The first Monday back from winter break I attended a national championship party at a friend’s apartment. I knew the game was going to be intense, the snacks would be top-notch and I was going to be the only woman at a party of thirty people.
Being completely surrounded by men is a fairly normal occurrence for me, and I have learned to become comfortable in similar situations. I have always been the type of girl who had a lot of guy friends, which turns out to be an asset as a woman at Tech. Because I enjoy watching football and hanging out with the guys, I often have interactions with my male friends where they attempt to compliment me by saying, “You are such a bro, Lauren,” typically followed by a fist bump.
It means a lot to me that my male friends feel comfortable around me and want me to feel included, but there is a huge problem with this particular phrase: I am not actually a bro. In a world dominated by men, it is easy for people to forget that I am indeed a woman.
I understand that my friends mean well, but when men attribute male gendered compliments to women, they are in essence saying that women are more valuable because they possess more stereotypically masculine qualities. It is not intentional, but at its core, this creates a hierarchy where women can be elevated or demoted because they appear to be more like men. This happens so often that it is almost unnoticeable, and women learn to ignore and accept their circumstances.
Even the way our culture insults men versus women reinforces an inherently sexist hierarchy. Insults attributed to women directly attack their personality and actions, while insults attributed to men attack their mothers or their mother’s actions.
When someone calls me “dude” or “bro,” I am left awkwardly trying to decide whether I should say something to call out my friends or just accept their misguided words. I never want to come across as rude or uncaring towards someone whose intentions are true, and if I corrected every person who elevated me based on my more masculine personality traits, I would become a preachy, angry woman. However, I think it is infinitely more important to cultivate an environment where women are valued for who they are instead of for their conformity to male stereotypes. In order to make strides forward, women need to be more comfortable speaking up when we feel devalued because of our gender. Men need to begin dialogues with their female friends and begin to make changes in language to foster a more inclusive environment. Language shapes the way we see and process the world, and using gender-neutral language to compliment others opens up space for everyone to contribute.