This post is about a topic that has been weighing on me a lot lately. I realize it’s a longer post than normal for me, and more controversial than normal, but I would really love it if you guys read it and shared your feelings with me.
-Thanks in advance, Charlotte xo
Once, when I was in graduate school getting my masters at Oxford, a male acquaintance of mine (who was English), went on a rant about misuse of the words ‘complex’ and ‘complicated.’ It wasn’t a serious rant in the way that ranting about Brexit or Trump is serious, but his passion on the matter was certainly palpable.
As he rattled on, the other females around me and I just rolled our eyes playfully and smiled. It was cute. It was funny. It was kinda sexy.
But intellectual cockiness in moderation is seen as a cute, funny, sexy trait for well educated white British men.
(If you’re curious as to the rant’s subject, it was that ‘complex’ refers only to numbers that have imaginary components, while ‘complicated’ refers to a situation in life.)
A few years ago, in a job in which I am infinitely grateful no longer to be, I sent an email to some coworkers stating some things I needed from them for a model my team was building. The folks on this other team were having a hard time understanding what we needed from them, so in my email I spelled it out as explicitly as possible. My language was formal, and I spoke in very logical terms. By no means did I say, “Hey you dummies! Why can’t you understand?!” It was just logical and to the point.
To say that I was given hell for it is an understatement. The manager of that other team came to me a publicly berated me for being, in her eyes, arrogant. I needed to be kinder, softer, sweet, bubblier, less arrogant, less cocky, less intellectually harsh, she said.
I called in my manager to the situation, hoping for some backup. Instead, she said the same things. In fact, I was even told that I should dumb myself down when I spoke, so that I wouldn’t come across as intellectually cocky.
Yes, you read that correctly. I was literally told to dumb myself down at work.
So, what is a prescribed narrative?
Well, it is a term I made up to encapsulate the feeling that society encourages and discourages the same behavior for different people. It is distinct from a stereotype and more complicated (not complex ;-)) than a gender role.
In my mind, a stereotype is what society assumes to be true about you until proven otherwise.
A prescribed narrative, on the other hand, is what society says you should or should not do depending on your demographic and cultural profile. I added cultural profile in there because I think it really gets down to specific geographic and economic areas. In Vignette Two above, I honestly don’t think that same conversation would have occurred if I had landed a job in New York or London, which are both places I have lived and never felt pressured to be “dumb and sweet.”
That conversation took place in Alabama, where women are supposed to be as sweet as the tea we drink.
We are to be demure.
We are to be sweetly self-deprecating.
We are to end sentences with a smile and a few words to hedge our certainty.
“I believe the word complex refers only to numbers, but I could be mistaken.” *smile*
A prescribe narrative, in my mind, is when the exact same behavior is encouraged in some people and discouraged in others.
You shouldn’t cry in public, because you’re a straight man living in the South, and that’s viewed as being weak.
It’s OK for you to cry in public, because you’re a soft spoken woman living in the South, and that’s a testament to your tender heart.
Last week, I posted this review of Codecademy‘s Python module. As soon as I published it, I fretted about how my review would be received. Would I sound too arrogant in saying that Codecademy’s lessons were too easy and too slow paced?
I’m not exaggerating, you guys. I legitimately started panicking after I posted that review, because I have seriously been so scarred by experiences like Vignette Two.
Here’s where you come in. For whoever is comfortable, I want to hear your stories about prescribed narratives you’ve encountered in your life. What behaviors have you seen other people do and were encouraged, but when you do them, you’re chastised?
Or perhaps instances you’ve encountered the other way around, where you were encouraged but someone else was discouraged? (My biggest example of this is as a child having my creative writing passions encouraged, and overhearing the dad of a little boy in my class yelling at his son saying that writing was for sissies).
I look forward to whatever lived experiences you guys have to share.
Until next time,