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Is Your Bad Sense of Direction Bad for Feminism?

Photo: Hemann/Corbis

Very rarely does a piece of wearable technology inspire strong feelings in the Cut chat room. Yesterday, we encountered an exception to this rule: the “Navigate Jacket,” which offers hands-free directions through a Bluetooth phone connection.

The seemingly innocuous jacket proved surprisingly controversial, raising questions about confidence, competence, and learned helplessness. Questions like: Is it an anti-feminist cop-out to decide you just have a bad sense of direction? And: Is it cyberbullying to tell a co-worker that her “bad sense of direction” is actually an anti-feminist cop-out?

Read on for all this, and more.

Stella Bugbee: That coat is infantilizing: “Ladies are bad at navigating!”

Allison P. Davis: So harsh on the jacket. SORRY IT IS DUMB. SOME OF US ARE.

Stella: Then get better at it! It’s like saying, “I’M BAD AT MATH!” or, “I’M BAD AT MONEY!”

Maggie Lange: Wait, but this is unfair pressure to be good at things that women are “stereotypically” bad at. I am bad at directions and, like, WHATEVER I AM STILL A FINE PERSON. I want that jacket. Actually, on second thought, I don’t like stuff telling me what to do. I will just be lost and happy.

Molly Fischer: I know, I was always really annoyed in high school when they’d be like, “Girls at all-girls schools can be great at math! Math math math! Care about math!” I was like, “Nope, don’t care about math, sorry.”

Stella: Well, I would argue you’d never been taught math properly. But why are you bad at directions? Ask yourself this question. Are you listening to others when they tell you where to go? Do you expect other people to lead you? I’m serious.

Maggie: I dunno. I have good spatial reasoning. I just get visually distracted and drawn to things I like the look of, like buildings. And then I am lost.

Diana Tsui: I always thought directions were just pure memorization? That’s how I go about it. I’m the best navigator, despite not knowing how to drive. I just memorize everything.

Allison: No. I have trouble with left and right.

Stella: Being good at navigating is about paying attention and claiming agency.

Kat Stoeffel: It took me like ten years to figure out I have an excellent sense of direction, because I always deferred to men who got us lost.

Allison: I think maybe we’re unfairly assigning agency to something that some people are naturally bad at. And I manage to do lots of things on my own and don’t let my inability to navigate effectively keep me from doing anything. Like traveling on my own. But I am ALSO OKAY with not being the master of everything.

Molly: I think the real problem is that some people are way more anxious about being lost/making mistakes than others. Like, I don’t know that I have a great sense of direction, but I don’t feel freaked out if I mess up and have to backtrack. Whereas my mom, for example, does — and so she sees herself as having a very bad sense of direction. So what I’m saying is that Stella, you are shaming people for their anxiety, which is probably not a productive stance!!!

Stella: Perhaps. But I don’t think that being bad at something is an excuse not to make an attempt to be better at it, especially when it comes to something as important as getting around on our own.

Molly: But, if a doofy coat gives you the confidence you need to face that challenge, more power to the doofy coat.

Stella: But outsourcing confidence to technology is ultimately disempowering. So if you can’t wear your magic coat, you won’t feel confident in your ability to get from A to B?

Kat: I think ultimately GPS phones will diminish the value of natural navigation skills, for better and for worse!

Ella Cerón: It’s sort of like having all your contacts in your phone. Eventually memorizing phone numbers became somewhat obsolete.

Kat: It’s just more room in our brains for gossip and Nicki lyrics.

Is Your Bad Sense of Direction Bad for Feminism?