I don’t remember the dreams of my girlhood.
I think I had them.
I must have. Girls are such dreamers.
We dream and believe and have faith.
Until we don’t.
Until we learn that each dream can be used like a weapon against us.
Until we decide that in order to be “taken seriously” we must put aside our dreams—put aside the dreamer.
We hide our dreams. Or crush them.
Forget that we ever dared to be dreamers.
There is little space for dreams in a world where we are told that we will never be as good as the boys. In a world where we are called sluts or told we are being “too sensitive” when we report sexual violence.
In a world where our bodies are policed, and objectified, and minimized, and always at risk.
There is little room for dreams in a world where we are told to be quiet and to stop taking up so much space.
Because dreams are big and loud. They need space to grow.
The deep irony is that I have forgotten how to dream in my efforts to fights for a world where girls are allowed to dream. In my efforts to be “taken seriously” as a researcher, teacher, writer. I learned early on that I would have to fight for credibility and I couldn’t afford to risk losing any by being seen as a dreamer.
And in doing this work I see how young women continue to engage in this struggle.
My team is currently conducting a research project with adolescent girls in Utah. We asked high school juniors and seniors to talk about their experiences in school, their future aspirations, their challenges and triumphs. As girls talk about their future career plans, many express concerns that they won’t be “taken seriously,” especially if they choose a gender non-traditional path. Throughout the interviews, these bright and articulate young women describe ways their teachers and other adults in their lives minimize their accomplishments. They tell anger inducing stories of boys laughing in their faces and telling them to “chill” when they express their opinions passionately, when they push back against sexism and racism and classism.
These young women are navigating these pressures as they hear story after story of workplaces where men have sexually harassed and sexually assaulted women for years. Workplaces where women are treated as objects rather than human beings, colleagues, equals. Where women are not taken seriously.
Although many women reported these incidents in their workplace, doubts about their credibility contributed to stagnation within systems that should have been responsive. Tuerkheimer (2017) argues that at in regards to sexual violence, there is systematic “credibility discounting” of women--the “unwarranted failure to credit an assertion where this failure stems from prejudice.” In fact, a large body of research demonstrates that questions of victim credibility influence the outcome of sexual violence cases, including impacting whether an arrest is made (e.g. Morabito, Pattavina, & Williams, 2016).
As we talk about how to deal with workplace sexual harassment, we need to acknowledge that sexual harassment is one symptom of the overall problem of distribution of power. Not only are there fewer women in formal leadership positions, but women’s contributions are often viewed differently than men’s. Many studies have examined ways that women and men are judged differently in performance situations; how women’s accomplishments are more likely to be attributed to luck, while men’s are more often attributed to skill. And when women and men work together, women’s contributions are often doubted. Heilman and Haynes (2005) found that women in successful male-female teams were rated as less influential, less competent, and less likely to have played a leadership role than their male counterparts.
It is not surprising that the young women in our study worry about how they will be treated in the workplace. Wonder whether their career goals and aspirations are possible. Hesitate to articulate their deepest desires. Who can dare to be a dreamer when we have to fight for recognition for the work we do? When our careers and lives might be derailed by sexual violence?
It is hard to maintain the energy to dream when we are told it is our fault that we are not taken seriously because we are:
We need a culture shift in which girls and women are taken seriously. In which we are believed, valued, seen, heard, respected. Where we can dream, and be funny, silly, girly, joyful, sexy, ironic, passionate, angry, powerful, imperfect. And still taken seriously.
I will continue to conduct rigorous research and hold myself accountable to deserve credibility in the same ways I expect my male colleagues to be accountable. But I will also challenge the assumptions that lead to credibility discounting of girls and women.
And I will dare to dream.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.