you have permission not to wait for permission



Sheryl Sandberg gave a talk to some Facebook employees. She informed the audience that she had time for two more questions. Hands continued to wave, so she continued the Q & A.

Afterward she went back to her desk and found a young woman waiting for her. Sandberg asked if she’d learned anything from the talk, and the young woman said, “I learned to keep my hand up.” Sandberg asked what she meant, and the woman told her, “After you took those two final questions, I put my hand down and all the other women put their hands down. A bunch of men kept their hands up and then you took more questions.”

The men ignored the question limit and went for it, keeping their hands in the air. What did they have to lose? Nothing…

…Sandberg admits she didn’t notice that only women had taken their hands down, because after all, why would she have noticed what wasn’t there?

from the book KNOWING YOUR VALUE: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brezezinski.

This reminds me of what my father often told me when I was growing up: don’t interrupt.

Early in adulthood, when seated with highly intelligent, passionate, opinionated people of both sexes, I learned that if I didn’t interrupt someone who was often interrupting me (usually a man) I would never get a word in edgewise.

I had to jump into the fray, wearing high heels and a dress.

The legacy of nice-girl training is that when you do speak up and put yourself out there – when you keep your hand up – you worry about being intrusive and obnoxious.

Not so long ago, in a situation that resembled group therapy, several people (both men and women) commented on how my presence “went in and out”. Sometimes I owned my space, and sometimes I gave it up. When I owned it (through my body language and the whole ‘being present’ thing), people listened to me. When I didn’t (when I got shy and uncertain and my body language showed that, or when I mentally vacated), they ignored me. They didn’t see me so of course they wouldn’t listen. Why would they notice what wasn’t even there?

So I realized that the distinction I was making between being nice and being obnoxious had more to do with being seen and not-seen.

And it was usually within my control. I was going in and out of hiding. Being ‘visible’ had become equated, in my mind, with ‘being in danger’. What I’ve learned is that invisibility can be the most dangerous of all.

We end up serving a status quo that doesn’t serve us.

We play by rules set by people who themselves will ‘break’ or ‘disrupt’ them.

So someone like Tom Matlock can write

Is it sexism that causes men to go where women have not yet? I don’t think so. The Internet is a great equalizer. No one cares who the founder of a particular web company is. What they care about is whether or not the product works and solves a fundamental need. Again, people use Facebook despite hating Mark Zuckerberg, for the most part. And frankly, the really great companies are so great from the get-go that venture capital is hardly a roadblock. Google, Facebook, and the like took money only after they were massively successful.

If Mark Zuckerberg had been a woman, the world wouldn’t have boycotted Facebook. If the product worked, we all would have used it—probably more than if an unlikeable guy was the founder. But no woman has stepped forward with a revolutionary idea that has turned into a multi-billion dollar transformative company.

Of course, the reasons why we don’t ‘step forward’, why we have internalized so many reasons not to keep our hands in the air, do have something to do with the conditioning we internalized growing up. (Tom so neatly steps over this not-insignificant point.)

We learn to disconnect from ‘negative’ emotions – like anger – that can, when used constructively, serve as catalyst for personal or social change.

We learn that our competitive drive isn’t proper (unless we’re competing in the Hotness Olympics, or with each other, or for men).

We learn that if we’re not the right kind of girl, we won’t get love. In fact, we will get cast from the herd. It’s hard to keep your hand in the air when the primitive part of your brain equates that with the risk of social exile, and thinks social exile = death.

And meanwhile some people – always men, at least in my experience – advance theories that women are intellectually inferior because where are the great female physicists and chess players (because that, of course, is the only way to evaluate intelligence), or use bad science to ‘explain’ why women love housework (I am not kidding, this was in the 1950’s) or why women are masochists (looking at you ,Freud, even though you’re cool in other ways).

Because when you don’t communicate your truth, someone else communicates it for you.

