Feminism and Social Psychology, Part 2: Five Important Concepts

I’d like to start this post with a puzzle:

A young boy and his father are in a car accident.  The father dies at the scene. The boy is transported to the hospital, taken immediately into surgery… but the surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, “I can’t operate on this boy – he is my son!” How is this possible?

(Please don’t continue reading until you have an answer or conclude that no answer exists. Enjoy these gifs of Jon Stewart in the meantime.)


I’ll wait.


If you’re in a very small minority of readers, you immediately realized that the surgeon was the boy’s mother. (The proportion of solvers may actually be higher than in normal circumstances.  If you’re reading this blog, you’ve been primed to be thinking about feminism and women’s rights).

giphy (1)

However, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ve fallen victim to one of the many associations that our society instills in us from an early age.  The surgeon = male association is one of many “implicit biases” identified by Social Psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald in their book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.

The above puzzle and seemingly obvious solution, which I borrowed from Banaji and Greenwald’s book, can be quite alarming to those of us who consider ourselves feminists.  I’ve grown up surrounded by female professionals – my doctor is female, my neighborhood is full of female surgeons, and my mother is a lawyer!  Even so, reading the puzzle I found myself thinking, How can this be?! Maybe the dad survived? Or the kid is adopted? When I shared this puzzle at a dinner party, one person concluded that the only possible answer was that the son had two gay dads.  Possible, yes, but the ratio of gay male fathers to mothers would make this much less likely.

This brings up an important question, one which you, if you failed to solve the puzzle, might be asking yourself: Am I sexist? Well, yes and no.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to go ahead and say you’re probably not someone with openly sexist beliefs and attitudes.  In fact, you’re probably one of those amazing people who actively work to combat sexism.  That said, people are products of their societies.  We live in a world that tells us women can’t be surgeons, and, over time, our subconscious minds have absorbed this bias.  The attitudes we are exposed to and the media we encounter every day affect how we see the world, whether we like it or not.


In my last post, I wrote about the importance of bringing together intersectional feminism with social psychology research, and I promised to follow up with five ideas from social psychology that apply to feminist activism.  I’ll try to keep it short (and I will continue punctuating with Jon Stewart gifs because, well, he’s beautiful), but feel free to comment if you’d like to learn more! Here goes:

1.  Implicit Biases: We all have prejudices, but we aren’t likely aware of them.

Over the last century, as we’ve begun to emphasize the importance of being politically correct and unbiased, most people have become much more reserved about admitting their biases. While this is obviously a step in the right direction, it’s made it much harder for social psychologists to test people’s biases.  In the 1930s, restaurant owners throughout the country were more than willing to admit to researchers that they would not serve Asian customers.  Now, even when assured that survey answers are anonymous, people are much less forthcoming.  More than that, they may not even be aware (or willing to admit) their prejudices, since being openly prejudiced is not socially acceptable. That’s why Banaji and Greenwald’s work is so instrumental – they developed an innovative way (using time-sensitive computer matching tasks) to test for implicit biases, whether or not the research subject is aware of those biases.  On their website, you can test yourself for biases on the basis of race, age, weight, religion, sexuality, and others.

A word of warning, however: don’t take the test unless you really want to know the results.  You may (in fact, you likely will) find yourself biased against groups that may be dear to you, maybe even groups you belong to.  Tread carefully, and use whatever information you glean to help you correct for your biases in whatever way you can.

Jon Stewart Hiding Gif

2. Internalized Oppression: We absorb the inaccurate stereotypes surrounding groups we belong to.

We often picture prejudice as a member of the ingroup openly disliking a member of the outgroup.  It’s not always that easy.  We all internalize prejudicial beliefs before we’re even old enough to realize it, which can be particularly damaging to those harmed by biases and stereotypes.  In their infamous 1940s doll experiment, which was instrumental in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Kenneth and Mamie Clark discovered that, when given a choice between playing with a black doll and a white doll, the vast majority of children, black or white, chose the white doll.  This experiment was later recreated in the film A Girl Like Me, as evidence of the sense of inferiority that African-American children absorb from the media and from larger social attitudes.


