Sometimes when you bring a group of leaders together, you end up in a sadistic power struggle. I guess that pretty much describes our daily headlines. I first experienced this phenomenon during a month-long trek through southwest wilderness with fifteen other male and female leaders. I avoided leadership related events since. Well, until last week. The Graduate Public Administration Student Association at the University of Baltimore organized a panel of women leaders working for positive change. Unlike teen trekking struggle, I wanted to keep exploring the world with these folks. Because the other panelists and audience responded positively to my message, I wanted to share it. Note: I’m writing this from the context of a women’s leadership meeting that put patriarchy on trial. The LGBTQIA+ community and others helping challenge gender binaries can surely enrich this discussion as can women of color or others with experiences of marginality. I simply speak here from my experience.
It Matters What You’re the Leader Of
Once upon a time, we thought that putting women in positions of power would change the world. Well, at least I thought that. If women were CEOs, politicians, etc. then the world would be well. Underneath that believe lay an incorrect assumption: that women are good and men are often not. Of course, we want women in positions of power, but I think we want them in charge of organizations working for betterment of all people or at least doing no harm. If you’re the CEO of a big Pharma company that floods the market with drugs to create opioid addicts, you’re not doing us any good. If you’re working within the food industry and pushing products that promote sugar addiction, then that’s pretty questionable too, especially if your company lobbies to prevent policies that work to protect folks. If you’re the CEO of an organization that poisons rivers with its pollutants, you also might want to think again. Yes, change can happen on the inside, but only if you work towards that change. Many people get in and become so wrapped up in getting to the top, they lose sight of the ladder they’ve been climbing. It matters what you’re the leader of…
The feminist manifesto, Feminism for the 99%, says it this way, don’t break the class ceiling and leave everyone else to pick up the pieces.
Support Great Women
I absorbed another myth: in the professional world women want other women to fulfill their potential. Throughout my adult life, men often opened doors for men while women metaphorically tripped me on my way to a meeting. In my twenties, I vowed to support younger women especially if I perceive them to be more talented than I. Women can be so tough on other women. Male friends in tech observed a number of senior women closed the door when they reached the top. Moms can also judge each other harshly. Why fight for women power just to turn and criticize an exhausted parent? Come on, women, let’s be good to each other. I understand that working within systems of patriarchy doesn’t always bring out the best in us, but let’s be mindful of absorbing and perpetuating that system.
Note: If you have a daughter, consider sending her to Fleur de Lis Camp in New Hampshire. Four-generations of my family have attended where I continue to find such beautiful expressions of girl & womanhood. I’m sure there are others, I just know this one.
Shine the Light on Great Men Too!
There are a lot of really great men on this planet, men who trade their lives to save lives. Men of integrity, wisdom, and deep strength. During this #MeToo era in which women expose those who abuse their power, it is more important than ever to shine a light on the men who do NOT do this. Women can help bring out the best in men, no longer just with pompoms on the sidelines while wearing short skirts. We can do it at the negotiation table or dinner table.
It’s common for an oppressed group to simply want to replace the existing power structure with their own. Many women want to rule now; they’re sick of the patriarchy. Though, I warn just swapping patriarchy with matriarchy. Our world is filled with examples of victims becoming perpetrators. So often the oppressed becomes the oppressor. The way out of cycles of violence (structural & physical) is building new systems of equality. Instead of simply swapping roles, let’s create a culture promotes the healthy expressions of humanity. The audience laughed when I said, “Don’t beat down great men on your way to the top and then wonder why there’s no one to date when you get there!” They can relate. A lot of talented women struggle to find partners, but we all have a role in helping create these men. A number of women in my classes talk about the struggle to raise black boys in this still painfully racist world. We need to support the moms raising boys. We need to support those boys and those men. The book, Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood and the American Dream, talks about a generation of young men opting out in part because we have the women’s movement failure to acknowledge we still want them.
That’s all for now….