I recently attended an event for women in business with some female friends. I recently quit my job to pursue a business venture and establish my own psychology and coaching practise, my friend has been Managing Director of her own successful business for some years, and her friend in turn has recently gone out on her own having curated an accomplished reputation in her own respective industry. It is fair to assert that we are educated, independent and ambitious ladies.
Following insightful individual presentations and a stimulating panel discussion delivered by four charismatic and accomplished women, the floor was opened to questions. The audience, a cohort of intelligent, industrious ladies gathered with the shared motivation to seek inspiration, guidance and witty, intellectual wisdom from like-minded women, posed poignant questions to the panel, and interesting conversation ensued. On the topic of leadership and decisiveness, one woman referenced a lecture delivered by a celebrated academic which she had attended, wherein it was discussed that throughout history, men have seemingly made better leaders, quite possibly due to their ability to employ decisive strategy and commit to their decisions. Women, on the other hand, appear to waste much time on deliberation, with a deficient capacity for trusting their gut. How is it, this woman raised, that women appear to hesitate in trusting their gut, and struggle with indecision, when it is acknowledged that of the sexes, we are generally more emotionally intelligent? Shouldn’t logic dictate that this would serve to alleviate concerns or doubts about our emotional and gut reactions? After all, research tells us that decision making is an emotional process, not a logical one. And as we know, in business (as in life), making a decision – ANY decision – is better than not making one at all. The Q&A continued much in this fashion, with thought-provoking questions leading to reciprocally interesting conversation.
For the final question, a seemingly confident young woman took the microphone as we turned our focus eagerly to her in expectance of a satisfying dessert for thought to fittingly finish an empowering and intellectually fulfilling morning. She began by introducing herself and her business, then proceeded to proclaim that she had a confession to share, rather than a question to pose. As she continued to her confession, the air in the room sizzled with scarcely suppressed disdain and palpable shock and appal. This young, outwardly bright and confident professional woman stood in a room of similarly educated, ambitious women, and declared that up until a few weeks ago, she had been under the impression that men were more intelligent than women. She discussed how she is currently struggling with this belief, and though her previous conviction has faltered, she has not yet been able to accept that women and men share equal capacity for intelligence. A stilted silence hung briefly in the air before the panel composed their thoughts enough to formulate a sensitive response with a firm message to assure her that her unfortunate misconception was of course untrue.
As I sat there, taking this in, my first feelings were reactionary. I turned to my friends in disbelief and pure incredulity; they stared back at me with mirrored expressions of wide-eyed awe. As my brain fought to process the information it was receiving, I could barely contain my confusion, then my disdain.
Later that day, the event remained burning at the fore of my thoughts. I couldn’t stop running it over in my mind, grappling desperately with the revelation that had unravelled before me in the most unlikely of places, a forum for ambitious women to share experiences, learn from other successful females and collaborate with one another in a professionally driven social environment. I am sorry to admit that it wasn’t until I recounted the story to my husband that evening, with a sentiment of disgust, that I realised the profound sadness of the reality of what had transpired. After I had explained the incident, my husband’s response was to admonish my reaction, asking ‘don’t you think it’s sad that through her experiences, a young woman has been lead to hold such a damaging untruth as a core belief?’. I stopped dead in my tracks. He was right.
I am ashamed at how badly I missed the mark, here. As a female and a feminist, it saddens me that I reacted so wrongly. As I ruminated on my mental misstep, and the wider issue of what I had witnessed, I began to realise that, in many ways, those of us who have grown up with a fierce and deeply rooted awareness of our own equality and strength as women are the anomaly. In the face of persistent actions, behaviours and traditions that challenge this truth, from degrading and intimidating cat calls to the random ‘give us a smile, love’ commands of strangers; from the pressure of ‘pretty’ to the ‘leave the heavy lifting to the boys’; from the pay gaps to the glass ceiling and everything in between, is it any wonder that even in 2017, there are young, educated, professional, ambitious women who have been conditioned to feel an underlying sense of insecurity, of unworthiness, of second class citizenship as compared with their male counterparts?
This is why we need feminism. This is why we need to push and fight and not lay down and accept glacial convalescence of a broken and deeply twisted system. This is why we must Repeal the Eight, abolish the pay gap and demonstrate to our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, colleagues and friends that we are equal. We are strong. We are intelligent. We are capable. We are united.
And we will not be diminished any longer.