3. Stereotype Threat: The mere awareness of stereotypes about our group can actually change our behavior or performance. 

Think back to the last time you took a standardized test – the SAT, the ACT, some state testing from the ‘No Child Left Behind’ era maybe?  It is likely that before you took the test, you were asked some basic demographic questions: name, address, age, race, and gender.  Well, if you are female, Black, or a member another group that is believed to do poorly on tests (particularly math), simply being primed to think about that demographic information, and the stereotypes accompanying it, may have negatively impacted your performance.  In this way, stereotypes, when activated, can act as self-fulfilling prophecies, usually with harmful consequences.  This idea of stereotype threat, developed by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, has the potential to revolutionize how we understand equality in education, including high-stakes testing, which has been shown to be biased against minorities in a variety of ways.


4. Attritional Ambiguity: Negative feedback can affect members of stigmatized groups differently.

In psychology, an attribution is defined as the way someone explains events and behaviors.  The attributions we make and the patterns we display when we make attributions, particularly attributions about events and behavior that influence us, can affect our mental health.  How does this relate to feminism?  The research shows that members of stigmatized groups may be affected differently by feedback.  When a member of an underprivileged or stigmatized group receives feedback, whether positive or negative,  they often do not know whether to attribute that feedback to their behavior or their membership in a given group.  For members of stereotype-vulnerable groups, this can be cognitively taxing and can lead to reduced self-worth.  For example, if an woman doesn’t know whether she didn’t get a job due to her qualifications or her gender, she may feel helpless out of fear that she was disadvantaged by an identity she cannot control.  And, because she doesn’t know why she didn’t get the job, she may have trouble adjusting her behavior to better position herself for future jobs.


5. Schemas and Stereotypes: We need to understand why we have biases in order to overcome them.

A “schema” is a pattern of knowledge that organizes information and can be used to predict behavior.  Schemas are necessary as they reduce our cognitive load and provide a way for us to process and apply information about the world around us.  For example, when we think of school, our schema may prompt us to think about books, teachers, classes, desks, school supplies, etc.  Schemas are often useful and unproblematic.  However, when schemas become stereotypes, they’re less innocuous. Stereotypes are schemas that apply to specific groups.  These often give rise to prejudice and bias.  While our aforementioned school-related schema is unproblematic, another schema might cause us to associate female with and being bad at math.  It’s important to look at stereotypes within the larger realm of schemas.  If we understand schemas as serving to reduce the cognitive load, we can begin to understand how to combat whatever stereotypes we might have.  Doing so requires more cognitive effort and a conscious decision to reject the stereotypes that society has instilled in us.


Final Thoughts:

I’m a big believer in the importance of research and evidence when attempting to bring about social change.  I think that the research like that being conducted by the authors of Blindspot has great potential to change the way we think about ourselves, others, and the world we live in.  Ultimately, education and knowledge are essential vehicles of social change.  I plan to continue to learn, contribute ideas, and share knowledge for the rest of my education and beyond.


Feminism and Social Psychology, Part 1: Pairing Research with Revolution

It’s our Identity and Activism Week – woot woot! As we’ve been talking about identity, particularly racial and gender identity, I’ve been reflecting a lot about how I can incorporate my awareness of issues like racism and classism into  my chosen area of study and plans for the future.

When I discovered social psychology first semester freshman year, I thought I had found my academic calling.  I  began to stay up late in my dorm room reading Steven Pinker and Robert Cialdini.  I watched footage of the 1960s Milgram experiment and listened to Philip Zimbardo talk about his terrifying Stanford Prison Experiment.  I started to peruse the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in my (limited) free time.

