Samantha Garzillo | guest writer — American University
When I was in seventh grade, I was instructed, along with my classmates, to draw a scientist. Every student’s picture was a variation of the same image — an old white man in a lab coat, perhaps with wild grey hair or beakers in his hands. When we presented our artwork, unfazed by the similarities between each of them, our teacher questioned us on what we got wrong. That all of our scientists were older? No. That we didn’t draw doctors? No. Our teacher pointed out the one similarity none of us noticed — gender. The lesson was that men and women can be scientists.
From that day forward, I have been continuously taught the same lesson. I have the honor of being an “and.”
I notice it everywhere, from daily conversations to my class readings.
“Oh, and female athletes.”
“Oh, and female professors.”
“Oh, and female CEO’s.”
After any description of positions of power or intelligence — a person typically assumed to be male — the “oh, and” statement is found. This illusion of inclusivity is a constant reminder that women are still not what we first imagine when thinking of success. My gender is a second thought that makes any statement “progressive.”
You will never hear someone add “oh, and men” because we’ve so disproportionately highlighted men’s success, and barred women from obtaining that same success. There’s never any question of a man’s capabilities — no, “don’t forget about male leaders” or, “men can play football, too.”
While I respect the effort both men and women have made to bolster women’s rights, self-monitoring your language to be more politically correct is not enough. It reveals a problem, not progress.
I still rarely feel as though I am held to the same standard as men. Pulling me into the “in” club with your “oh, and” statements doesn’t show me that you respect me and my capability equally. It shows that you have to constantly remind yourself that I am equal.
Even now, if someone were to ask me to draw a scientist, a valedictorian, a millionaire, or an Olympian — people who embody intellect, success, or athleticism — my first inclination would be to draw a man. Even as a feminist, my first thoughts still associate these respectable titles with men.
It is a battle to unlearn what we have been taught and shown since childhood. But the solution isn’t to say, “Women can do it too.” We must obliterate the narrative that only men have achieved these feats, while also giving women the equal opportunity to reach them. We have to show ourselves that when we say “and women,” we herald equality. If we can learn about, listen to, and be surrounded by incredible women realizing incredible accomplishments, we won’t need to correct ourselves anymore.
Now, draw a scientist.
I can bet you imagined a woman. I can also bet two other things: that scientist was not of color, nor transgender, nor any other combination of a non-het, non-cis identity.
Women have been left out of the success narrative and are subsequently subject to the need for self-correction — but perhaps even more urgent is the need for recognition of POC’s and gender nonconforming people in visions of success. Those who don’t fall into the rigid gender binary have not only been neglected from discussions of achievement and success, but they have been ignored — there is seemingly no interest in trying to include this part of our population. How often do you hear, “Oh, and trans women,” or, “Oh, and queer girls”?
So next time you want to pat yourself on the back for tacking “and women” on to your sentences, take a moment to realize why you had to do it in the first place. ◆
Samantha Garzillo is a Law & Society major at American University, focused primarily on public policy. She also enjoys making ranty Facebook statuses about sexism.