“Reticent” is not a word people tend use to describe my personality. I tend to spout off before I think, especially when there’s a trigger involved.
I did it again yesterday, and have been second-guessing myself ever since.
Here’s what happened:
I was in a meeting with a group of people I enjoy, people I trust, people I know have a very similar outlook on the world to mine. We were planning a one-day event we’ll be putting on next month, and a question came up: “Should one of us act as sort of an emcee for the day?” We all agreed that having an acknowledeged facilitator would be a smart move.
Two of the males in the group immediately sprang to mind for me, to fill this role. I’ve worked closely with them both and have the greatest respect for them. One of them, Dave, offered to act in the facilitor role, and at first I went with it.
And then, without really thinking it through, I stopped the group for one of my “spout off before I think” moments. It went something like this:
“My first choice for facilitator for the day would have been Dave, but it occurs to me that if we have a male (who also happens to be a pastor) in this role, we’ll be sending an unspoken message I’m not comfortable with. I think we’d be saying that a male is the natural choice for being in charge, and a male pastor, at that. I’m personally very sensitive to that particular issue, and quite honestly I’d like to see one of the women in the group take this leadership role on that day.”
I wasn’t surprised that the rest of the group immediately saw my point and shortly came around to suggesting that another female and I (neither one of us pastors) split up the day between us. What did surprise me was that as soon as the words came out of my mouth I found myself back-tracking, apologizing for being so firmly feminist, and assuring the group I wasn’t trying to pull off a coup.
Why did I feel the need to apologize for my point of view? Especially in a group like that, full of supportive colleagues and progressive thinkers? I’ve been asking myself that question for 24 hours now. I still feel uncomfortable for having spoken up, and I don’t like the fact that I feel uncomfortable about it.
I think it comes back to the concept of unconscious bias (the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner). It’s hard for me to speak up for women’s issues because I detect unconscious bias so often. Women who speak up for themselves are still looked at as “shrill,” “bossy,” or “touchy.” Therefore I came away from that perfectly benign interaction feeling shrill, bossy, and touchy.
(Case in point: Just yesterday morning I read a number of articles about Hillary Clinton being attacked by journalists for “shouting” rather than using a more conversational tone and for “not smiling.” Unconscious bias in action. The clear implication is that women should look and sound a certain way in order to be found acceptible.)
It’s as much my problem as it is society’s problem. It’s an issue I need to work on, and it’s definitely an issue our society needs to work on.
So on balance, I’m glad I said what I said. Maybe spouting without thinking isn’t such a bad idea.