Nerd Alert

Social psychology grabbed me because it provided me with an entirely new, analytical lens through which to view my everyday social interactions.  Learning about social psychology provided me with the vocabulary to conceptualize and understand phenomena I’d already identified  in the world around me.  I loved the idea of looking at things like friendships and romantic relationships through the eyes of a scientist.

Unfortunately, the more I learned and read, the more I began to pick up on some of the serious shortcomings of the field.  Like most fields within academia, social psychology is dominated by white men, and it shows.  They may be the “best and the brightest,” but university faculty aren’t immune to gender and racial biases.  I started to perceive serious problems in the way the field of psychology presents research on topics like gender, class, and especially race.  Voices of women, LGBT people, people of color, and other marginalized groups are silenced. Too often, the research presents an oversimplified description of social trends without ever addressing the systems that have brought about these trends.  I’ve seen too much research essentialize characteristics of groups of people without examining the complex cultural factors at play.

In one of my courses, the teacher presented research about parenting styles of different races like this: “Research shows that White parents use a more authoritative style, while other racial groups tend to use a more authoritarian style.  The authoritative style has been shown to produce the best outcomes.”  She then moved to the next slide, essentially leaving us with: “White parents are the best parents, end of discussion.”  Uh…WHAT?!

Harry Potter

Any discussion of the sociocultural or socioeconomic factors that might create these disparities? Of the larger systematic forces – community violence, police brutality, mass incarceration – that might compel some racial groups to be most strict with their children? Of the inappropriateness of lumping all non-White groups together? Of course not.

And that incident wasn’t an anomaly.  At least in my experience, in psych intro or survey courses where professors feel compelled to give broad overviews of a domain, research about topics like race is hastily presented without room for discussion, reflection, or reaction.  I was taught to worship Raymond Cattell, “Father of Trait Psychology” – never once was I taught about his staunch segregationist attitudes or connections with neo-Nazism.  When my teachers briefly tried to explain the evolution of sex differences or race differences, I became uncomfortable with how this research was being used to confirm certain stereotypes. I saw evolutionary psychology research pseudo-scientific bullshit published in magazines like Psychology Today positing to answer explicitly racist questions (e.g., “Why are black women less attractive?”)

That's So Raven


In this way, I began to see how research can be used not as a tool, but as a weapon.  The more I encountered this, the more I began to wonder, How has a field with so much promise to explain social behavior and enact social change become so problematic? It seemed that no field was immune to this, and certain fields that sought to measure and analyze human behavior – psychology, public policy, sociology – were particularly at risk.  This got me thinking, are academia and activism even compatible? I thought I had found my academic calling, but as I developed in my feminism and engaged in more serious reflection, I felt less and less sure.

Dog in space

After doing more reading and examining nuanced areas of the field, I’ve realized that social psychology doesn’t have to be this way.  Looked at in conjunction with feminism and other social justice movements, social psychology has so much promise.  An understanding of how our brains work and how we make decisions is absolutely critical for feminists.  If we want to change people’s thoughts, mobilize groups, and bring about social change, we must first have a picture of why people think the things they do.  Thankfully, some of this work is already being done.  In Bertrand and Mullainathan’s now-infamous field study, they found very convincing evidence of racial biases in hiring.  Psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson have revolutionized the way we think about gender and race-based achievement gaps with their research on stereotype threat.  In what I consider some of the most creative  psychology research ever conducted, social psychologists at Harvard have developed a procedure for measuring people’s biases, even if test subjects don’t know they have them.  They address not only racial biases and gender biases, but also religious prejudice, ageism, sexuality biases, obesity bias, and a variety of other types of bias. And in my own experience working in a behavioral economics and social psychology lab, I’ve had wonderful discussions about race, gender, and politics, and we’ve studied how identity shapes behavior.

