I was at a work training when a small comment sent my mind spiraling off, while a prick went straight to my heart. Hours later the moment continued to replay in my mind. When I got home, I divulged the story to my partner, and I soon realized that he didn’t quite understand my reaction, my frustration. It took weeks for me to process and unpack what disturbed me to the core.
At the training, I was an active participant for an audience of observers. I didn’t know much of what was expected of me, so I was prepared to listen and follow directions. The leader of the training was a woman, who I know to be conscious-minded and respectful of others.
When she began describing the activity to both us, the participants, and the audience, I assumed it wasn’t her intention to perpetuate patriarchy.
She began, “Sorry, but I have to be BOSSY for this activity. I’m going to be telling you where to stand and move around.”
Bossy? I thought, What does she mean, bossy?
As the word repeated in my head, I found it difficult to maintain attention. Something had clearly struck a chord inside me.
After apologizing in advance and using this particular terminology, I presumed she would start barking out commands like a drill sergeant. I was ready to be bossed around!
She didn’t. Instead, she kindly showed us where to stand as participants and guided us through the activity with ease and grace.
If you’re still with me and wondering why this word feels like a kick to my ovaries, let me clarify.
First of all, I believe a person (man/woman/cis/trans/etc.) in a position of leadership does not need to apologize or over-explain before LEADING. Your role as a facilitator requires guiding others, may it be telling them where to stand.
I feel disheartened when I watch women in positions of power immediately degrade themselves. It might be the words they use or the small actions I notice. I’ve caught myself falling into this trap, in a meeting starting sentences with phrases like ”This might be a silly idea but…” or ”I’m sorry, but I think…”.
Are these habits intentional? Of course not. They are habits worn on our shoulders for decades, handed down to us from generations before. They are the skins our ancestors wore, and it could take several more generations to fully shed them.
This moment also caused me to reflect on the current progress of feminism in our culture. Despite the drastic changes in our culture to promote, educate, and include women in all kinds of non-traditional roles, we have more to learn (or should I say, un-learn?). The messages we receive growing up are still communicating what we may not consciously agree with. Some of the messages being spread to women are: Don’t hold too much power. Don’t cause conflict around you. Don’t be too much.
When these messages are repeated to us from birth to adulthood, we can’t help but believe them. We have become women who forget to be feminists. We step into leadership roles and begin sentences with ”I’m sorry…” or withhold our great ideas in an attempt to diminish ourselves from shining too brightly.
The first step to make a change is awareness. We as a culture can help one another shed light on these topics. This could be as simple as promoting more encouraging language (No need to apologize, we’d love to hear what you have to say! or Do you disagree? It would be great to hear a different perspective on the topic.).
Growing awareness can also begin right where you are, within yourself. Ask yourself to reflect on questions such as, What are my presumptions about power? What did I learn about leadership growing up? How might this affect my current beliefs? Do I feel comfortable in a position of power? Why or why not? Have I ever apologized for holding power?
With greater awareness, we intuitively begin to make changes within ourselves and around us. We open ourselves up to align with our personal values and truths. We also set an example for others to act in alignment with their beliefs. Little by little, we can reawaken ourselves and remember to be who we are. For me, that means showing others how small words and actions can help spread feminism.
To the women reading, if no one has told you before, I hope you can hear this message loud and clearly.
You have the power.
You are free to…speak your truth, disagree, rustle feathers, or fight the battle you choose to fight.
You are never too much.
[image by Richard Camacho]