I spend a great deal of time deconstructing socialized ideas of leadership in myself, my students, and my clients.
As a woman and as a women’s leadership coach and facilitator, this deconstruction looks at what we are told as women about being a woman and about leadership.
This is a crucial process to expanding our inner worlds so that we may create a new outer world. I know other genders also experience a narrowing of their soul and human experience based on what they are socialized to. I speak here simply to my experience as a woman and my experience working with female identifying populations.
Some days, I feel like some sort of progress is being made in myself and collectively as a society, but most days, I look around and feel in my bones the vast chasm between where the reality of leadership is and where leadership could be.
Rather than dive into statistics on female leadership, I’m here to share the visceral battle that exists somatically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually as young girls and grown women alike experience around leadership.
In the last four years, I have been in a deep process of owning my personal power and launching a leadership coaching business with a spiritual approach. Only just last month I keenly and consciously became aware that the resistance I’ve felt, the freeze moments I experience every time I make a business move, is the millennia of patriarchal oppression coursing through me. My high self knows it is resistance and patiently waits while I remember my own greatness. The rest of me is just shackled with these ancient chains.
My whole body aches as I watch the same thing play out in groups of young girls and teens. I love doing this activity where we stand in a circle, one person in the middle. It goes something like this:
“I love my neighbors who have a dog!” Everyone who has a dog finds a new spot. We play a few rounds. Then I change it up. “Okay, now the person in the middle is going to say, ‘I love my neighbors who are good at…then say something you are good at, got it?’”
Every time. (Unless, of course, I’m in a mixed gender group, but when it is all girls? Silence.)
Furtive glances around the circle.
I smile and say, “We can do this; we all have something we are good at.”
The real kick in the ass thing here is not that they think small of themselves or think they are terrible at everything.
There is something harsher at play.
Ancient fear mixed with socialized competition.
We play a few rounds. And then we talk. The girls start naming what they feel: awkward, uncertain, shy.
Then without fail, someone chimes in, “But we aren’t supposed to brag.”
“Says who?” I ask. “And who says it’s bragging? And who says bragging is bad?”
They begin to murmur and scuff their feet. “I don’t know…everyone.”
I say, “Finish this sentence: ‘If I say I’m good at something, then I’m…'”
“Full of yourself.”
“A goody goody.”
“Uh-huh, and if I’m full of myself, then I’m…”
This one usually takes a little longer.
“Too much,” one of them says.
“Too much of what?”
“Ya know, just, like, too much, and then people won’t like you.”
“And if people don’t like me, then…”
Inevitably, one brave soul will say something like, “If people don’t like me, then they think I’m a (b*tch).” (This word is always referenced, rhymed, or whispered.) “And then I can’t get anything done or have friends.”
All the girls nod.
And even though I continue to facilitate, the ache in my heart and bones wells up. “Those beliefs aren’t yours,” I want to whisper to them! You do not need to carry around those ancient chains, the same ones that I feel wrapped around my wrists.
Layer into this reality each person’s intersectional identity and the experiences we will have based on what society says about our identity and you get the carefully calculated actions of every girl and woman everywhere.
I can play this game with young girls or grown women, and the conversation is strikingly similar. Just in a simple game, the stories that live inside us as women come up and out. The act of claiming something we are good at is driving against our social conditioning to avoid competition, to be good, to play nice.
“Play nice so you don’t stand out.” “Don’t make anyone else uncomfortable.”
And this is just one thread of our social conditioning. It tugs at our very psyches across the centuries starting as young as eight years old, beckoning us to stay the course.
Don’t break the chain.
But maybe as we do, we start to break one thread, one shackle, we begin to see others—the ones who tell us how to speak, think, feel, dress, play, date, worship…and lead.
Yes, we have made strides and changes around women in leadership and the way this social conditioning lives in our bones, our memories, our collective consciousness—healing that, stepping out of that. It takes steady, patient, compassionate practice. It takes understanding that, even as we practice, we may be recreating the same oppressive structures collectively and individually.
Somatically, we may experience fight, flight, or freeze responses. Physical sensations of anxiety or depression seemingly often for no reason. The reason is the achingly deep grief that our ancestors were burned at the stake, drowned, raped, pillaged—for one reason.
We are women. We are the portal between heaven and Earth. We are the creators. It is time to create ourselves.
Psychologically, we may experience self-doubt, imposter syndrome, harsh inner critics, confusion. We are women. We know the ancient wisdom that goes far beyond our mind’s knowing. It is time to know ourselves.
Emotionally, we may experience guilt, rage, anxiety, depression. We are women. We feel the universe move through our hearts and share it as our art, our creation. It is time to feel ourselves.
Spiritually, we may experience resistance or avoidance, a forgetting out of protection, yet there is a call deep within that gets activated by certain words or sounds. A stirring begins to grow and grow and you begin to follow the invisible trail of signs. We are women. We know the way. It is time to be ourselves.
And it is in this way that we need to redefine leadership. Perhaps there aren’t even words yet for a new understanding of leadership that we can all birth together.
We are women, and it is time to lead.
It is time.
It is time.
It is time.