I truly believe that social psychology can offer answers to questions about stereotypes, biases, and prejudice, and only by understanding how these phenomena operate will we be able to change them.  This could be a beautiful two-way street: psychology could gain so much by viewing research through a feminist lens, and movements like feminism should be seriously thinking about how psychology could be of benefit by them. If we as feminists truly want to bring about widespread social change, we must pair research with revolution by partnering with diverse academic fields, striving to remove discrimination and prejudice from academia and research in the process.

(If you agree that there is a need for a partnership between social psychology and feminism, check back in a few weeks – I will post the second part of this two-part series, identifying five social psychological concepts that feminists should be aware of.)

“Hookup Culture” And Other Lies

Duke and Sex. Sex and Duke. The two seem inextricably linked in the public consciousness. But I’m here to let you in on a little secret.  Are you ready?  Here goes:

Duke has been lying to us about sex.  

I know what you’re thinking: How can Duke lie to me about sex? I knew everything there was to know about sex by the time I was twelve.  I haven’t taken any Women’s Studies classes and I skipped the O-Week sex talk, so Duke hasn’t really taught me anything about sex.  Not true.

You see, Duke social life is filled with rules and expectations about sex.  And, because it seems that Duke can’t go two years without some sort of sex scandal popping up, the media plays a pretty significant role in how the average Duke student understands sex.  As a result, many of Duke’s dominant sexual narratives, scripts, and assumptions are flawed at best and catastrophic at worse.  I’d like to debunk three myths perpetuated by Duke culture.


A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Hookup Culture Only Exists Because We Let It

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 11.01.22 PMI had heard all about “hookup culture” before I ever set foot on a college campus.  Old people and conservatives love to point to hookup culture as a symbol of the promiscuity, sinfulness, and immorality of my generation (although, there’s increasing evidence that generational differences in sexual behavior aren’t substantial).  Young people love to use hookup culture as a scapegoat for their social concerns or an explanation for sexual behavior that may not align with their values.

Duke social culture, with its “work hard play hard” (another annoying social life cliché) atmosphere, is particularly susceptible to this designation.  Students, professors, and administrators all throw around the term “hookup culture” as though it is a phenomenon unique to Duke, and the term is rarely used in a positive context.  From the moment freshman arrive on campus, they are inundated with descriptions of the “hookup culture.”  Students feel that they have to be “hooking up” to be normal, and begin to wonder what’s wrong with them if they don’t immediately start engaging in casual sex.  In this way, hookup culture quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as freshmen scramble to find “hookup buddies” during their first few months at school.

Our fixation on “hookup culture” annoys me.  First, there’s my annoyance with the word “hookup,” which is used so often to describe so many different situations that it is rendered meaningless.   Beyond that, I’m honestly just confused about why we’re all so obsessed with talking about “hookup culture.”  If we really do think casual sex is problematic or inhibits the type of social relationships we want, lets stop perpetuating this idea that “everyone is hooking up” (because they aren’t).  On the other hand, if we don’t think there’s anything shameful about casual sex, lets stop trying to mask it with this ambiguous “hookup culture” designation.  Either way, I propose we retire the term “hookup culture,” the sooner the better.


 Belle Knox May Be A Duke Woman, But She Does Not Speak For Me 

Belle KnoxOh, Belle. I was conflicted about whether or not to even address her in this post.  After that whole story unfolded, it seemed like every Duke slacktivist rushed to claim an opinion.  To be honest, I don’t really see it as my place to take a public stance on her decisions or her character.  What she’s doing is perfectly legal, and I generally see no real point in either condemning or lauding her.

That said, I will take a stance on how her use of the Duke brand in her upsettingly violent pornography affects other Duke women, myself included.  I worry that Ms. Knox, who often rushes to emphasize her identity as a feminist and a Duke woman, affects perceptions of the rest of us.  If the most prominent and recognizable female Duke undergraduate actively participates in scenes involving violence (choking, having her head smashed into a mirror, being spit on, etc.) and rape, what message might  that be sending other people, especially men, about how to treat Duke  women? If we don’t speak up and say something, this violent  behavior will very quickly become normalized.