What really hurts us, I think, is when we continue to play small even though we don’t ‘have’ to. We play by the rules instead of making our own. We’re told to sign on the dotted line, so we do, without understanding what it costs us.

We take our hands down.

We wait for permission.

Aug 26, 2011

18 comments · Add Yours

Hmmm… thanks sounds like a book I want to read, another book’s going on the list.



While I don’t disagree many women refrain from being outspoken [although that’s not true of most of the ones I know], I don’t think the specifics you note back-up your gender-based difference:
At the FB talk, for example: while some men kept their hands up, and no women did — I’d bet *most of the men* there also complied and put their hands down.
And Zuckerberg didn’t succeed because he was a man, but because he was smart and driven. *Most people* are nowhere near that smart, or that driven.
It’s not that women alone “have internalized so many reasons not to keep our hands in the air.” That’s true of almost everyone. There are few exceptions. Maybe most of the exceptions are men, and maybe that is because of testosterone and aggression. But it’s a small number of exceptions, and it’s a stretch to go from them to generalize gender differences as if they apply to everyone this way.
But we live in a society where just about everyone is trained to follow the crowd, and not raise a rucus or stir a wave or whatever old expression that says fit in, don’t stand out.
Some of my earliest memories are of breaking away from a crowd of kids at school, and the reactions I got. While I was happy to be different, and wondered what the heck was wrong with everyone else, no one said hey, it’s okay for you to break the rules because you’re a boy. [And today it’s worse: I’d likely be forced onto Ritalin, as are a large number of young boys, and very few girls.]


Fascinating. Contrast that with this, also just out: Nobody wants to be that guy, do they? Or maybe, we’d kinda like to be? :)


@Paul Worthington I definitely think the problems of ‘niceness’ affect both sexes. But women are taught to sacrifice themselves, their ambition, their aggression in ways that men aren’t, and that does lead to some interesting gender differences.


Overgeneralization alert!

Men = boundry testers/pushers = assertive = resource gathering.

Women = boundry setters/stabilizers = compromising = group cohesion.

The worst thing that idea ever is the idea that there’s anything like true equality, and that we can be made equal.

We everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Do I pull you down to my level in writing ability, and blame you because you happen to be better at it than me?

Or, do ‘I’ find out my own personal strength and weaknesses. Work to improve where I can and find work arounds and people to support me where I’m not.

Men and women are different and we need to get over it and come together.
If mother nature wanted us to be interchangeable, we would be.

My 2 cents,


I found myself nodding so often reading this post, I probably looked like one of those bobble heads. LOL.

I came to this wisdom only after I turned 40. I looked around and realized it didn’t matter what other people thought about me. It mattered what *I* thought of me. And that’s when I started writing in earnest. Now 7 years later, I’m finally not only keeping my hand raised, I’m standing up in the middle of the room. Taking charge of my future and my dreams feels so incredible. I wish I’d had the guts to do it decades ago.


:shakes head: Soooo, don’t suppose you saw the post I put up today. I swear I’m not trying to talk myself up/use your comment section for promo, but we seem to be speaking from the same place a lot lately. More to come next week, as I haven’t (and I’m sure won’t) worn out the topic. :)

“Because when you don’t communicate your truth, someone else communicates it for you.” This gave me shivers. This whole post did, really.

Women, especially, undervalue themselves for the sake of others. We think if everyone else is happy, we are okay, we can be happy. In my experience, I did it as a way for people to like me; I wouldn’t dare rock the boat or I risked being unloved. Worse, it was a cage I put myself in. Something I am learning as I mature is that often, no one is trying to marginalize me. I do it all by myself. People don’t mind if I speak up. In fact, not only do they keep loving me, they usually respect me more for it. (And if they are affronted, they probably aren’t someone I want to know anymore, anyway, so what’s the loss?)


GREAT post! Thanks for firing me up! :)


This an observation for Jess Corra:

“shakes head: Soooo, don’t suppose you saw the post I put up today. I swear I’m not trying to talk myself up/use your comment section for promo, but we seem to be speaking from the same place a lot lately. More to come next week, as I haven’t (and I’m sure won’t) worn out the topic. :)”

This is asking permission and saying, please still like me I’m not being pushy.

