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?
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.