“Who do you think is more self-deprecating? Men or women?”
It was the 5th inning of the Milwaukee Brewers home opener, generally the time when my reflections turn to topics off the field. More than halfway through a ball game is right when conversation can lag so I posed this question to my baseball companion, also known as my husband.
He professed not to know who was more self-deprecating, then he tried to make a pitch that men and women were equally self-deprecating but faltered when I pressed for examples. Then he claimed that he is self-deprecating at the office when he ‘can’t do things with his computer.’
“Do you call yourself a ditz or do you get somebody to come do it for you?” I asked, already knowing the answer since as the ‘home wife’ I was often called to help him cut and paste or change his Facebook profile picture. Never once have I seen him wring his hands and feign helplessness, compare himself to a toddler, blame it all on how insanely busy he is, how messy the house is, or explained that his kids have drained all his brainpower and replaced it with instant oatmeal.
Truth be told, his most honest answer would be “I can’t be bothered learning insignificant stuff like that because I am entirely too busy using my superior intellect to save the world.”
My point: Men don’t self-deprecate. Women do. Men protect their egos. Women try to pretend they don’t have egos.
It makes me wince when I hear women who can write a big proposal, give a major speech, organize a sick aging parent’s health care, and fry it all up in a pan mock themselves about their poor housekeeping or their inability to ‘keep it all straight’ or how they’re lucky their underwear isn’t on backwards. I think, oh please, don’t let them see you sweat. You know you can do all this and more any day of the week. You’re a person of substance. Take yourself seriously.
When I was younger and coming up, as they say, professionally, I was gripped by the notion of gravitas. I yearned for gravitas. Fundamentally, this meant that I wanted to be taken seriously by colleagues. I wanted to not be dismissed as irrelevant or have my involvement in projects marginalized while men kept center stage.
In the trail hunt for gravitas, I ended up going to school for nearly a hundred years. I earned a Ph.D. so I could be called Doctor but when I was, I waved it away. After all, people with gravitas don’t need titles, the air around them just vibrates in a special way. I am too serious a person to need a title, I thought to myself, all the while writing Ph.D. in invisible ink on my clothing like grown-up Garanimal insignias, adding tiny meaningful charms to my bracelet that would telegraph my accomplishments, and send the secret message that I was an educated, experienced person of substance.
After a while and as expected, the weight of gravitas got me down. I yearned to make wisecracks in meetings and learn to take myself less seriously. I wanted to loosen up. As I unbuttoned the robe of gravitas, I felt freer, more confident. I didn’t need the invisible ink or the tiny charms.
But I stop short of being self-deprecating. I don’t mind being funny but not at the cost of claiming ineptitude or being uniquely harassed and overworked because I’m a woman. I’d sooner die than to let anyone know that I can’t manage the sometimes extreme disorder in my life. I’m not going to try to find common cause with other women by claiming to be a ditz because, frankly, I have spent years getting out from under the expectations that every woman is a ditz, only marginally competent, and not to be trusted with really important stuff.
I’ve purged my inner ditz. She lives in the top of my closet next to a very scratchy wool sweater a friend brought me from Ireland 25 years ago. I’m not throwing either of them away but I’m not going to wear them either.