More has changed in the past 50 years, than in the past 500. Up until the turn of the 20th century, women were keepers of the household and were not even encouraged to speak outside the home. Their ideas and opinions were to be kept to themselves. They had no voice in government and were discouraged from employment as well. One of the primary aspects of being a “good girl” was to keep your voice down and speak, only when spoken to, by an adult. The whole world became accustomed to and expected women to be silent in public.
Now, women are 51% of the population and 49% of the workforce. They can no longer afford the high price of silence. One of the most powerful producers in Hollywood and Founder of Smart Girls, Amy Poehler, is reported as saying, “I’m trying to learn to talk slower. I’m aware that [as a woman] I worry about taking up too much of other people’s time, so I’m always talking really fast. I’m realizing that it’s okay for me to take time to pitch my ideas and that I deserve for others to listen to me.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his COO Sheryl Sandberg: “You worry too much about what people think about you, and it’s going to hold you back.” Women today still have to work to overcome obstacles and feelings of inadequacy in order to speak up in conference rooms and board rooms. If this holds true for some of the world’s most successful women, what does it say for the billions of other women fighting for an equal voice?
Society unconsciously shapes this mindset by using axioms from the past to instill antiquated beliefs in girls growing up today. Studies show that in kindergarten when children are asked if they would like to be president, boys and girls respond YES in equal numbers. Additional studies show that by 5th-grade girls stop raising their hands and participating in class. Those same girls are 25% less likely than boys to say they want to be a leader because they do not want to be labeled as bossy.
Why are assertive women slapped with labels like bossy or even worse, bitchy? Why can’t they earn labels of confident, skilled, and successful? Because there is still a social penalty for women who speak out, but who are not overly nice in their statement or request. Sadly, the thing that women continue to be rewarded for most is their physical appearance. This gives young women the notion that the only power they posses is in their body. It creates the myth that the singular path to riches, title and power is being sexy.
Understanding that most women are uncomfortable speaking is public helps to dissipate some of the fear of isolation. The woman who is conscious of her fear to speak up, and still does so, can use her voice for good. Not just her own good, but also so for the good of her family, her company, co-workers, community and less fortunate women around the world. She realizes that her intelligence, her ability to communicate, and her determination are the attributes that make her powerful. She thrives on growth, character building, and integrity. This woman shares her power with the world because she knows that what she has to say is valuable, and there is a difference that only she can make.
We can encourage the young women of today to embrace a limitless future. Once they begin to believe that they are bossy, they lose hope. There is no empirical evidence that women ever get their voices back. Ladies, we must consciously step up to the plate and get in the conversation. We must use our voices, for projects of meaning and purpose, even if they shake a little. Gentlemen, please encourage them and try not to interrupt when they finally have something to add to the conversation.