On speaking up
September 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
A small but happy story: A male acquaintance of mine recently said something very inappropriate to a female friend. All three of us are grad students (I’m also a woman), and his comment was in a professional setting and was way out of line.
My friend was very upset, and so was I when she told me the story. But I felt that the guy really didn’t understand why what he had said was problematic, and that he deserved to have a chance to understand. After that, I felt, how he reacted was on him.
So I decided to talk to him about it. I was VERY nervous about this, and I felt totally awkward at first. (And I’d already spent a few weeks feeling like I should broach this subject, but chickening out, and feeling worse and worse about it.)
But I explained to him why I thought what he had said was really damaging, and told him a personal story about how my own intellectual confidence had been negatively affected by an experience that, while different in its particulars, also involved having my gender suddenly made very salient to me in an academic setting.
And he totally got it! He felt very embarrassed, ashamed even, and apologized quite sincerely to my friend. I respect him for how he reacted. And my friend and I both ended up feeling very good about the experience. Sticking up for her, even though it felt frightening, has now made me feel more confident too.
I’m telling this story in the hopes that it will help someone who might be feeling like I was for all those weeks, when I wanted to say something but didn’t have the confidence. Sometimes it goes well.