• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • February 13, 2019 in Columnists

    But she isn’t NICE — breaking free of the political glass ceiling

    What Are Little Boys Made of?

    What are little boys made of?
    Snips and snails,
    And puppy-dogs’ tails;
    That’s what little boys are made of.

    What are little girls made of?
    Sugar and spice,
    And all that’s nice;
    That’s what little girls are made of.
    Nursery Rhyme

    It’s 1969 and I am 14 years old. I’m in gym class — just finished, actually. We’re all in our ugly but supremely comfortable gym suits, waiting in line to go downstairs but the boys are coming in and, of course, they must go first.

    In the boys pour, bouncing, jumping, hooting, laughing — free and untrammeled. Boys will be boys, right? Snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

    The whole line of girls picks up this energy and we begin to laugh and jostle. Up bustles the gym teacher, who pins us with a stern glare and says, “Now girls, let’s be ladies!”

    They should have been expected it — perhaps they did. They’d dealt with me for a while. I turn to the woman and snarl, “I am not now and will never be a lady.”

    Forty-nine years later, I have kept that promise. Fuck that whole sugar and spice and everything nice shit. That has nothing to do with me. It’s not about being a good person. If it was, they’d try to push boys to be nice, too. Oh no. It’s about keeping women down.

    Keep us docile. Compliant. Obedient. Biddable. All that diminishment, containment, submissiveness —  enforced by the fear that men won’t like that.

    Oh horrors.

    For millenia, though, men not liking something about us was a matter of our survival. If we weren’t what men wanted, we would never marry — and not to marry was a death knell. It was starvation — jobs that paid so little that we spent our lives in penury. Or the hideous fate of being considered a hanger-on in our father’s or brother’s homes, pitied by all. Or, if we had nothing else, selling our bodies just to eat. There’s a rather vile reason why unpopped popcorn kernels are called “old maids.”

    If men didn’t like us, we were nothing.

    Men, on the other hand, acquired us like couches and who the fuck cares what your couch does and doesn’t like?

    (And don’t EVEN start with that “not all men” shit. Seriously. Stop derailing and do not gaslight.)

    And don’t think it’s changed, either. Despite our progress, women — particularly younger ones — still tiptoe on those eggshells for fear of being rejected by men.

    It’s not for nothing that there’s a popular internet joke about punctuation:

    Woman without her man is nothing.
    Woman, without her man, is nothing.
    Woman, without her, man is nothing.

    This dastardly ploy is the very foundation of the glass ceiling. Men are judged on ability. Women are judged on ability — and their need to have twice as much of it to be considered half as good as men — but more, on likeability. Niceness.

    It’s kept us safely marginalized in the halls of power since the beginning — even long after we finally got the vote.

    It bit Hillary on the ass. If she was nice, she was painted as weak. If she got tough, she wasn’t nice enough. Trump not only wasn’t remotely nice, he overtly bullied her on stage. Remember when he shadowed her, looming and frowning? It’s a typical tactic employed by male bullies — be passively threatening, emphasizing the size difference. Make the woman feel really unsafe while demonstrating to the audience which candidate, by patriarchal standards, is the strong one — despite her pretty much owning him during the debates. His base absorbed the message and reflected it back. They called her a nasty woman even as they considered her too weak to govern.

    Now this patriarchal double standard is being applied to the women running for president in 2020. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar are being put through the likeability wringer. Male candidates are being evaluated on their political philosophies and the value of their previous leadership. Women are being examined for being nice. Kamala Harris was too tough a prosecutor. Kirsten Gillibrand has a more conservative past. Elizabeth Warren and her DNA debacle (note to liberal politicians — do not allow bullies to bait you into foolish political moves). Tulsi Gabbard and her unfortunate previous stance on LGBTQI issues. And Amy Klobuchar and the way she treats her staff.

    So? What does any of that have to do with their political abilities?

