PATERNALISM to RESPECT
When we communicate with one another in the workplace and life, mutual respect is an essential foundation, and it’s important to use language that conveys this.
Here are four unfortunately common phrases that instead convey condescension or outdated gender stereotypes that have no place in this century.
1) Daddy Daycare + Babysitting
As in, “Can’t go out tonight guys, I’ve got Daddy Daycare” or “I’m babysitting this weekend while my spouse is traveling.”
It is not babysitting when it is your own children. That is called “parenting”. Teenagers babysit neighbors’ kids for a few bucks an hour for gas money.
Here’s a handy resource to help paint this picture, called “Flip it to Test it”. It was developed by Kristin Pressner and is discussed in this quick and insightful Ted Talk.
She describes how we’re all biased in some way, oftentimes with no malintent - more like ingrained cultural beliefs imprinted throughout our lives. The cure is simple - awareness. Shedding light on previously unnoticed habits of thought, paired with the curiosity to question assumptions is powerful.
Just imagine how ridiculous it would sound if a woman described taking care of her own children as “babysitting” or “Mommy Daycare”.
So, if you want to know if a concept has gender bias (or racial bias, sexual orientation bias, or other kinds of bias) built in, just flip the situation to another race or gender and you’ll know right away if it passes the neutrality test.
2) Mr. Mom
First of all, this movie is almost 40 years old and really looks its age.
This one is related to the above and it goes like this: a middle aged male colleague will casually inquire how a female colleague could have possibly wrangled the ability to attend an evening work event. Was it because Mr. Mom was at home?
As though it takes a special and rare act on behalf of the male parent to do the evening routine with the kids.
Let’s flip this and imagine that a woman asks her male colleague how he escaped the house long enough to attend? Was it because Mrs. Dad was holding down the homefront?
When these things happen, I usually say something like, “Mr. Dad, my partner in parenting and life, is home, as is often the case, parenting.” And though I do find this situation annoying (since it assumes that the household is somehow my primary responsibility, along with a full time job), I try to keep in mind that most of the time it happens due to lack of awareness.
Most people have not recently questioned their assumptions and biases and don’t mean to be rude. But we have to call these things out, as we won’t increase awareness unless we have experiences that broaden perspective.
3) Calling Women “Dear”
Now, if you’re over 70, or a waitress of any age in an old-timey cafe, no problem. You were born in a different generation and are old enough to be my parents, or it’s a part of your job description.
If you’re some random guy I come across online or in person, and don’t fall into one of the above categories, you gotta stop.
Here’s a fun note a stranger left in early 2020 in response to an article I posted about coronavirus preparations in my state: “Be careful, dear. You're gonna draw backlash from right wing conservatives. ?”
That’s weird. Is it paternalistic faux-caring? A veiled threat? A nice-ish way of saying “shut your mouth little missy, we wouldn’t want you to upset anyone.” Why is there a winky smiley face? So many questions.
If you disagree, just say so, and if it’s done with civility, we might even have an interesting debate.
4) Calling Grown Female Employees “Girls”
I don’t think one needs much elaboration. I hear it all the time and it’s infantilizing. Please use the words woman and man to describe adults and girl and boy to describe children. Non-binary people will let you know how they wish to be addressed.
In general, the respectful default is to address people by names and titles they are comfortable with.
Why does any of this matter?
Because language matters. Words have power. They convey our regard, or lack thereof, for others. The words we use are a reflection of (and reinforce) the attitudes we carry, beliefs we hold, and actions we take.
We all carry bias, and it’s often unconscious. We can use the “Flip it to Test it” tool for a quick check if we’re unsure. Let’s hold ourselves and others to a standard of civility and respect at work and beyond.
Here's this article on my blog.