Opinion

Wisconsin Womanhood: When will we start trusting women?

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It’s 2019 and we still don’t trust women.

Since I was young my idol has been Nellie Bly. I fell in love with her when I first visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and learned about her story. She was a brave woman who risked her life to expose the horrible treatment of women in an asylum in New York. As one of the first female journalists who refused to write about traditionally “feminine” topics, Bly sought to investigate injustices. She became one of the first investigative reporters in the field, be it male or female.

When her most famous work, “Ten Days in a Madhouse,” was assigned to one of my classes, I was elated. I hoped to geek out about her work with my fellow journalism nerds. However, I never expected my peers to have the reaction that they did. They tore Bly apart.

Every comment was about how self-indulgent she was or how much she talked about herself in the story, despite it essentially being an autobiography — a story the reader expects and realizes will be about the author.

Almost every student doubted Bly’s credibility asserting that we shouldn’t trust what she wrote. How do we know it’s true? Is she even reputable? Students asserted that she touted her money and status in the story and relied on those things as her credibility, despite Bly hardly ever mentioning status or finances.
I was the only student in the class who defended Bly, her credibility, her work and her bravery.

My peers even criticized minute details in the story. For example, when a doctor weighed Bly after she had hardly eaten in days, she wrote down her weight in the text. My peers saw this action as a cheap brag — not the author describing a true event that happened and depicting how inedible the food was at the asylum and other facili- ties she stayed at.

The discussion was mostly led by the male students in the class. As they verbalized their doubts about Bly, the female students jumped on the train in agreement.

An environment was created in which it was almost impossible to defend her; students were even laughing at things she wrote because they were so overly self-serving that they found her writing humorous.

Even when I spoke out on behalf of Bly, students would redirect the conversation right back to how untrustworthy she was. One student said she was so classist that he was turned off by what she wrote, even at points when she was writing about others.

I asked the student to cite a specific passage in which she was behaving in a classist manner. My peer retorted that he didn’t have any page numbers per say, but it was simply a “tone she gave off.”

I was shocked and confused at how my peers couldn’t see, or even dare to try to see, this female writer as influential and trustworthy. Disavowing Nellie Bly’s contributions to journalism is like disavowing Isaac Newton’s contri- bution to physics, or Galileo’s to astronomy. She shaped modern reporting. I used to assert, and still do, that if I have a daughter, I wil name her Nellie after Bly.

Without Bly, women may not even have the luxury of being able to report on hard-hitting stories (which is likely what some of my female peers in the class want to do when they graduate).

I knew I couldn’t be the only one who saw that our class’s unfavorable discourse about Bly may have been unfair, so I discussed it with my two friends after class.They both agreed with me that the class jumped right into not believing Bly, and glossed over the incredible reporting she did. The discussion simply left no room to advocate for Bly, causing many of my peers to feel that they couldn’t express their opinions, stuck in a sort of spiral of silence.

I want to believe that we go to school in an environment that gives every voice equal weight, and views all contributions with equal importance, but I seem to have been sadly mistaken.

In the previous week when we discussed a man’s writing, we never once questioned his credibility. We believed him completely. I didn’t hear a single criticism or doubt or judgement on what he said.

So why do we doubt women? Why did we doubt Christine Blasey Ford and Chanel Miller? Why do we scrutinize women’s words, but take men’s as the almighty truth?

Because of history, of course. Because of the world around us today, and the ones that preceded it. Because there are more men in Congress than women, more male directors telling stories of male heroes and male excellence. Because men will believe men, and women will believe men, but both men and women continue to question women.

Men are the leaders of America, and when women try to lead, they are diminished and criticized for their looks, their tone, their arro- gance, their role — things men are never questioned for.

So here is what I ask — all I ask: believe women. Even if your instinct is to not trust something a woman says, ask yourself this: what if they were telling the truth? What would I do or think if I did believe them? Brett Kavanaugh would not be one of the most pow- erful people in America today had we merely believed Christine Blasey Ford. Brock Turner would not have served such a brief prison sentence had we believed Chanel Miller.

Believe women. They are trustworthy, bright, brave, just and honest. Just ask yourself — what if I did believe her?

Dana is a senior studying journalism and theatre. What are your thoughts on double standards between men and women? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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