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Colluding with the Patriarchy

 
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I consider myself a feminist. As a co-founder of a business that supports emerging female leaders, I’d even go so far as to call myself an activist in the gender equity space. And, truth be told, I’ve been giving my power away to men for the majority of my life. In ways big and small, intentional and unintentional, I have colluded with the patriarchy. It’s a nagging habit that’s been challenging, at times, to break.

I’ve been curious lately about when this habit of giving my power away to men was born. How did it evolve? And when did it become normal?

A variety of factors have, no doubt, contributed to my choices including: social conditioning, survival instincts, and professional ambition. My experience in this regard is by no means unique. With three brothers and being the first female born on my father’s side in three generations, I sensed my other-ness early-on. I was special and, most of the time, I was treated that way. Sometimes special treatment came in the form of praise and attention. Other times it meant I’d be expected to live by a separate set of rules. Some rules were articulated to me. Others were unspoken. Like a lot of young kids, I became obsessed with being accepted in my pre-pubescent years. I spent an enormous amount of time strategizing about how to do this. Daily decisions hinged on how my popularity may or may not be impacted. From the clothes I wore, to what I ate for lunch, to who I chose to be friends with. By the age of eleven I had, quite consciously, developed a fool-proof method for succeeding in being liked, and even loved:

  1. Be pretty
  2. Don’t stand out too much
  3. Make boys like you
  4. Don’t be a slut

And it worked.

As a kid, popularity is power. Keeping my power meant colluding with the boys; getting them to accept and like me. To that end, I became an expert in figuring out what boys liked and how I could adapt to meet it. I was an abnormally neurotic teen, living in constant fear that I could “fall from grace” at any moment by so much as wearing the wrong shade of lipstick.

The striking thing is that the strategies for success that came from my 11-year-old brain were evergreen. I think about my dating practices as a heterosexual adult… the carefully selected images and words I pored over when crafting online dating profiles… all guided by the same principles:

  1. Be pretty
  2. Don’t stand out too much
  3. Make boys like you
  4. Don’t be a slut

And then, again, as a thirty-something in the workforce:

  1. Be pretty (hello, LinkedIn profile pic)
  2. Don’t stand out too much (read “culture fit”)
  3. Make boys like you (guess who’s making *most* hiring decisions?)
  4. Don’t be a slut (see: slut-shaming)

The lesson: when men approve, you will be liked, possibly loved, and successful.

The insult of what happened in the 2016 US election and the public discourse that has transpired since has given me a heightened awareness around my experience and habits. I’m more committed now to standing, unapologetically, in my full power.

We need to stop colluding with the idea that this is a man’s world. Start believing that this is your world and that it is your birthright to succeed in it. Yes, the patriarchy is a real thing. White, male men in this country are undeniably privileged. And you can choose whether to live your life by their rules or your own. Becoming conscious is key. Ask yourself:

“When do I give my power away? To whom do I give it away to?”

Once we are aware, we get to be at choice. We can choose to live by our own values or by someone else’s. We can choose to shrink or stand the f*ck up.

As Marianne Williamson wrote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do….It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Shine on,

Gina

 
Gina Restani