At the conclusion of one of the worst group projects in my life, I felt like I had lost all faith in the male gender. It was the day of the presentation. I gave my section first and, as I spoke my final words, I sighed with relief. I was ready to pass the presentation baton to my fellow group member. However, he turned to me and, in front of the class, spoke words I couldn’t believe. He said, “Hey, now that you’re done with your presentation, can you go fill up my water bottle?”
The worst part of the story? I filled up the water bottle. I didn’t even spit in it.
In a group where the ratio was all male to me, I felt disrespected from the start of the project until the end. Throughout all of it, I made excuses for these guys. The three of them were just busy, overworked. They would contribute more as the time went on (they didn’t). They were late because of a, b or c. They didn’t do the reading, but at least they can mansplain the Sparknotes? However, after a crushing couple of weeks me of pulling the weight of three males, I was fed up.
I want to clarify that my experience with this all-male group does not represent the entirety of the male gender. I actually have a group project in another class with a similar group gender ratio and I feel like a respected, equal member of the team. I just got stuck with exceptionally crappy males as group members for this presentation. No, not all men are awful. Yet day by day, we may overlook a gender dynamic that favors males. We make excuses for them like I did for my group during this project. We are nearly desensitized to the mansplaining, the sexist comments, the stereotype that powerful, assertive women are “bossy.” We don’t see it. However, the experiences that fill women with frustration and feelings of inadequacy are telling of the ever-present sexism in our society. When water bottle boy spoke those words to me, I felt emasculated. He saw me as inferior rather than the girl who took the reins on a group project that was worth a substantial percent of his grade. I had transformed into his secretary, there at his beck and call ready to bring him his coffee. Our society has not moved past the overtly sexist days of the 1960’s. So what do we do?
When I was talking with a friend of mine this past weekend, I asked her about her experience as a student at the all-female St. Catherine University. I was curious for obvious reasons. She grinned, “It’s amazing. I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I do.” She went to a co-educational high school. But now, she can speak up in class without the fear of being overshadowed or criticized by overconfident males. Her learning environment encourages free and frequent participation. Because of the opportunities she gets at an all-female institution, she is confidently pursuing a career in STEM, which is seen elsewhere as a masculine field of study.
After talking to my friend, I felt a pang of jealousy. I wanted the same experience of being surrounded by strong powerhouse females. I thought that maybe this was the solution I was looking for. Yet, I don’t think the answer to sexism is separating gender completely. If you sweep the male gender under the rug, yes it may give you confidence during your developmental academic years, but it doesn’t truly solve the problem. You’re still going to have to pick up that rug one day. As much as it works for people at St. Catherine’s, I chose to go to a co-ed college. And frankly, it’s a co-ed world. I’ll have to deal with sexism one day no matter what.
So back to my earlier question, what do we do? As I look back at that god-awful group project, I cringe at the thought of me filling up that water bottle. Why did I comply with his demand? Why didn’t I spit in it? However, my biggest regret wasn’t me filling up that bottle, it was the fact that, throughout those weeks and weeks of that project, I didn’t advocate for myself. I didn’t stand up to those guys. I didn’t tell them it wasn’t okay for them to put the entirety of the work on my shoulders. I continued to let myself feel powerless.
Ladies, we need to start advocating for ourselves. We need to say something before the situation escalates to filling up water bottles. We need to continue empowering one another so even a co-ed world can be uplifting to females. And to the males: do not ever ask a woman to fill up your water bottle (metaphorically and literally). This isn’t the 1960’s.
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