Martha Michael | Just Challenging the Status Quo


While attending the wedding and baby showers of millennials over the last year, I’ve noticed how these time-honored occasions have changed. They didn’t involve a band of cross-legged women in nylon stockings sipping frothy punches and admiring blood diamond engagement rings like those of the past. 

Instead, there were casual conversations between older adults and moms-to-be, some of whom were celebrating marriage simultaneously, flashing a ring finger where they forged their commitment in ink rather than gold.

It’s not your grandmother’s culture anymore. These young women seem to be more vocal, and, like every generation, they ignore the objections of their elders and insist on their own way. 

Soccer moms of the ’90s may have emblazoned their values on bumper stickers, but this generation often promotes their views and opinions by wearing them on their skin.

And, by the way, regardless of whether we listen to them, these young women have something to say. 

The same is true of “The Squad,” the four congresswomen in the news this week, whose skin is thick enough that even harsh (and counterfactual) feedback won’t silence them. 

For individuals who hailed the newcomer to shake up the status quo, I suggest they view these women with the same latitude. 

I found a list online describing what it means to challenge the status quo:

• Do things differently. 

• Don’t be a yes man/woman.

• Challenge management. 

• Take a stand against authority. 

• Think outside the box.

• Identify new and better ways of doing things.  

It’s what The Squad is doing as well. How unfortunate that some Americans will defend their own right to say anything, but call it unpatriotic when a citizen espouses something they disagree with or fear. 

If you agree that a person who criticizes our country should leave, then you misunderstand that a democracy is a government that defends a person’s right to say what he/she thinks – even when you disagree.

For the occupant of the White House who thinks these four women should “go back” to the countries they “came from,” someone should point him to Google where he’ll find that three of them were born here – Cincinnati, Detroit and the Bronx – and all four are U.S. citizens, of course.

I could state the obvious (that he sees black skin and thinks of Africa, even when the person’s bloodline in the U.S. goes back further than his). But there’s also a gender bias against women who use their voices to challenge the status quo, which is what The Squad is trying to do. 

NPR created a short video called “Talking While Female,” which touches on the inherent biases against certain voices. 

Posted on a blog called “As Loud As I Want To Be: Gender, Loudness, and Respectability Politics,” it lays out some of the challenges for females. 

The pitch of your voice is determined by your height and hormone levels, so women’s voices are typically higher. But there’s a psychological advantage to speaking in a lower register: We have a biologically driven judgment that lower-pitched voices connote stronger, more trustworthy, more confident people. (Margaret Thatcher was coached to speak in a lower range.)

And describing a woman as “loud” is almost never a compliment. If a female has a loud voice she’s often subjected to words like “obnoxious” and “grating.” 

Words like “assertive,” “aggressive” and “leader” are descriptions that benefit men, but the opposite applies to women. A fragile, soft, low tone of voice is the acceptable range for a woman.

But what’s possibly the most obvious reason we don’t listen to the voices of women can be observed in write-ups about leadership. We describe women with such facts as how they look or their relationship to family, while men are described according to what they’re saying. 

My favorite piece of the president’s recent tweet was when he accused the congresswomen of “viciously telling the people of the United States … how our government is to be run.” Again, Google will tell you that’s their job. 

Keep in mind, if no one ever challenged the status quo we’d still belong to England. And only white, male landowners could vote. 

Women haven’t had voices as long as men have. And though our physical skin may be thinning with age, it doesn’t mean our personalities have to do the same. 

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.

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