“The issue to me is the misogyny of the culture,” says Soraya Chemaly, author of “Rage Become Her” and director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project
I am excited to revisit my profile of Soraya Chemaly, the first in my series of profiles of #WomentoFollow in different fields. I created #WomentoFollow (July 2018) as a movement to amplify women’s voices on social media.
#WomentoFollow (1st edition)
“We incorporate misogynism into our world view,” Chemaly told me in a phone interview before her book was released in September 2018. “I don’t think there is any difference between men and women. The issue isn’t the action of individuals, which I would characterize as sexist, but the issue is the misogyny of the culture, which is to be deeply mistrustful of women.”
From your perspective as an activist, what can you say in a broad sense about where this country is today about recognizing women’s voices and rights?, I asked Chemaly.
“I think it’s a bleak place. A lot of people are coming around to fathoming how dangerous and destructive this administration is. It’s no coincidence that women of color have been talking about these issues for years.”
Chemaly talked about the power and credibility of a woman such as Serena Williams talking about motherhood. “This is a woman who’s been compared to apes and wild animals and almost died giving birth. Serena Willims talking about motherhood is not only humanizing herself but extends that to black women who are far more likely to be dehumanized.
“Maintream media is more likely to talk about a woman’s parental status. In groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, mothers are pouring out their public anger…motherhood is their primary role. They are doing what men do but it’s ok because they are mothers.”
Why did you write “Rage Becomes Her,” I asked.
“Last year in the wake of the election, it was very striking that anger was such a force in the culture. Women’s anger was socially and culturally regulated and it seemed like a good lense to look at inequality.
“Parents talk to girls about all kinds of emotions but they don’t explicitly talk to them about anger. They tend to talk about the idea that when girls are angry, they are sad. Anger is rooted in the idea that you can change things. But with sadness, you accept it.
“Studies show that parents will emphasize anger with boys if they are reading a book or having a conversation. If you think about the norms of politeness, girls are overwhelmingly taught to prioritize others over their own needs, including their feelings of anger. There’s a really interesting study of gift giving. Most parents will say they teach their sons and daughters the same lessons about giving thanks. But, in fact, girls are getting a different message. Girls are much more likely to put aside their own feelings of dissatisfaction and ignore feelings of anger.
“Girls ignore physiological signs of anger in their own bodies. They become detached from the feeling.
As we approach adolescence, people will say, ‘ oh she’s so hormonal.’ She’s probably angry but it’s easy to characterize something as over emotionality and out of your control as a parent or a teacher.
There was a cross-cultural study of preschoolers. The largest gap in preschool boys and girls was largely based on adult perceptions of who could control themselves. Girls at an extremely young age are expected to control themselves. But studies show there is actually no behaviorial difference.
We know girls are told: ‘Comb your hair, close your legs. Control your body and make it as small as possible and physically take up the least amount of space.’
The significance of the hashtag #WomentoFollow?
“We see women’s pictures and their tweets and it feels like women are represented but there’s nowhere near parity…For example, if women talk 30 percent of the time, people think they’re dominating. Frankly, we would rather that women not talk at all. Women’s voices are not treated as authoritative or credible in the media.
On Twitter, we see biases in who gets followed and who gets tweeted. So the hashtag #WomentoFollow is a visual and powerful challenge to that: the words are clear and it’s a call to action. The hashtag itself is clear, ‘hey, follow these women.’ It’s very specific, very directional, and there’s no ambiguity.
“Rage Becomes Her” has now been published in four languages and Chemaly has toured the country talking about her book and women’s anger.
Comments? I am always looking for tips and stories of smart #WomentoFollow