I was talking with a guy I play a video game with the other day and he told me something I’ve heard many times in my life: I ask too many questions. It’s something I hadn’t given much thought to until now because women don’t say that. As a gender we pretty much believe that if you don’t know and you should know then you should find out. Ask questions, if necessary, but Google, phone a friend, ask a parent, look it up in the dictionary, make an effort to find out.
In the past when a man (generally a boss, coworker, or partner or leader in a project or game) told me not to ask questions, I’d roll my eyes and wonder how the idiot ever learned anything. I mean, if he didn’t ask questions either to himself or to others how does he learn and grow as a person? It’s how I learn; it’s how most of us learn. We make an observation or find out about some new thing, and based on that tidbit of information that is new to us we seek out more information, maybe change our opinion or build on an idea. That leads to other ideas and questions, adjustments to opinions, etc. If I don’t question things I’ll learn/believe lies, and that gets me nowhere. Case in point: religion. Notice religious leaders don’t want you asking questions? Have faith, don’t question, just accept what your deity says, He works in mysterious ways, blah, blah, blah. Questions lead to facts. Facts lead to knowledge. Fact-based knowledge leads people away from religion.
My parents told me when I was young and thought I was really smart that when I got older I’d learn just how much I don’t know. They were right, of course. The fun thing now is they were telling me that when they were around 30 years old. This means that at the time they were only beginning to learn just how ignorant they were. I’m 50 now, and I know how dumb I was at 30 (and have a pretty strong suspicion that my parents were dumb at that age, too). The thing about getting older is learning, truly getting a grasp of, how much you don’t know, and coming to terms with it. It probably takes a lifetime. Ask me about it in 20 more years.
In a related comment from the conversation that started this, and I’ve heard this before, too, I should be more confident (in my knowledge/when I answer a question/in general). The specific incident that brought this conversation into being was about a question I was asked, and I answered it satisfactorily. Or so I thought. Men, especially young ones, must question everything a woman says. It doesn’t matter what she says or how she says it.
Before I go any further on this point – and I will because 50 years of this bullshit, grrrr and fuck them and all that – you are probably thinking “Who gives a fuck what they think? Why are they giving you their asinine opinions that you ask too many questions? or that you didn’t use the exact tone they prefer in your answer? Did they also tell you you should smile more? Did you tell that guy to shove his personal opinions where the sun don’t shine?” I’m working on all this. You can bet your ass that the very next time this comes up, even from a boss, he’s going to hear just how much I value his testosterone-fueled view about how and who I should be. It’s taken me 50 years, so far, to unlearn all the bullshit sexism we learn growing up as females in the United States. I’m still learning. I have a long way to go, but I’m ready when this one comes up again. And you know it will because men seem to think women are here for their utility and amusement. I pity the next fool who offers me his oh-so-valuable-and-helpful opinion on this topic.
Don’t get me wrong about the whole conversation. There were things I needed to know about the actual team and my place in it. It was a good chat, and I didn’t totally let these comments go by. They were a small part of the exchange, but they’re the things I haven’t stopped pondering since the chat. They got under my skin, and late yesterday I was suddenly able to put my finger on exactly why.
So, anyway, be confident. Don’t ask questions. Now we’re getting to the meat of this post, where I find that I can now describe the frustration associated with this weird speech I’ve heard, in all its variations, over the years from male leaders/bosses/coworkers. This is where I finally put together an understanding of another of the maddening things women deal with every fucking day. Maybe I’m slow to get to it. No, it’s not the cat calls and the unsolicited opinions about our demeanor, our weight, our clothes, our hair, our make-up, how we spend our free time, who we date, etc. though that crap is several posts on its own. No, this one is about how it doesn’t matter how we say things or what we say. It doesn’t matter because we are always going to have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition the deadbeats around us get for showing up and having a penis that is attached rather than one kept in the nightstand.
The guy actually said, and again, not the first time I’ve heard it, be confident so that people believe you. Asking questions means people think you don’t know. Duh, I don’t. Well, to be fair, most of the time I don’t so that is why I’m asking; the other times I do know but the instructions were unclear or the leader forgot to mention something important that we are doing wrong as a group, and I’m hoping my question will spark his memory. We’re doing a group project in a game (for those of you who game I am referring to a raid) which means we need to all have an understanding of the final goal and how to get there, what each of our jobs is, where to stand/not stand, and so on. It’s a project in a game, but substitute it for a work project or community project, basically the same thing. Sure, we all have an idea of the end goal, but one person is coordinating, and we need to be on the same page, to know what is expected of each of us so we all do the right part, so it all comes together. Then we can admire our accomplishment as a team.
