“Women Have Always Fought” – Choosing Blindness when it Comes to Exceptions in Stereotypes.

Recently I read George Orwell’s book, 1984. One of the themes throughout the book was the control of media. Essentially, if you control all media, even going so far as to edit our historical records of things, eventually you can “change” history. When everyone who remembers that things were different has been silenced by one higher power or another, all that’s left is books, videos, pictures… So what happens when you alter history?

This became all the more interesting to me as I had a fresh realization that we are guilty of altering history as we write it. It’s impossible to be human without also having a bias. Just the fact that we experience life differently from someone else from the moment we’re born makes us biased.

I read this article by Kameron Hurley yesterday and was surprised to find that:
“Women fought in every revolutionary army…and those armies were often composed of fighting forces that were 20-30% women. But when we say “revolutionary army” what do we think of? What image does it conjure? Does the force in your mind include three women and seven men? Six women and fourteen men?

Women not only made bombs and guns in WWII – they picked up guns and drove tanks and flew airplanes.”

This article, which I would definitely recommend reading fully here, highlights the way that it’s much easier to keep telling stories that fit in with stereotypes. If we hear over and over and over again that women don’t fight, then when we hear of an exception, often our first reaction is to think that it’s the only exception. We are surprised by it because we’ve been taught that it doesn’t exist! Although you’d think that exceptions should probably be written about so that we can see both sides of something, instead the voices which differ from the majority silence themselves.

Kameron describes sitting down to write a story and feeling uncomfortable writing about something that goes too far outside the stereotype, for fear that her audience will feel that it’s unrealistic.

“It’s easier to tell the same stories everyone else does. There’s no particular shame in it.

It’s just that it’s lazy…

Oh, and it’s not true.”

Although I feel like we’re certainly getting somewhere when it comes to the voices of minorities being heard, I am almost shocked when I realize how true this still is to me:

“Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things.”

It drives me nuts that when a woman does something great, much of the media surrounding it is essentially saying “Wow, a woman did this?! How strange and unusual! Women rarely do exceptional things. When they do it is worth spending most of an article or news piece discussing just how strange and unusual it is…”

Why is it that we say “soldier” to mean a male soldier, but if it’s a woman we say “woman soldier”?

A fascinating example of how negatively this can effect us is the dramatic drop in women who code:

“A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women. And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged, even as the share of women in other technical and professional fields kept rising.”

I am definitely not the most normal female. I have a lot of things that separate me from most other females. What’s interesting is that I find I have silenced my own voice for a lot of the same reasons. I think that because I’m not seeing others out there like me, they mustn’t exist. In an odd way I feel this might be connected to normalcy bias. (I realize this a bit of a leap, but stay with me, I’ll circle back around and connect it.)

“The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur.”

In emergencies, 70% of people will continue to act as if nothing is happening. They will ask an average of four other people “What is that?”, “What do you think we should do?”:

“People mill, asking for opinions, because they want to be told that everything is fine. They will keep asking, and delaying, until they get the answer they want.”

I think this highlights an inherent discomfort we have with things being outside of the norm. We desperately want everything to be normal. We can’t bear to think that something so absurd and unlikely as a disaster might be happening. We shy away from the things that happen a minority of the time, very clearly to our detriment in some cases.

On a more subtle level, I believe that we treat exceptions to a stereotype the same way.

Just something to think about…

If you’d like some further reading on this topic, I found this article on the narrative of women in history very interesting.