated by women, sometimes referred to as the “pink ghetto” phenomenon.

And the irony of this guy’s statement is that while he is ridiculing women for talking about beauty products, he probably upholds them to a certain standard of beauty as well. As freely as he felt like he could interject himself to my girlfriend’s conversation, he probably also–like many men–feels freely to comment on women’s appearances whether or not anyone is asking for his opinion.

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