    Kamala wasn’t nice to criminals — name the last male prosecutor who got lambasted for that. Kirsten has grown past previous conservative views as work on a national political will sometimes do — a man who had grown past it would be lauded, not castigated (provided it wasn’t too unforgivable, like blackface or assault). Elizabeth is a freaking firebrand — she did something that backfired, trying to put a non-issue to rest. Elizabeth really  isn’t nice to corrupt bankers and such. Tulsi has apologized for her stance on LGBTQI people and recognizes it was wrong. Amy may well be the boss from hell, but I have yet to see an exposé on a male politician that excoriated him for being unpleasant to staff.

    The bottom line is that strength is what’s valued in men, not niceness. Not on a sociopolitical level. Not even so much on a personal level. Even his base doesn’t see Trump as nice. In fact, a lot of them knew from the beginning that he’s an unmitigated bastard — and they liked and admired it.

    They saw it as strength when it wasn’t –it was nothing but an excess of methane spewed by an insecure, ignorant, weak man. And dear mercy, it has cost us.

    But let a woman be essentially just like a man and watch all hell break loose. These people don’t care how strong a woman is. They disdain her because she isn’t their dainty little darling, their little honey bunny sweetie pie.

    Gag me.

    As far as I can tell, the cure for this is for women to stop being so damned nice. Start acting like men and stop caring whether they like it or not. Studies show that men use the words “please” and “thank you” far less than women. They don’t apologize for little things like existing. They are trained to be forthright and straightforward. They don’t just insist on being heard — they’ll run right over anybody (but particularly women) to make their point. Their voices don’t go up at the ends of sentences as if everything they’re saying is uncertain. They do all this because they don’t just think they’re entitled, they know they are. And they don’t give a rat’s ass if women like any of it.

    Guess what. We are as entitled to everything as they are. And perhaps once we claim our rights as strong human beings whose value is not in our likeability but in our individual character, we can finally claim our rights as humans holding up half the sky.

    And, I think, we’ll discover the real men in the crowd — the ones who like women just fine, whether these women care if men like them or not.



      • Robin

      • February 13, 2019 at 1:47 pm
      • Reply

      Bravo, Maya. You nailed it. These extinct male dinosaurs need to grasp the fact that the meteor has landed and things will not continue as they did in the good old days. somewhere packed away I have the tiny white gloves I wore to church, along with lots of crinoline and black patent leather shoes…and a hat, with an elastic band I thought was going to slice my head off, guillotine style. I remember being told to sit still and be quiet “like a good girl”. I saw women waiting on their husband”s like indentured servants while those good ole boys sat around and discussed “man stuff”. I remember my father in law teaching my husband and myself to splitlogs into fence rails. When I came inside, she told me that was for men to do and beside, it would roughen up my hands.I hope and pray that women are recognizing their worth and going for. Women of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • February 13, 2019 at 8:12 pm
        • Reply

        You and I grew up together and we had the same southern woman expectations laid on us. I escaped the whole church thing with an atheist father, but I remember that feeling that we had so many more rules and they all revolved around men’s expectations — plus the particularly vile participation of the women who had internalized their own oppression. Me, I was too strong, too rebellious, intransigent and stubborn. They didn’t know what to do with a girl who could do routines on the even parallel bars, 400 situps and beat the boys at arm wrestling and rope climbing, especially a grumpy one who hated the patriarchy before she even knew what the hell it was. (P.S. I loved you then, I adore you now.) <3

    • What a good read! It is interesting how, even now, these ancient opinions are pressed into women’s minds. I’m uniting – it’s not about feminism. It’s about equality of opportunity. I don’t want to be like a man. I am very different. I am different but i deserve to be treated and viewed as an equal to men by all members of society. Great article. Passionate.

        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • February 13, 2019 at 8:16 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, love thank you! Yeah — this crap is straight out of the millenia old patriarchy and it’s like we’re still Cro Magnon with technology overlaid. We don’t have to be the same to be equal. That’s true between genders as much as between people. I’ve been passionate about this since about that age of 14 — I was waking up to it. That was when a girl wasn’t allowed to take shop but had to take home ec, instead — which boys weren’t allowed to take. Truth is, all kids should take both. I needed to know all those skills but I was too furious to give in and take home ec. I occasionally regret that now. But yeah — I was already not always nice and they were exacting a price for it already.

