Years back, in another life, I used to teach at seminars and conferences that provided continuing education units for professional re-certification.
In one particular module, I used a portable grease board in a room in front of my waiting audience. Without introducing myself or saying anything else, I used a grease pen to write the words “Men are…” at the top of the board, and then silently invited the audience to finish the sentence.
Almost invariably, “pigs” or “dogs” was the first offering, accompanied by a room full of good-natured chuckles. I would nod my head and write it down on the board and return to the audience, still silent, for more.
“Controlling,” says one. “Afraid of commitment,” says another. “Aggressive.” “Macho“ “Afraid of intimacy.” “Violent.” “Sexist,” and “Power hungry.” More of the pejoratives, and almost only pejoratives, would come from the audience till the board was full.
I then flipped the board to the other side.
“Women are…” was the cue, and the answers were even more rapid fire than they were with men.
“Strong.” “Capable” “Empowered” “Sensitive.” “Nurturing,” and the like would fly from the audience to the grease board like a barrage of arrows, till that side too was full.
“What do you imagine,” I would ask, taking a strategic pause for a sip of water, “that these answers tell us about the real nature of sexism in the way we view men and women?”
Asking them a question with actual spoken words must have thrown them for a loop, because the stock response to that question was almost invariably a room full of nonplussed, cognitively dissonant faces. And that confusion usually gave way to irritation, clearly at me, though every answer on both sides of that board had come from them.
And by the way, the participants in the crowd? They weren’t accountants or nurses or teachers or financial advisors.
They were mental health professionals.
(More at the site.)