Here’s one point from that previous paragraph you ladies will understand. If I don’t know or can’t find a satisfactory answer on my own, I’ll ask. Once I’ve asked I find out that several others didn’t know either (they send me private messages thanking me for asking because they were afraid to – gosh, I wonder why they’d be afraid to ask? more on this later). The problem is sometimes I do know which means I either tell them, and again, the women know how that ends. Anything a woman says is wrong or, at least, to be questioned. I do my homework on these boss fights for this game (not everyone on the team does). I know what to do though I don’t know specifics of how the leader wants certain jobs done, who is on that one special job – what if it’s me? shouldn’t I know? So if I come right out and say something like “don’t forget that we need to (insert basic fucking fight mechanic that they should know but are ignoring) so that the (insert consequences to virtual world/our pixelated lives if we do/don’t do the thingie).” Once I’ve said the thing and they’ve immediately come back with “no, that is wrong (and you should be ashamed of threatening a man with knowing something he doesn’t, woman, go sit in the corner, and shut up and look pretty)” that leaves me with option B which is to ask about the thing and hope they’ll remember that basic mechanic so it’s their idea. I’ve found that men are okay with almost anything as long as they think it was their idea. /eye roll
So be confident even though we’re going to question every answer you give. Don’t ask questions because we know everything already and you should, too, even if it requires you to read our minds. I mean, obviously, women have E.S.P., right? That “sixth sense” all of us supposedly have? Yeah, well, I don’t have it; I have to learn things the old fashioned way, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Suck it up, boys.
Guys say things with confidence even when they are talking out their asses. They’re actually afraid to ask questions just as they’re afraid, they feel threatened, when someone else (especially a woman) has information they don’t. I’m noticing it more and more, and not just in politics though that is a big part of how we got this awful president. We’re supposed to believe them automatically because. . . they’re men? and all men are smart and do their homework? they’re lying so confidently that what they’re saying must be true? A lie is still a lie no matter what tone of voice you use, and lying trashes your credibility. Telling me to sound confident is silly (even if it was his business). Somewhere along the way men are taught they should know things, that admitting you don’t know something is weak. Asking a question makes you look weak. Well, I’ll tell you right now – lying is weak. I’ll take a person who admits “I don’t know, but I will find out” over one who tells me a lie while looking me in the eye any day. They’re afraid in that group project to ask so they don’t, but they sure are relieved when I ask. Now neither of us has to look like we weren’t prepared or like we are idiots. And I’m the one who’s weak? Chicken shits afraid ask, rather risk looking dumb. . .
Ever notice that the immature people around you (not talking age, I mean maturity here) tend to be the ones who are confident in their ignorance? They hold on to what they believe, even if it’s a lie, because they think it makes them look strong, decisive. They’re equating maturity with confidence. While confidence generally comes with maturity, it’s because of the wisdom that comes along with the age and experience. There’s a big difference between acting confident and being confident. The people we respect and trust, no matter the job, are the ones who realize that their words matter; they’re the ones who can admit they are still learning. They’re able to tell you where they stand now and why, and they can back up their opinions/policies with facts and logic. They apologize when they make a mistake, and they strive to learn and improve themselves, to do better. Nobody has to tell them to act confident because their confidence and competence show. They know what they know, and they know what they don’t know.
So what it comes down to is that I prefer “strong opinions, weakly held” over the “weak opinions, strongly held” that these people are recommending for me. When people go around spouting their views as facts they need to be able to back them up. Our ideas and opinions are a big part of who we are. Investing in knowledge, facts, and being prepared to challenge or change our views when new evidence comes to light is a sign of maturity. Welcome new information; resist the impulse to feel threatened and act defensive when new information comes your way.
Somewhere along the way we’ve taught men and boys that asking questions or not knowing answers makes them look weak. The alternative? Lie with feigned confidence. We’re teaching them to fake it. When faking it works, they do it again. And again. And faking it becomes a habit. We’re reinforcing lying with confidence, making it a habit, over actually learning and speaking from wisdom and experience. The president has used this successfully for 70 years. What does this say about us? Hell, until GPS got added to phones most men wouldn’t even ask for directions; they’d rather drive around lost for an hour (meanwhile, woman is in the passenger seat biting her tongue because she fucking knows how easy it is to fix this, but she doesn’t want to harm his tender masculinity). These guys actually think they are helping me when they tell me to answer with confidence even though I know damned well they won’t believe me. And it’s none of their business what tone I use. I wouldn’t tell them to be confident or to stop asking questions any more than I’d tell them to wear their hair a different way.
We’ve also somehow taught people that men are smart and tell the truth, but women are not smart and are prone to lying. I’m seeing exactly the opposite in the news, out there in public, but that is what we’re teaching. We should admire truthful people, people who study and work, who base their views on facts regardless of their gender. We should admire people who pursue knowledge, and I don’t just mean scientists and teachers. I mean all the people who strive to improve themselves and to do whatever they do better. Instead, we have men in leadership roles, role models, and men who are supposed to represent us who have no credibility with us, with the press, with world leaders, because they’re too lazy to seek out the truth. We should not look up to them, and we sure as hell shouldn’t be telling other people to emulate them. The lessons they’re passing to our children by example are the opposite of what our youth need now. It’s time to kick the habit of faking it and to instead reward integrity in members of government and society.
I will continue to be confident when I know and honest about it when I don’t regardless of how people respond. So men, if you must offer your opinion on how or who I should be you’ll want to check it first, and be prepared. I’ll probably still listen since that is what I’m programmed to do as a nurturing female, but right after you’ve shared your opinion I’m going to tell you what you can do with that opinion. Reverse our roles and set aside our ages. Just imagine I’m a woman offering up my opinion to you, a man. You’ll see that, in most contexts, me telling you how to interact with other people and what tone to use is the wrong thing to do. Consider that if it ever seemed like a good idea to give me that advice then maybe you’re not the one to give advice at all. You might be part of the problem.