      • Sue Mitchell

      • February 16, 2019 at 7:07 pm
      • Reply

      I always thought being a “lady” or a “gentleman” was about understanding how your words and actions affected others and taking care not to hurt or damage someone, regardless of their sex or gender. By that definition, the world would be a much better place if we were all ladies and gentlemen.

      There is a strata of males who fear women, and their feminine power, so consciously subjugate them. These men need to learn some manners. Their lives would be so much richer if they were brave enough, and competent enough as males, to fully interact with women.

      Being strident or aggressive doesn’t help a woman. Learning to harness your inner worth and power will achieve so much more — without giving certain vile men ammunition to hurl back against “hysterical women”.

      This was an interesting article. When women are genuinely empowered everyone wins.

        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • February 20, 2019 at 10:24 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

        To clarify, I use the Southern US definition of “lady,” which does not particularly encompass your definition. I remember quite specifically — “a lady never sweats, gets angry, raises her voice or swears” among other things. We were to be demure, obedient, obsequious and docile and if we were anything else, we would suffer that fate worst than death again — men won’t like that.

        This isn’t about manners. It goes far deeper than that. It’s not the behavior as much as it’s the underlying sense of patriarchal entitlement. They see us as not-quite-people, not people in the authentic way exclusive to males. And from there, it all burgeons into one noisome tree.

        The part I must disagree with the most, though, is your assertion that women shouldn’t be strident or aggressive and citing vile men using this as evidence that women are hysterical. First of all — that’s setting a patriarchal behavioral standard — be docile and gentle and polite no matter what. You’re protesting a domestic violence murder? Well, at least be genteel about it or “men won’t like that.”

        Good. I want to see women be untamed. Uncrushed. Not stuffed into the box the patriarchy put us in. I want to see us return to the wild pony girls we used to be with our strong, unfettered bodies and full blown opinions and even devastating honesty. I want patriarchal men to SEE and HEAR our rage — and we have millenia of good reasons for that rage. And if they don’t like us being strident or aggressive. Fine. They have no problem with being strident or aggressive. And if men don’t like that and show that they don’t? Excellent! Now we know whom to avoid. I love it when misogynists show their true colors — and it doesn’t take much to get them to do it.

        The patriarchy takes our strength if it can. It makes us small. Being aggressive and strident makes us big and scary. And I’m not just fine with it — I’m proud of every woman who behaves like that because, and I quote: “Well behaved women seldom make history.” <3

          • Sue Mitchell

          • February 20, 2019 at 10:53 pm

          Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree that women shouldn’t be docile and gentle at all times; I can’t agree that aggression or stridency works in our favour, though. We can be confident and assertive while remaining in control. To my thinking, stridency and especially aggression means you are out of control. “They have no problem being strident or aggressive.” Sure, there are vile men like this. I have no intention of emulating their vile behaviour : I’m better than that. Choosing not to strident or aggressive is not the same as choosing docility. I think women are (usually) better at communicating than are (most) men. Men need to be taught how to communicate.
          I’m not concerned with what men like or dislike; I’m concerned with being a decent human being. I am unreasonably lucky. Both my husband and father are gentlemen, by my definition. My father always encouraged me to speak up, speak out, take part in whatever physical activity I chose. My husband is very similar, he’d never think to try to restrict my actions or words. He respects me – as a person. As I do him.
          Murder, rape, domestic violence should all be met with outrage from every human being. But,in my opinion, when someone, regardless of sex, rages , we see the rage, not the validity of the anger.

          I don’t think we’re too far apart, just semantics.

          • Maya Spier Stiles North

          • February 22, 2019 at 11:55 pm

          Sue, I’m thinking it is semantics more than meaning (you already know I think you’re cool). I tend toward icy civility and do tend to wince away from the loud and brassy — but I think there’s also a place for it. One of my biggest peeves is ANY double standard for female behavior. If it’s fine for men, it’s fine for women — or it’s unacceptable in either. I think that it does patriarchal types to at least now and then see the true depth of our rage. After all, we have some damned good reasons to be furious and sometimes I think we need to let them just have it — as a group, anyway. There will always be men who are treasures, but just as white people benefit from racism even though they might not personally support it, men benefit from the patriarchy whether they support it or not.

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