Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Insecurity Is The Root of All Oppression (?)

I once had a blog called "Having it all SOME of the time" I say once had, even though it's still in existence because I don't write anything over there anymore. Why? Because I don't have time. These days I don't blog about the deep questions of life, the aha moments of my day or the parables swimming around in my subconscious unless I'm surrounded by elementary school kids and modeling some part the writing process. Why not? I just don't. I could make time for that again, but I make time for other things instead, because all of life is a series of moments and all of living is deciding (intentionally or unintentionally) which moments you're going to invest yourself in.
I'm prompted to write today thanks to another stirring blog post by a teacher-kindred Pernille Ripp. Pernille wonders, as many of us in Education do, "Where Are All of the Female Leaders?" and reading her words this morning has me stopping (intentionally) to reflect. I have to start by saying, that when I paused to think of it, although I am inspired by a very diverse group of leaders, I could definitely spotlight MANY who are women. Hooray! When I looked closer though, I realized that among that diverse group of leaders I admire, the women were more likely to be leading digitally (through blogging, vlogging etc) than the men, and when I looked even closer, the ones from that subgroup who were in established leadership positions (verses the ones that I view as "leaders" because they are leading, inspiring, and instituting change from their teaching positions) were, more often, men. This is not necessarily an accurate study of leadership, of course my random group of leaders in my PLN doesn't necessarily speak to our culture as a whole, and yet, I'm compelled this morning to consider the questions that come up when I read Pernille's post and consider my own limited experience. I should also say, that in my school, there are more women than men in administrative roles- I have no aspirations of being an administrator, but if I was interested and qualified that would be an option for me. I don't think looking and finding women-leaders really gets at the heart of what's being asked here though, and again this is my own take, based on my own experience and observation, but in reading about the guilt and questions that women in leadership face, I'm coming to this conclusion:

We are our own worst enemy.
We are our own worst oppressors.
We sort of know it, and sort of don't mean to be.

In my adult-life, I get asked the "how do you do it all?" question ALL the time. Not quite daily, but often. At EVERY birthday party I throw or attend or help plan, at school events where I work or where I attend as a parent, on Facebook (Curse you facebook for making it look like we're having it all!) at conferences, and on and on. Do you know what I realized this morning though? I have NEVER been asked this question by a man. Not once. Not ever. Why? I've also noticed that women seldom measure themselves against men, even men in their same stage of life or career path. Are we conditioned to believe that we can not compete with men or do we just feel more comfortable pitting ourselves against one another? Speaking from my own experience, I've never once had a man tell me that I couldn't do something because I had a husband and children to attend to or because I was a woman, but I've had quite a few women try to.

Back to the "How do you do it all?" question: I've asked the question of friends and mentors too. I know I have. In examining my motivation, I'm looking for the glittery unicorn that they must be hiding. The magic answer that once I know it, will give ME more time and less guilt to pursue my own fancies and ambitions. I never get it, just like I've never been able to give it to anyone else. The truth is always about balance and support and something else that has to give. I try to follow the question up with praise because I know from being on the other side, that what felt like an accolade can start to feel like condemnation in a split second. When "How DO you do it all?" gets followed up by "Doesn't your husband get upset?" or "I just couldn't bear to attend a conference and not be home to tuck my kids in for 3 nights in a row! (gasp!)" Often a comment like that one would be followed up by the commenter adding (soothingly) "But I'm just too sentimental!" which of course has me walking away wondering if they think that I am not.

For years I'd heard and read about how teachers struggle to trust one another, to share with one another, struggle to trade ideas, build each other up, promote one another in school. "Why?" I asked. "Female-dominated profession and women don't trust each other" was an actual answer I received. I read that the answer to this quandary was in finding a PLN through social media of like-minded educators who aren't threatened by one another but care so deeply about the profession that they are willing to share it all, and bear it all to further the cause! Hooray! I joined twitter and found this to be so! Hooray again..but...then I started reading about how so many of the women I admired via the interwebs were not well received in their OWN districts, their OWN schools where they actually had the power and dare-I-say-it RESPONSIBILITY to effect the most influence and change. How could this be? How could someone who seems so delightful and open on the internet be struggling to "make friends and influence people" where they actually live and work and share? Why is it easier to share ideas with the twitterverse than the woman next door? Why is it easier to follow a stranger than a friend?

Women, have you ever been in a group of other women who are praising one woman in particular on all the ways she seemingly "has it all" and follows it up by chiding (jokingly, of course) I just HATE her! I have NEVER understood this. How is it acceptable to substitute the word HATE for the word admire? It makes me wonder if we as women are so uncomfortable admiring one another that we've developed some crippling habits to our own success. Have we forgotten that we NEED each other or do we know it, and it terrifies us?

My conclusion is insecurity. None of us want to admit that we are insecure, but all of us are. Even the most confident Men or Women have their insecurities and wrestle with some notion that they should be or could be more. The danger as I see it though is when we stack our insecurities up against the strengths of the people we should be admiring and learning from. When we measure ourselves against and compare ourselves to others it can make us feel small. When we feel small, we do small things. These small things are beneath us, thinking or saying things that make us feel better about ourselves by assuming flaws in the woman we know who appears to be kicking butt and taking names in work and life.
I'm not enough of an Anthropologist (I only dabble in Anthropology & when there's a sale Anthropologie)to know if this is a "woman thing" or a "human thing" but I do believe it's oppressive, counter-productive and it's the wrong thing.

In recent years I have come to terms with my own insecurities (PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS AS OWNED AND CONQUERED, just acknowledged and faced) and made it my personal mission to not allow those demons to get in the way of anyone's pursuits. Mine or anyone else's. If you're in my building and doing amazing things for kids I'm going to tell you and I'm going to toot your horn to the masses, because I've come to realize that affirmation matters, that kindness is a boomerang and that a win for education, kids, or women is something that I"m always going to be proud to be a part of. I was also raised in a family and community of strong women who stuck together, built one another up, and were not threatened by but were inspired and motivated by the women beside them. I want to build that for my daughter. I want her to grow up learning to rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and LEARN FROM those who soar!

If we want to see more women in leadership, we have to allow ourselves to be lead by our peers. We have to be honest with one another which means we have to trust one another. We have to allow ourselves to admire each other's strengths without the need to uncover each other's weaknesses. We have to stop ourselves from trying to place our own guilt and insecurities on others and instead to rally behind one another, support and affirm one another, celebrate, embrace, respect and grow in our differences.

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