Editorial by Barbara Cornell.
Syndicated from Barbara Cornell’s personal blog.
It used to be very important to me that people understand me. I was, like every other youth in America,
The thing that was vitally important for everyone to understand was that I was smart. It didn’t matter whatever else you understood as long as you knew I was smart. It didn’t even matter to me if you understood I was arrogant and condescending about my intelligence, so long as you knew I had a lot of it.
In college, people would see me and say, «There’s the girl who sets all the curves in all the classes!» just trying to be nice. And I would correct them, and make sure they understood that my scores were always eliminated, and the curve was always set on the second highest score. Because you needed to know how smart I was.
I studied engineering but … well, there were a lot of forks in the road and I ended up getting an accounting degree, which I mostly considered beneath me because I was smarter than all the others in those classes. I had a favorite story I liked to tell about how I refused to buy a $300 calculator for a business math class, choosing instead to solve all the annuity problems using actual math and the professor had to take my exams to the math department to have them graded. I had a copy of the most recent IQ test I’d taken, proving my IQ was way off the charts.
I began my career as an accountant only to find out that I would face life being called a secretary, because I was female, and I wasn’t a nurse or a school teacher, so therefor I must be a secretary. This pissed me off beyond measure. I was not a secretary. I was smarter than that. (I’ve since figured out that, if you get out of bed and make a significant contribution to your own survival every day by performing some honest labor, then you deserve some respect. It’s astounding how your 30’s pummel the hubris of your youth out of you.) I gave out my business card to anyone who would stand still long enough to have it foisted on them so that they could see I was a 20-something CFO.
In the years since, I’ve figured out that having the general population understand me is way overrated. If my few, close friends and the people who pay me understand the essentials, then that’s enough. Having the understanding of strangers isn’t really good for much of anything. Can’t eat it, can’t live in it, can’t trade it for new movies at Amazon.
I think we all understand, at some level, everyone else’s need to be understood for who they are, even if we can’t identify with the particulars.
Take, for example, the transgender issue. I don’t actually understand it. I’m female. I’ve always been female. I exhibit some decidedly «masculine» characteristics (aggression, alpha-member domination tendencies, analytic approach, many others) but it’s never once occurred to me that I was anything other than female. Gender seems to me a pretty black/white, binary, minor kind of proposition, and knowing my gender has never once suggested to me that I should behave any way other than I do, but I understand there are others who believe differently about it, probably because they have different experiences. I get that. I don’t actually get the issue, but I get that it’s important to some that I understand it’s an issue for them.
What I do understand, though, is Facebook. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve read someone beating a drum loudly, demanding that Facebook recognize more than two genders and provide more options on the gender toggle button. (It’s about self-expression!)
Here’s what I know about Facebook: it’s a for profit sight, owned primarily by its staff and Mark Zuckerburg, whose sole purpose in life is to draw you to it so that the people who pay them for advertising space can sell you stuff.
Seems to me that demanding that Facebook understand your struggle for self expression is like storming into McDonald’s and demanding that they understand you are a corporate officer, not a secretary. They don’t care. They just want to know whether you want fries with that. Seems like if your family, close friends (and the people from whom you derive your living so far as it’s relevant to your rendering of services) understand that you don’t identify as either male or female that the rest of the world can just kiss your ass.
Seems to me that people take Facebook (and the «understanding» of the general public) way too seriously.