Don’t Tell Me What to Do!
Amy Poehler shouted this at the camera at the end of guest appearance on SNL’s Weekend Update segment ‘Really?’ which focused on the issue of birth control in America and American politics. This brief moment has stayed with me, echoing in the back of my mind.
It seems like the kind of thing a child would shout, being unable to form a nuanced, logical argument. But when Amy shouted it, to me it seemed completely radical. After countless articles, speeches, rallies, discussions, years . . . patriarchal society still doesn’t get it. We’ve tried the nuanced, logical argument approach. What it boils down to is that these patriarchal, sexist, misogynist, racist, prejudiced systems and people have no right to tell us who/what/how to be and what to do.
Don’t tell me what to do! It gets at the fundamental issue of power imbalance. You think that you are better than me, more capable than me, that I should obey you because you are a man. Well you aren’t and I’m not going to.
The fact that Amy Poehler is wise and bold enough to shout this at the top of her lungs on national television is a beautiful gift.
Try saying it some time yourself. Preferably to someone who is trying to silence you or control you. It’s pretty great. I’ve done it.
At lunch at work, my coworkers had the tendency to fuss around me whenever I was cutting an apple or pear. My female boss would ask me if I wouldn’t rather let one of the guys use the knife for me. Male coworkers would instruct me on how to hold the knife. Seriously? How do these people think I have survived this long unable to cut an apple? I still have all my fingers and limbs. One day I retorted, Amy’s voice in the back of my mind, “Don’t tell me what to do!” No one was giving the men in the office tips on wielding culinary instruments. If they didn’t need to tell other people what to do, they didn’t need to tell me.
When getting into a discussion that requires challenging sexist or racist points of view, whenever I made a strong point male coworkers, flustered that I had ‘scored’ as it were, would joking tell me to “just go and [insert something related to my job].” While meant as a good-natured way to acknowledge that I was right and that they were wrong, the fundamental joke about the statement was the unspoken truth that the world would be better if I would just go disappear, just go shut up—so that they didn’t look bad, so that they didn’t have to hear something that took them safe zone of male privilege. The goal of such a statement was in the end to silence me as a woman (and protect them from ever having to truly acknowledge that they were wrong or ignorant). It would all be fun and games until someone accidentally said “just shut up woman and make me a sandwich.” I’ve now deployed Don’t Tell Me What to Do ‘jokingly’ back at them.
It almost always shuts down the sexist behavior immediately. It so cleanly and precisely exposes the underlying assumptions that men should control women and that men know better that women and that women should obey men. It’s like a sharp knife that cuts right to the bone. It avoids getting bogged down in debating the nuances of politics, nature vs nurture, whether or not you have statistics at your finger tips to back up your claims . . . it just points out: you think you’re better than me, well, you’re not. When I want your advice, I’ll ask for it.
You’re not the boss of me. Don’t Tell Me What to Do.