23 Mar Dear Other Women: Please Stop Telling Me How to Be a Woman
Dear Other Women:
I’m very concerned. Everywhere I look these days, we seem to be telling each other the right way to be women.
Lean in. Stand up. Speak up. Fight the patriarchy. Do it like a GIRL!
I’ve spent a lot of time lately in conversations with women aged 11 to 83, and one thing has become abundantly clear: Each generation has a very different viewpoint and approach, and we’re trying to put them all in the blender. We seem to be seeking that One Path that will lead us to the enlightenment of gender equality, empowerment, equal pay, and all the rest.
Unfortunately, the result has become an alarming cacophony of confusion, vitriol, and even questions from the young’uns about what feminism is, and why we even need it.
And damn it, some women just won’t stay on message!
During her Oscar acceptance speech, actress Patricia Arquette advocated for equal pay. She did this during one of the most crowning achievements of her career — with an audience of billions watching and listening. She used her moment to talk about us. In thanks, she was criticized for not expressing the ‘right’ feminist talking points.
And the men?
I’ve also been talking to men of all ages who are confused, frustrated, afraid to say the wrong thing, or who don’t understand the ruckus because they have already created a work environment based on merit. I spoke on a panel at NYU about empowering men around gender equality, and out of those invited, none showed up. I can’t say I blame them — I wouldn’t walk into that lioness’ den either.
So, ladies, how do we think things are going? Are we pleased with these results?
Me, not so much.
Given how much fuel is presently on this fire, there is just no room — no remaining oxygen — to have a productive conversation. When the discussion is all about a fight, there must inherently be a winner and a loser.
Now, that’s just in America. Add to that the mix of international women’s issues, and we have a massive spectrum to address.
Last week, as part of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, I listened to a survivor of genocide in Rwanda share her story. She barely made it out alive, yet somehow found the courage to recount what happened so the world would be changed for the better, so that she could spare other women that kind of trauma. I learned about the sex trafficking of young girls, and the former Navy seals dedicating their lives to saving them. Many of these are girls sold by their families because they are too expensive to keep and send to school.
Here’s what is critically important: All of the issues and challenges listed above are valid.
Every woman’s experience is valid. Whatever our viewpoint is, is valid. We are the only ones who know what it was like to be us when x happened. If we start there, and take the judgment, agenda and prescription out, we actually have somewhere from which to start.
And I’m proposing that from THERE, we create a new way to have this conversation. To do it, we’re going to need to start from a blank slate, where everyone puts their own personal experience in check to create a future that works. Notice that I’m not asking anyone to forget his or her experience – I’m asking him and her to put that experience in parentheses because the solution is not to be found in the problem.
Let us have history inform us. Let it not command us.
Let us give each woman the room to experience who she uniquely is without directives, agendas, or the need to be right. Anything less is the exact opposite of empowerment.
I have a lot more to say on this subject, but this is already quite lengthy. I’ll unveil my next set of thoughts during my closing keynote at Harvard’s Women in Business Week on April 10th.
For now, from my little place standing on this Earth, I’m starting with the subject of women’s leadership.
I believe that the most effective, authentic leadership comes from expressing our natural talents, whether we are leading our own lives or a Fortune 500.
I believe we should celebrate those talents and let them sing according to our own unique values, but sometimes we stifle them. The reasons are myriad, from our own self-doubt to grownups who told us we couldn’t. So to help dismantle some of this, I’ve created an in-depth online course to guide women through gaining a deeper understand themselves and their leadership a bit better, and building a framework for what is next for themselves, their families, or their companies. More on that below.
In the meantime, let’s keep talking. The more humans in this conversation, the better.