Argumentation: NOT a Rich People Thing

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I’d like to talk about two of my favorite Stanford men. Both of them were STEM majors. These two individuals are two of the smartest people I have ever met in my life. Not only are they capable and amused by scientific and mathematical concepts that would made a normal person insane, but they can also both converse on history and culture, which is why I am their token fuzzy friend. I also have a really scientific approach to my work, because logic is not just a rich white people thing.*

What I loved about history, and the reason I majored in that and not something else, was that history required evidence, research, piecing together data and constructing a larger narrative from the pieces of evidence. Or at least the history I was doing did. Either way, at Stanford the Techies seem to have a superiority complex about what they are studying as if majors should be chosen solely on the following criteria:

1)How much money it will make

2) How hard it is.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and the pressure on men to perform, especially in the sciences is intense. I also have a very good artist friend that ignores all the nonsense other men give him about being an artist, or at least he pretends to while having to apologize for not having more money. The pressure to make money is intense for men, and that’s also true for these men in particular. What I love though, is that not only do they love what they do but they have respect for the types of intelligence we have bizarrely deemed feminine. This is a new concept, by the way, the idea that the humanities are for girls didn’t develop recently and its tied deeply to financial earning potential and the opening of college to women. The minute a bunch of women are doing something we deem it inferior.

My field is one of the few that is still dominated by men on the fuzzy side of things, so I took a lot of courses with a lot of men over time (this was especially true because I studied Asia, which every white man apparently needs to carry out his colonial fantasies on at some point in their undergrad career). Some of the men I took classes with were great. They argued with me like I was another man they respected and we hung out on the weekends in a completely appropriate manner.**

However, there were classes where I got treated like I was a talking dog. I have been called aggressive, aggravating, bitchy, difficult, unfeminine and all sorts of other fun words for the crime of thinking I have the right debate about issues as an equal. Apparently, my being female, poor, mixed and loving the art of argumentation is very terrifying to some and I see this all the time, actually. I can say completely innocuous things that men say all the time only to have about a million men jump down my throat immediately. I’ve been called uppity, and I mostly manage to stay completely calm. Often, others who claim we shouldn’t tone police, tone police me the first change they get. Leftist men are equally guilty of this, and in fact, it’d be hard to say who does it most often.

The high school I went to had some serious advantages. There were so few people who wanted to challenge me that I pretty much got used to being allowed to say what I want and do what I want. The few times the male students decided to be jerks the teachers schooled them quickly or they were embarrassed by me.  So before getting to Stanford I got inoculated with a shot to prevent me from losing my voice.

This has come in handy in weeding people out. I still have some male friends who tell me when and where and how to exercise my voice, I do what I want anyway. This annoys them but they’ve learned to accept this. ***

Some have called this “mansplaining” but I have had rich, white women also call me “uppity” and “obnoxious” so I don’t think this is a man thing. Often time people get really excited about explaining things to me that I already know. I happen to study things people like to converse on at dinner parties, as though we are all well-versed. It doesn’t bother me when people don’t know my area of expertise, but the disturbing trend I’ve noticed is PEOPLE getting angry when I refuse to accept their advice in areas I’m more knowledgeable about. It makes me feel like I’m only acting as a properly marginalized person when I readily sit there and allow everyone to play school teacher as though I’m stupid and I’ve seen this happen to most of my poor friends.

The reason I brought up the two engineers into this is even though I’ve known many engineers to be guilty of that, these two have not done that to me in the many years I have know them. This is despite the fact that they have knowledge I don’t have. But the true marker of intelligence and humility is knowing what you don’t know and being willing to learn from someone else. I don’t espouse opinions about things I don’t know about, and if my students stumble on a question I don’t know the answer to, I will tell them “I don’t know but I will find out.” The thing about my historical training is that I have the ability now to find out about anything, so I am confident that I can do that and then I report back.

I understand that there is a lot of pressure on men to appear to be knowledgeable about all the things and that with some people it has resulted in some rewards to keep doing this, but when they encounter a woman equally well educated it’s just insulting. It shows a basic lack of respect for my intellect. I’ve actually seen the male version of me argue in the same way I do and be handed a cigar and entrance into the club.

Nine times out of ten the dudes continue the debate even after I have clearly displayed my knowledge and then they continue it until eventually getting so angry they stamp off and tell me that I am “angsty” or some variation of a bitch. That’s how I know I’ve won, and usually I wasn’t even trying to play the game. For a brief and silly period in my life, I actually tried to moderate myself and “feminize” my tone and speaking style, but I decided that was a bad idea. I don’t want a seat as the trusty and adorable side-kick, I want a seat at the big table in my own right. And I want them to have to deal with my existence. Because I am here, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

And eventually, you are going to have to open the door because I am a relentless bitch.****

But what really worries me is the way that this shuts down discourse and the fact that the left has recently made the case that empiricism and argumentation are something white men do. As if logic wasn’t inherent to the Arabian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, as if science wasn’t a part of Africa’s golden age, and as if Aztec priest didn’t have arguments in verse. There nothing about logic or argumentation that makes it something only the rich get to do. In fact, RAP BATTLES ARE JUST ARGUMENTS, you guys. That’s literally all a rape battle is. In case you haven’t seen it, check our this clip from 8 Mile. “Talking shit,” which is just arguing in our dialect is an art form, and it is also an important pastime. It’s one of the ways that status is conferred in high school. It is part of how I became a leader in high school, because I am brutal bitch on the school yard, and it is also how I got to be so good at argumentation before college. So I’ll be damned before I concede the idea that the rich folks get to claim empiricism. And you should reject that too.

*You bigots.

**This is how our conversations went on the weekends:

“Yo, do you want a beer?”

“THANKS! So what do you think about what we were studying today?”

***Or perhaps they haven’t but who cares?

**** The more times I get called a bitch, the more I’m going to use the word bitch because that’s how I cope. You’ve been warned.


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