On Sunday I went to a wedding and experienced a subtle but really discouraging form of sexism. I was standing and talking to one of the other wedding guests when an elderly man approached us and asked us how we knew the couple because he didn’t recognize us. Many of the wedding guests were students at the seminary where the couple goes and the man introduced himself as a professor at the seminary. I think that he assumed that the other guest and I were together, but in actuality we were talking because we had met the night before and neither of us really knew anyone else. The man asked us how we knew the bride and groom. I mentioned that I have known the bride since I was in middle school and the other guest mentioned that the same thing was true for him and the groom. At this point I would have thought that the man caught on to the fact that the other guest and I weren’t together since he grew up knowing the groom and I grew up knowing the bride.
However, he continued to talk to us as if we were together. Or at least I hope that was the reason for his behavior because the other option would be that he just ignored me. He continued talking to us for a bit, but only asked the other guest what he did. It was as if the other guest was answering for both of us. Which was hilarious because we had just met. I was standing there, waiting for the man to address me, to ask me questions as well, to include me in the conversation, but he never did. I was effectively silenced throughout the conversation. Other than saying how I knew the bride, I wasn’t able to contribute.
The situation was especially annoying because the other guest and I had just met, but even if I had been with a boyfriend or I were married and talking to my husband, it would have been frustrating. The conversation communicated that my voice, experiences, and opinions didn’t matter, that a man should speak on my behalf– even if it’s a man that I met less than 24 hours ago. It was incredibly disempowering. It could have been just an awkward social circumstance, but with how often I see the voices of women silenced it felt really sexist. I doubt the man had any intention of coming across this way. Socialization plays such a huge role in our interactions that I don’t think the issue is with this man in particular but rather with how little female voices are valued.
Right now with my job I am expected to do public speaking and honestly I really enjoy that part of my job. I am good at running meetings. I like teaching and consulting. From the time I was young I was always in leadership roles in different organizations. I wonder though, if I get married will I be expected to just stand there when my husband is asked about what we do? I wonder if I’ll be included in the conversation, if I’ll be able to use the talents that God has given me. I often wonder about couples where the man speaks on behalf of both of them, particularly in religious settings. Does the wife not want to speak? If not, that’s fine. Maybe she doesn’t like public speaking. But, when I’m talking to two people I want to hear both of their experiences. The opinions and experiences of women are just as important and valuable as men’s. And they are different. And this is good. Women are worth listening to.