As women, we tend to use men’s impression of us, to judge ourselves. Whether subtly or overtly, we absorb information/clues on what’s acceptable and what isn’t; not always from our mothers, but from the men in our life. We dumb ourselves down, dress to please, and try not to speak too loudly or too often. Yes, even today.
We use men as reflective mirrors on how well we’re doing, unconsciously inviting permission to strive and take a seat at the table. We don’t do this wittingly, but I’ve observed this in myself and in my friends. With a retrograde misogynist in the White House, that behavior has been strengthened and glorified.
During the 90s, I chaired a small business group in NYC. I didn’t want the position but was drafted, because no one else wanted the job. In no time at all, I noticed a trend. The committees, made up of men and women, would plan various events. We’d set the date, the time, the guest speaker, and the topic. But when it came time to do the work: preparing the mailing list, stuffing envelopes, sorting through names and mailing everything — in other words — the boring stuff, only the women showed. Except for the occasional male, we did all the work. At the time of the scheduled event, the men would perform their hosting duties and take much of the credit. We were the grunts. The men took the glory.
It’s become apparent that Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton suffered from being too competent. They were ready; they were prepared; they wanted the job. How dare they? Warren and Clinton were accused of being too detailed, too robotic, lacking in charm, and generally missing the big picture. All this was untrue, but it did not matter. When asked questions, they answered; gave you specifics on how they were going to get things done. That reveal opened their plans to criticism. Once the details were out there, it became easy to pick them apart. The male counterparts didn’t fall for that, they knew better. They knew that only the illusion of competency was necessary.
In reality, no one wants to ‘know’ how candidates are going to do something. We prefer to hear the glossed over version, even if it makes no sense. We don’t want to know the how, or even if it’s achievable. Let’s face it, we love fairy tales.
We will never take our rightful place in leadership positions if we wait for permission. We have to power through and ignore the criticism. We must remember, we don’t need men’s benediction, or permission, to reach for our goals. It is enough that we dared to dream them.
And next time, when we know how to do something, we will keep it to ourselves and only paint the big picture.