Here's a Radical Way to React When Women Speak

by Carmen Rita Wong
Originally Published: 

It gets better: Once I got to the studio–a little late–and recounted my experience, some colleagues responded with “Are you sure?,” or with a variation of, “Maybe it was a license plate thing?.” They didn’t believe me or, didn’t want to believe me. I detailed the first episode on my show’s Facebook page and though I received plenty of support from followers and viewers of the show, I also received similar responses to those of some of my co-workers: Incredulousness.

As women and people of color, our experiences are dismissed daily. We hear:

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Stop being so sensitive.”

“Well, if you just hadn’t … “

“Think of it as a compliment.”

“That happened to me once, but you don’t hear me complaining about it.”

So I was thrilled to read recently that a media crush of mine, Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency, made clear just how easy it can be to change things.

In her talk at XOXO Fest in Portland, she distilled the dynamics of dismissal and our power to combat it at its core:

“One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.”

Imagine that. Just believe. Just believe it when someone says she or he has experienced something. Err on the side of credence, not only when it’s good news or “positive” prejudice, which most of us are primed to consume as absolute truth. (“Of course he watered her plants — she’s so cute.”)

I dated someone once (it didn’t go far) who dismissed a women’s sexual harassment case in the news with, “You know women make up so much of that stuff.” Getting pulled over (twice) and released with no incident doesn’t compare to assault, but there’s a common thread among domestic abuse, outright racial bias, and the micro-aggressions we experience every day: Dismissal. Disbelief. “You crazy.”

I’m thrilled to see the power we have as women, minorities and just plain ol’ smart folks to evoke an online clamor so loud that it can bring about change. So to all of you on the sidelines, hesitant to step into the fray, know that you wield an incredible power every single day: the power to believe. Please do so.

As for my George Washington Bridge commute through Washington Heights — traveling from a brown nabe of fellow Dominican-Americans to a suburb where blacks and Latinos make up maybe 10% of the population — the first stop was one morning in 2008. I noted three stopped vehicles as I pulled off the Palisades onto my exit. To the right was a van with a Latino-looking male driver, with a police cruiser in front of it; to the left, a sedan with another brown male at the wheel and a female companion. After letting the car in front of me go (driven by an Anglo-looking man), the officer next made eye contact with me and waved me over.

“Where are you from?” he glowered, hands resting on my open driver window.

I responded, with both hands on the steering wheel, “Uh, from Manhattan.” My American newscaster voice threw him off the scent of my appearance (my hair was wet and curly and face cosmetic-free, per order of the hair and makeup department). “Actually, I’m the host of a show on CNBC. I’m on my way to the studio. Can I show you my ID?”

He nodded. I (slowly) pulled my company ID out of my purse. He held it and, without a word of apology or explanation, handed it back and waved me on.

I drove off shaking, enraged. Obviously I had been caught up in an undocumented day-laborer sweep. Was it legal? I don’t know. Did I worry about the status of those I’d left behind? Yes. Was it unpleasant? Absolutely. Would it have hurt less if the people I worked with believed me? You bet.

Photo: flickr/anitasarkeesian

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