I hear the following lines several times in multiple variations:
“Are you sure you can handle that?”
“Oh, look at you being all on top of things!”
“Wow! You’re in charge of that?”
“You’re a girl? When I heard someone called ‘Joe’ was president, I thought you were a guy.”
Let’s also play some fill in the blank: “But you’re so…”
a) tiny b) adorable c) harmless
Years of practice later, I try very hard not to make the annoyed look on my face too obvious. Present enough that they can feel it, but subtle enough that they don’t realize it. It is an art, really.
This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate people noticing the work and leadership I do. In fact, I have a gigantic ego that needs to be fed constantly, so please keep at it. For example, are your Science Olympiad nerds all a mess again? “Where’s Jo to get them in line?!”
But the difference is that this derives from my coaches knowing my personality traits, and having a history working with me as a member and student. I mean, they’ve actually witnessed me threatening the lives of engineers if they break another build project. (Exhibit A of not being harmless.)
A statistical average of the “typical” high-achieving, successful American CEO is as follows: Six-foot (or taller), male, caucasian. Hi, my name is Joanna Flores, a 5’3.5″, female, and Asian. (Oh, and I plan to one day rule the world.)
Therefore, it is “cute”, and “so inspiring” that I can handle multiple leadership roles, or be in control at all.
What I’m getting at is: Don’t preset your expectations off of “given” qualities.
And my high school wondered why I always wore heels.
- People don’t take you seriously, at first. Being petite does not just mean being short, but frequently entails having a higher pitched voice, and an overall younger appearance.
For the most part, I do not blame anyone. I do not think people purposefully think negatively upon these traits. It must be, in part, intuitive – a natural, biological response. Something or someone smaller is less of a physical threat – which as organisms, is our first instinctive priority. Sounding and looking younger akins one to being a person of youth, and therefore someone to be overseen, and taken care of – like a youth, like a child.
Developing this over the years of “Let me take care of you!”, I’ve just come to hate being taken care of in general. They’re almost lines: “I’ll be okay!” and “Don’t worry about me, I’ve got this, really.” The assumption that I am any less capable because of appearance is ridiculous. The idea of someone’s stature as a gauge to their competence, skill, or mental ability will be outlawed once I come to rule the world.
In her April 3rd, 2013 interview on The Daily Show, Sheryl Sandberg discusses the stereotype that women face, even as little girls (cue at 3 minutes):
“Go to a playground this weekend and you’ll hear little girls called ‘bossy.’ You won’t hear little boys called ‘bossy’ because we expect boys to be assertive and lead. Rather than call our little girls ‘bossy’, we should say: “My daughter has executive leadership skills.”
Other lines I hear: “She seems like such a b*tch.” (First however, I’d like to clarify that I, the author, am in fact a homosapien, and not actually a female dog with typing skills. Sorry to disappoint.)
Having been incredibly involved in high school, I’ve been to many meetings, and as a student, this also comes up about teachers. The same atmosphere of a presentation or class given off by a “strict” or presumed “just socially awkward” male, gets called “cold”, “crazy”, or “hormonal” if female.
Don’t believe me? How many times in your daily life, at home, school, even in media, do you hear someone say, “She’s just PMS-ing”?
I refer you to Jessica Day of the show “New Girl” (who also goes by a unisex nickname: Jess). See above.
“To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” by Rachel Rostad brings to the forefront the simultaneous “defined by a culture” and “lack of heritage” frequently attributed to minorities.
“Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn. So let me cry over boys more than I speak. Let me fulfill your diversity quota.”
“…What else could I be but what you made me? Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.”
The Bottom Line
Any combination of the qualities above lowers society’s expectations of a person. Being in control makes you a “control freak”, appearing put together makes you “adorable”, having defined boundaries makes you”uptight”.
And you know what? I just make fun of these ideas. Address the elephant in the room, and then push it out of the room. Or move rooms. Getting upset, I learned early on, only leads people to think they’re right. They think they’re hitting a nerve, and by hitting that nerve, they must be correct.
Starting in my upperclassmen years in high school the elephant became my best friend. At awards night, the “tagline” announced next to my name was: “Future Goals: World Domination”. Around campus, I didn’t hide the fact that I’m tiny, and “Hey, I can still totally kick your butt in these high heels.” Or when asked what race I am? “Uhm…human?”
Oh yeah, that made me sassy. But everyone just eats that stuff up.