Be pushy! Promote yourself! (Honestly, this is why guys get payed more than the girls, just FYI.) Shout from the top of the highest peak this is what I believe, and if you don’t like it piss on you. (But only if you want to. I be a guy, so I do this naturally. I get into a lot of conflicts.)

Be fearless,


It’s interesting because this hasn’t been my experience at all. I come from a situation in which my mother out earned my father {starting in the 80’s}, and he became the only dad I knew who retired, as a result, at the age of 50.

Both my parents raised me {as well as both my brothers} to wait for an appropriate opening during a conversation, rather then interrupting. I never felt either was telling me to play small. And, despite their good teachings, I interrupt all the time. lol In fact, I am the most outspoken of us all.

There have been times in my life when I’ve realized I could be bigger and bolder and so I was. Wondering what I might have internalized as a young girl that could contribute to that moment of being slightly less big than I am capable of being, doesn’t interest me. It’s the noticing and taking action to change it that I find to be most valuable. Because, I believe, we ALL have moments of playing not-quite-as-big as we could be and if we spend our energy looking for which gender is {maybe} responsible for our action or inaction, we’re missing a greater opportunity for raising everyone {including ourselves} up.



Thanks for writing this. Although I found myself agreeing with pretty much the entire post, I wanted to add my two cents. I think very often, men are also socialized to push the limit. They’re rewarded for being aggressive and goodness knows what social pressures get placed upon men that showed sensitivity, boundaries, or following the rules. At the same time, I found that even when women do keep their hands up and tried to push the limit, there were higher chances of negative connotations placed on the women and as you said, fear of social exile. Example, women get called ballbusters and men getting call wusses. Just my thoughts.


“And meanwhile some people – always men, at least in my experience – advance theories that women are intellectually inferior because where are the great female physicists and chess players (because that, of course, is the only way to evaluate intelligence)…”

And the thing is, too, that there have been great women scientists, physicists, and I’m sure chess players too, but a lot of them just don’t make it on to the history books – for multiple reasons. Just because you didn’t learn about them in school doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (Proverbial you, not Justine-you.)


That was a truth that felt like sandpaper going down. My mama was the good girl, her mama was the good girl, their husbands married them because they wanted good girls – the ones who “make nice” and never make a stink. Sometimes I revert to being the good girl because it was the example that was set for me and because its so much easier at the time, but geez, its never felt right and I end up paying inside.

Next time I see the woman who keeps her hand up, I’ll remind myself to give her praise.


Oh, exactly. Don’t think for one second I was implying that — I was paraphrasing that old ‘argument’ that gets trotted out.


:shrug: I’m a work in progress, Josh. I’ll assume you popped over to my blog, then? :D


Aren’t we all a work in progress.

Yes I did go take a look. :-)

I fined it’s hard to see our own blind spots, that’s why felt a need to say something.

Take care,


I loved this post, and reading the comments was even more interesting. One thing I’ll note is that of course girls and women need to be encouraged to not play so “nice” all the time, assuming that pushing the limits is the “right” thing to do is just playing into sexism again. How about some respect for the speaker who wanted to only take two more questions? Women’s ways of being, which include being more cooperative generally, are highly undervalued. We don’t want to just learn some of men’s ways, they need to learn some of ours (or lots of ours).


I believe it is the men who should change, not the women. In this particular case there was no significant harm in keeping one’s hand up (although I tend to think more like Sandra above). The problem is, on any given day we see people using the same rationale to throw civility out the window in an attempt to gain an edge. Just look at traffic to see where this ends. Emulating an old and tired male behavior may solve some immediate problems but it won’t bring about the new order the world needs. A tough creative challenge, I know, but far more interesting than perpetuating the less desirable aspects of masculinity through imitation.


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