So, Belle Knox can continue making her violent rape porn. I find it degrading and offensive, but I’m not stopping her. But let me make this very clear: Belle Knox does not speak for all feminists. She does not speak for all university students.  She does not speak for all Duke women. Belle Knox does not speak for me.


 2-8%: Why The Duke Lacrosse Case Is The Exception, Not The Rule

duke-lacross-rape-newsweek2I know, I know. I almost made it through an entire post about sex at Duke without talking about it.  Sorry, y’all.  Entire books have been written on this subject, and I’m not going to try to get into the many racial, socioeconomic, and political factors at play.  What I will say is that the Duke lacrosse case may have happened eight years ago, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still affecting how Duke students understand rape.  If you Google “Duke rape,” you will find pages and pages of articles about the Duke lacrosse case.  No links to the Office of Student Conduct of the Women’s Center (I gave up searching after the 15th page of results).  It’s clear that this moment in our history still dominates the narrative of rape at Duke – and not in a good way.

The fact that the most notorious rape case in a college’s history turned out to be a false accusation very much affects how we talk about rape on campus (not just on our campus, but on campuses around the world).  This case was one of the only 2-8% of rape cases involving a false accusation (a rate comparable to crimes like grand theft auto), and yet we refuse to accept the rarity of false accusations of rape.  Instead, we blame and question the victim in ways that we never would with any other type of crime.

Our victim-blaming and victim-doubting tendencies have roots that go much deeper than any single rape case.  This “she must be lying!” attitude is a prime example of our culture’s distrust of women. It’s why we use terms like “forcible rape” or “legitimate rape,” implying that there are “illegitimate victims.” It’s why we ask, “what was she wearing?” instead of “why did he rape her?” It’s why 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail.

Moxies Hollaback! At Street Harassment…With Art

10296705_248524728666854_2462723854733363252_nLast Sunday, we joined Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, Hollaback!, and Street Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh for an event called GIRL POWER: Taking Back our Streets through Art.  None of us were really sure what the event would consist of before we arrived at Fort Greene Park, and when the event started, we were told we would be “wheat pasting.” Wheat-pasting?! (It turns out, wheat-paste is a fancy word for an adhesive made from flour and water).

We separated into groups for a pre-art discussion.  The ages of the attendees varied greatly – there were the adult leaders all the way down to preteen girls – as did their places of origin – there were Brooklyn natives as well as people from all around the country and world.  We discussed incidents of street harassment in our lives – times we were annoyed, times we felt scared, times we wanted to respond but couldn’t.  Then, we were each given a sheet of paper and instructed to “write a message to street harassers.” Challenge accepted.

We got to work!

We got to work!

Mina: "I'm ignoring you for a reason"

Mina: “I’m ignoring you for a reason!”

Rachel: "Don't tell me to smile" Dani: "You ruined MY day"

Rachel: “Don’t tell me to smile”
Dani: “You ruined MY day”

Candice: “Catcalling is NOT a compliment” Rebecca: “The Only person who owns my body is ME”

Jessica: "I'm not your Mamacita!"

Jessica: “I’m not your Mamacita!”




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Even before we had finished, passers-by stopped to ask about the piece.  Most were super supportive!

Rachel: "The only person who owns my body is ME" Julia: "Harassing only shows your greatest weakness"

Rachel: “The only person who owns my body is ME”
Julia: “Harassing only shows your greatest weakness”

The finished product:


Tatyana did the pictures on the bottom. We’re talented…but not THAT talented.



To read press coverage of this wonderful event, click here and here!

The credit for the majority of these photos goes to Julia Dunn.

An Open Letter To Somaly Mam, My Ex-Hero


You are the reason I’m in New York right now.

