My Favorite TED Talk: a call for empathy in gender issues (& beyond)


Last week, I watched what I currently dub my favorite TED talk. I suggest you take a few minutes to watch it right now!

If you didn’t watch it (shame on you… just kidding. But seriously watch it), here’s a little summary: Paula, beautiful beautiful Paula, illustrates the differences between how men and women are treated. She should know – she’s lived both lives as a recent transgender. Her gender shift extended beyond the physical. She distills these differences: from impractical female pant pockets to the root causes of mansplaining to the deeper repercussions of being silenced in the workspace.

Paula’s words hit home. It hit it really hard.

When I think about the situations where I’m explicitly mistreated, nothing big comes to mind. When I really think about it, it’s the subtle, silent moments that testify the loudest to how unequally women like me are treated.

When I really think about it, here are some subtleties:

  1. Not speaking up in a roomful of men because of the thinking that whatever I say will be duuuuumb
  2. Using apprehensive words like “I think” or “Maybe,” thus diminishing my projection of confidence and causing others to doubt the important things I have to say
  3. Trying not to appear bossy in a meeting because of the expectation that women cannot be too aggressive
  4. Getting mansplained… by my uncle
  5. Doubting myself for thinking that the above are impinged on me by society… saying, “What if it’s not any external factor – what if it’s actually just me?”

This talk is a call for empathy.

“What do we really know about the lives of the shoes we’ve never walked?”

A white man, no matter how understanding, chivalrous, no matter how willing they are to listen, is never going to know the extent of the privilege they carry. They will never know what it’s like to be treated lesser than what their skin or gender allows. The same way I will never know what it’s like to live in a white man’s shoes and the more privileged life he lives. I will never know a black person’s fears when police pass by them at night. I will never know a transgender’s dissonance with the gender they identify with versus the gender society expects of them. Because it’s all I’ve ever known. I do not know what I do not know. We do not know what we do not know.

But it doesn’t mean we can’t try. To be sensitive to the differences in privilege. To be strong allies for others, and work towards uplifting each other’s causes. To listen, and really listen to one another’s stories. Like Paula’s father, a 93-year old fundamentalist pastor who initially rejected Paul when she turned transgender. Until he realized that what he knew he knew was that he loved his child. He was willing to try.

To Paula, thank you for your words and for your bravery and vulnerability. 🙂