Girls, We Can Do Better.
Stop blaming men and get back to changing the world.
So, here it is. Tuesday, March 8. International Women’s Day. Project meeting at 4:30 PM, and until then I’ve nothing to do on my task list. You would think it would be a perfect time to write a nice little inspirational post about combating sexism and how far we’ve come.
You would be wrong.
I didn’t want to write this essay. I really, really didn’t.
I was so desperate not to write this essay I got out the paint and brushes from the basement and covered the water stains on the stairway ceiling, from back before I got my roof replaced last fall.
Ok, here goes. Time to stop stalling.
A lot of online feminist discourse seems to consist of two things:
- ) Calling out men for sexism.
- ) Idealizing exceptional women who have “broken out” in one way or another. The first two headlines under International Women’s Day on Medium are perfect examples:
The problem is, men aren’t likely to change just because you tell them to.
And ask either Lindewe or Elizabeth Holmes, and they will tell you that nobody achieves their goals without a lot of help and support along the way. Which puts women at a significant disadvantage.
The myth is the “Mighty Girl,” or the “Disney Princess.” Beautiful, gifted, alone as she triumphs against the odds. The reality is that unless you want to be a ballerina or a diva, teams are what get things done.
I would argue that this myth is actually harmful, rather than inspirational. Women are not taught to value or invest in relationships with other women. This makes it much more difficult to find partners and collaborators. Where would Jobs have been without Wozniak? Lennon without McCartney?
We are taught to put children first, spouses second, self last. Are girlfriends left do anything other than look good in the background of a selfie?
Feminists are not responsible for this attitude, but we of all people should be doing what we can do counter it. Because there is a very real possibility that we may be moving backwards, or at best standing still.
A 2015 Harvard University study found a majority of teen girls still preferred males in positions of leadership to females. Said one respondent, “Girls wouldn’t vote for themselves, so why would they vote for another girl?”
I have been blessed with many remarkable women in my life: friends, relatives, and coworkers. I also lost my husband to a married female friend — someone I had vacationed with and invited to my home. I chose and choose not to blame or distrust all women based on the harm done by one.
Over the past ten years I’ve been part of a variety of startup projects. Contrary to popular belief, women do exist in tech.
Here are a few things I have learned over the years:
Women often hold each other to impossible standards. There is behavior that we would let slide with a male coworker or boss, that we will not tolerate in another woman. And women have long memories.
We need female co-founders. Why not build our own companies and institutions, and not just climb the ranks in male-dominated ones?
Mean girls are not feminists. If you gossip about other women behind their back, you are perpetrating the patriarchy. Repeat. Repeat. You are part of the problem. Ask somebody what’s going on. Wait until you know all the facts.
Also, some stuff that’s universal:
Don’t take on anyone on your founding team who isn’t interested in equity, but simply wants a paycheck. Extra due diligence when hiring friends.
If you don’t feel like founding a company:
All of the above are equally applicable to an artistic collaboration, a nonprofit, an open source project, or grassroots activism. The scale doesn’t have to be huge. If childcare is an issue, ask your partner — or organize childcare within the group. Not only will you be taking your own souls and lives and bodies and aspirations as women seriously, you will be giving other women permission to do the same. The important thing is learning to interface with other women and view them as equals and people.
Whatever happened to consciousness raising? One hundred thousand women belonged to groups in 1973. The Second Wave had it going on.
So, there you have it. I said it. Happy International Women’s Day!
Men can’t save us. We’ve got to do it for ourselves.
Feminism is an incredibly important concept, but we have to shift our attention toward each other. If we wait around for sexist and oppressive behavior to stop, we might just witness the extinction of our species and many others first. And there is so much to be angry and outraged about online, that it just sort of saps the life out of us. My advice is to take that energy and direct it toward connecting with the women you already know, who might actually need it.