One day, two summers ago, I was surfing the web when I came across the “Half The Sky” documentary, in which you were featured. On a whim, I watched it. You left me completely captivated. Your story was unbelievable (but the kind of unbelievable that made you think, “wow, I want to change this!” not “hmm, she might be lying”). I started researching everything I could about sex trafficking. I read “Half the Sky” and “The Road of Lost Innocence.” Consequently, I enrolled in my first Women’s Studies course, “The Politics of Sex Work.” That course is the reason I’ve chosen to become involved in the Duke Women’s Center. My involvement in the Women’s Center is why I chose to apply to Moxie.

So you see, in this bizarre and convoluted way, you are the reason I’m here.

Imagine my shock, then, when I found out you were a fake. A few weeks ago, my dad forwarded me an NPR podcast. I read the headline, “Activist Icon Resigns, As The Threads Of Her Stories Unravel. Who could it be, I wondered. Never in a million years could I have guessed that you, known for telling “your story” with what seems like such emotion and honesty, are a liar.


You claim that you were trafficked into sexual slavery at a young age, escaped prostitution by marrying a Frenchman, and then rescued thousands of girls from similar situations. It’s a horrific but inspiring story.

The only problem? It’s not true.

After years of research and travel throughout Cambodia, Newsweek Writer Simon Marks concluded that your stories simply don’t fit together. What’s more, several of the girls you claim to have “rescued” have revealed that you coached them and convinced them to lie. Critics have called you a “psychopath” and a “narcissist,” some even going so far as to compare you to the pimps from whom you have supposedly rescued thousands of girls.

But, even though what you did was undeniably wrong, I can sort of understand why you did it.  In only one week working in the development office of a nonprofit, it’s become incredibly clear to me that money is the backbone and decision-maker for most charity work. But you went too far in trying to get that money, and, in doing so, you actually undermined your mission. Now, instead of focusing on the issues, people are focused on your personality and lies. Each year, 4 million people are trafficked, and 2 million of those are girls between the ages of 5-15. In the USA, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13, and that number is even smaller in other areas of the world. Amnesty International defines the tactics used by traffickers – isolation, threats, and forced drug use, for example – as psychological torture. But you have taken this very real and horrifyingly pervasive issue and made it about yourself.

There’s a phenomenon in social psychology known as the identifiable victim effect. It refers to people’s tendency to be more moved (and thus more likely to give money!) by personal stories than by data and analysis. This effect is particularly strong when the victim is attractive, is articulate, and has a “rags to riches,” inspirational story, like you claim to. It’s even more convenient when the victim can appeal to donors’ fantasies about rescuing beautiful women from the Third World. Clearly this strategy worked for you…for a while.

But it’s still wrong, and here’s why: First, nonprofits are reliant on the trust between donor and recipient, and you, as one of the world’s most prominent activists, completely shattered that trust. Second, your drama has distracted us all from what we should be focusing on: the persistence and pervasiveness of sex slavery. Third, you’ve cast doubt on those of us (and we do exist) who fight violence against women with integrity and truth.


Katie M. Becker
Disappointed Former Admirer and Honest Activist

Moxies Have Zero Tolerance For Gender Violence

On June 3, all nine Moxies volunteered at the Sanctuary for Families Zero Tolerance benefit.

By being part of this event, we pledged:

I will no longer be a bystander to gender violence.
I will speak up when I hear a sexist comment.
I will learn more about the impact of gender violence.
I will speak out about gender violence in all its forms.
I will speak up for those who have been silenced.
I will talk to my children about healthy relationships. (Not relevant to us yet, but nonetheless important!)

Here are some photos from the night:

Katie, Julia, and Amari, the three Sanctuary interns, have a LONGGGG day of set-up.

Katie, Julia, and Amari, the three Sanctuary interns, have a LONGGGG day of set-up ahead.

The room venue looked gorgeous.

The room venue looked gorgeous.

Thematic, anti-GV centerpieces.

Thematic, anti-GV centerpieces.

Sanctuary interns all dressed up!

Sanctuary interns all dressed up!

The other Moxies arrive to help.

The other Moxies arrive to help.

With Nicole, our fearless site manager.

