For the first time in the history of Austin, Tx, the City Council has a female majority. Including the mayor, the 10-member City Council now has seven women and four men. Woo-hoo! Chalk up another win for gender parity in politics. Sadly, the city manager’s office felt that the presence of so many women might present difficulties for the city staffers who regularly interact with members of the City Council. A two-hour training session was set up to teach the city staff members how to properly talk to women.
The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, who was a city manager of the relatively small Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Allen was considered an expert in this field because his local city commission was all-female.
An expert in talking to women. How the fuck do you even get to be an expert in that? Is that something you can get a college degree in? Are there any female experts on the subject of talking to men? Argh, already I just know this is going to be stupid beyond belief. But here goes:
Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.
Allen wastes no time generalizing and infantalizing women. Dude, 11-year-olds are not adults. It’s insulting to compare adult women to young girls. Moreover, the generalization is deeply insulting. It casts all women in the same mold, as if they’re one hivemind all acting exactly the same. They aren’t. Women are individuals, every bit as much as men are. I’m surprised this “expert” at talking to women doesn’t understand that.
Women don’t want to deal with numbers. Allen said in his city they used to have background information and financial analysis on the front pages of agenda forms. Allen says he normally would have presented the financial argument, but that his female commissioners would balk and say “Mr. Manager, I don’t want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community.” He said that it may make good financial sense, but if he wants to get the votes, he has to present his arguments “in a totally different way.”
More generalizing. Even if I accept that the female commissioners he worked with didn’t like to deal with numbers (which is an outlandish idea to begin with), you simply cannot generalize that to every other woman, bc again, women are not a hivemind. Maybe some women don’t like to deal with numbers, but the same can be said of men. Ultimately though, I have a hard time believing that a political official-no matter what their sex-wouldn’t deal with numbers at some point in their career.
Women are taking over, Hillary Clinton will only encourage this. Allen talked about the general trend of more women getting involved in government, citing stats of more female mayors, for instance. “You see women in leadership positions…you will have to interact with them in a different way,” Allen said. “I submit to you if Hillary Clinton just runs, just runs for the office, you are going to see even greater numbers in leadership position, if she wins, you will see even greater numbers starting at the bottom on top.” He warns the staff to play nice with people on advisory boards or commissions because you never know when they become the elected official.
What a fucking non-sequitor. Hillary Clinton running for POTUS has fuck-all to do with how to talk to women. And yes, more women are participating in politics and holding leadership positions, but y’know what? They aren’t from Venus (just as men aren’t from Mars). They’re from here on Earth. They aren’t incomprehensible alien species who are difficult to talk to. They are human beings with the same diverse interests as men. Try viewing them as human beings, just like you do men, and there won’t be any difficulty at all in communicating with them. I manage to interact with and talk with women all the time and have zero problem doing so. It’s not rocket science, but the key is to first treat women as human beings. Allen clearly has difficulty with that.
The city also brought along Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart, who owns a business development and marketing firm, to offer some training, and her session touched on the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” philosophy
Yeah, because that philosophy has been such a boon for people. Sigh. Yes, there are biological differences between men and women, but these differences do not therefore mean that women and men are so vastly different that you need a damn handbook to tell you how to talk to them. If a group of women are discussing their favorite NHL team, treat them just as you would a group of men talking about their favorite NHL team. Stats, players, unnecessary roughness…this is stuff a group of fans are going to discuss irrespective of their sex. The key to this, once again, is to think of women as people. Not something “other”.
Openly acknowledge gender differences. Burt-Stewart says the author of the “Men are from Mars” book says men act on facts, women act on emotion. She also share such insights such as “Men have egos, women have wish lists,” and that men are more likely to use a “dominating” management style than women, who use a “compromising” style. Men think women ask too many questions, Burt-Stewart said, and women often don’t feel included. Men like acknowledgement, women want to be part of a team. Men, typically, communicate less often than females, she said.
Oh dear Osiris, more gender essentialist bullshit. Look, men don’t “act on facts” any more than women “act on emotion” (in reality, gender differences are not innate). Men and women both operate on facts and emotion to varying degrees depending upon the circumstances. Like Allen before her, Burt-Stewart is basing her advice on outdated gender stereotypes. These stereotypes influence many, many people, and are one of the many reasons feminism is still needed.
You must be as productive under this new leadership. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what she was getting at, but she seemed to be saying that women can be more work than men, that men are more to the point and women want longer conversations. “You are probably expected to be at 1,000 percent where it used to be 100 percent,” Burt-Stewart said.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but clearly she felt it was necessary to tell the city staffers that they should work just as hard for a majority female City Council as they did a majority male City Council. Why this was considered advice is beyond me. Did she think they wouldn’t work as hard? What on earth would give her this impression?
Here’s my advice to the city staffers, the city manager’s office, Jonathan K. Allen, Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart and anyone else who thinks women are difficult to talk to: when communicating with women, the important thing to remember is to treat them the same way you treat men-like people. It’s really not any more complicated than that.