Recently I was working with a group of adults. I was running a session on stress and so we got to talking about how to manage conflicting demands. One woman talked about how hard it was to say ‘No’ to her friends. Even though she didn’t want to go out with them as she was tired, she felt like she ‘ought’ to go, and described how guilty she felt at even the idea of letting them down.
It was a mixed group, and so I asked people to raise their hands if they too would feel guilty about saying ‘No’ to friends in a similar situation. Half the room put their hands up; the female half.
Roll back a few more weeks and another group were talking about the word ‘bossy’. Again, I asked how many people had ever been called ‘bossy’ in their life. Again, half the room put their hands up; the female half.
Women telling other women or men what to do, or taking charge or leading, it turned out, were called ‘bossy’, whereas men doing the same things were seen as leaders. Men felt no guilt about putting their own needs first, women did.
These are, I believe, social constructions and social constructions which are unhelpful to women. If we worry about being thought of as ‘bossy’, we don’t take the lead. If we feel guilty about letting people down, then we always put other people first which means our own needs, projects, ideas get pushed to the side and so often, forgotten.
On International Women’s Day we need to take back control. We need to decide to lead and speak out and stand out even if people call us ‘bossy’. We need to put what we want, what we need and what we believe and have to say at least on a par with everyone else. We need to make space and time for our self even if it means letting other people down. We can feel the guilt and do it anyway.
Woman’s Hour this morning was talking about the Women of the World festival at the South Bank. Women, it seems are the leaders in sustainability and in action against poverty. Goodness knows that these are issues that need addressing. Think what else we women could do if we stopped believing our social conditioning and just got on with standing out and taking our place in the world. The world needs us, so let’s stop believing the ‘bossy’ and the guilt and get out there to just do what we can do anyway.
Happy International Women’s Day
ps you might also like this piece about women's magic in the world.