With Nicole, our fearless site coordinator.

It's been a long day for these three...

It’s been a long day for these three…

...but it was 100% worth it.

…but it was 100% worth it.

The event raised $1.9 million towards helping and advocating for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.  It was an honor to be a part of it.


I Don’t Know…Yet

Katie is a rising sophomore interning at Sanctuary For Families this summer.  

The New York Times recently ran an “Ask A Pollster” column entitled “Women And The I Don’t Know Problem.” The article addresses the tendency of women to choose the “I don’t know” option when asked political opinion questions at a much higher rate than men do. Even if they have some knowledge about the topic, women often choose to respond with “I don’t know,” which can skew poll results.

There are several reasons why this might be the case. For example, female respondents might be lazy.  Maybe the “don’t know” response is so tempting because it relieves us of the burden of having to make a tough choice or argue a position.  Maybe it allows us to shrink back and be observers rather than active participants. In the case of polling, maybe we know that if we say “I don’t know,” we can hang up the phone and get on with our lives.

But maybe saying “I don’t know” isn’t an act of laziness. Maybe it’s an act of courage. Maybe women, in general, just hold ourselves to higher standards of expertise before claiming an opinion. It’s not that we’re not knowledgeable; we just don’t want to draw conclusions prematurely. We live in a society that is fixated on certainty and seeing things in black and white. Saying “I don’t know” means admitting that not all issues fit so simply into the boxes of right vs. wrong, Republican vs. Democrat, good vs. bad. It means realizing that, no matter how educated we feel, there’s always room to learn.

Certainly, we need to work to create a political arena where women feel free to express our opinions. If “I don’t know” responses come from women’s fear or lack of confidence in our abilities, we should definitely be worried. We have a responsibility to fight back against a society that encourages us to “be seen and not heard.”

However, “I don’t know” doesn’t have to be a sign of weakness. Publically admitting that we need more knowledge or education about something, not out of fear but out of a desire to learn more, takes a great deal of strength. Obviously, no one is qualified to give an opinion on every single topic, and admitting that isn’t necessarily a “problem.” It takes courage to admit our shortcomings and vulnerabilities, and the act of doing so should be lauded, not condemned. Gaps in our knowledge will never be as embarrassing as failure to recognize those gaps. If we were less afraid of saying, “I don’t know,” would more dangerous political decisions be avoided? More rash military plans stopped? More embarrassing gaffes sidestepped?

“Mansplaining” is a term that has recently entered the American lexicon. Mansplaining refers to the act of explaining something in a patronizing manner when the explainer is more knowledgeable about the topic or when the explainee actually knows more. Mansplaining can be politically dangerous, such as when men attempt to explain issues of reproductive health to women who are more knowledgeable than they are. (Does anyone remember that time Todd Akin told us all that rape victims can’t get pregnant? There’s one Congressional career ended, and rightfully so.) Of course, women can also be guilty of mansplaining, but it’s far more common to hear men lecturing us about abortion than it is to hear women preaching about Viagra. This phenomenon represents the extreme of our failure to say “I don’t know.”


One of my goals for this summer is to become more comfortable admitting when I don’t know something and asking for help when I need it, particularly in an academic or professional environment. Saying “I don’t know” is going to be a critical skill for me this summer. I’m one of the youngest Moxies. I’m also very aware that Sanctuary for Families, my internship site, provides services to people whose experiences are very foreign to my own. I’ll be the Development and Communications Intern and, to be honest, I’ve never raised money for a nonprofit before (I sold Girl Scout Cookies in elementary school…does that count?) There’s a lot I have yet to learn. What’s important is that I’m eager to do so.

This summer, I’m challenging myself to admit when I need guidance. I’m challenging myself to remember that I have more questions than answers. Most of all, I’m challenging myself to keep in mind that saying “I don’t know” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it’s followed by “yet” or “let me get back to you on that.”

What will this summer hold for me?

I don’t know…yet.