This is the the transcript of the League of Badass Women Podcast Episode 3: Conversations Between Generations & Perpetuation of Internalized Misogyny? You can listen to all the episodes on Soundcloud.
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Valerie: Welcome to the League of Badass Women Podcast. I’m your host, Valerie Orth. In today’s episode we are looking at intergenerational dialogue: how we talk to young girls, how women treat each other in the workplace, and who decides what our cultural norms are anyway? And how that all relates to internalized misogyny or “the nasty voice” as it was so appropriately called in our previous episode.
Sandhya Rao is a born and bred Jersey girl, entrepreneur, nutritionist, dog lover, and avid globe trotter. She co-hosted the very first Washington DC Power Talk.
Sandhya: One woman talked about how she read this article around how we talk to little girls and realized she actually does it herself — when we see little girls especially when she’s all dolled up in a pretty little outfit or whatever, you are compelled to say how cute you are or don’t you look so pretty, and just the words that we use have a lot of meaning and she came to understand that she should maybe choose her words a bit more carefully and in a more balanced way. And on the flip side there was a woman there who’s a mother to a young girl and she was saying when she had her daughter she really reflected a great deal on the language and how we choose to speak to young girls and so her nickname for her daughter from a very young age was smarty-pants.
Jeannine: It’s definitely a challenge retraining our brain.
Valerie: That’s Jeannine Harvey. She co-hosted the DC Power Talk with Sandhya. Jeannine works on gender issues and is mom to two junior bad ass girls. Her two mottos: “Stay curious.” and “Action is the antidote to despair.” Our daily reminder to listen, learn and act.
Jeannine: I have two daughters. Taking them to the grocery store to buy birthday presents for their friends — girls items are on one shelf, boys items on another shelf. How do we find things that aren’t necessarily just for girls or just for boys or in those colors? It’s just a whole thought process that I’m trying to work through with my daughters.
Valerie: And I spoke to Catherine Connors who’s the founder and executive director of Demeter Media. She’s the president or Women Rising and author of the book “The Feminine Revolution.” She recently hosted the first Power Talk in Los Angeles, California.
Catherine: Just the idea of the tomboy, which is a term I have a lot of trouble with, because I think that it’s problematic that the only way we can describe a certain type of girl is on masculine terms, like we just don’t have language for it, right? Or we insist that a certain type of girl can’t, you know, has to be defined in masculine terms because it’s not feminine. We don’t have the corollary for boys, right? We just have this idea that if you are adventurous, if you are independent, exploratory, if you skin your knees, then that’s a masculine thing. We describe it.. If you’re a boy who does that, then you’re a boy. If you’re a girl, then you must be a “tomboy”. That starts really really young. My daughter was, I think, seven when she asked me if she was a tomboy, because she did “girl things” that she liked but she also liked, still likes, skateboards and exploration and skinning her knees. When you stop and think about it, it’s like, ugh, why are we defining this? You know, even just gendering it itself becomes a sort of stake in the ground. One of the other women in the room is a professor and she kept describing them as kids and then would apologize for describing them as kids because they are 18 to early 20s, but she had a lot of insights just in that context of talking to her students. She teaches writing and how they write through their own personal experiences and how she sees differences between younger generations attitudes towards feminine and masculine stereotypes and how they have a very different experience than those of us who are no longer 20 or 21 or 22. Especially, she says they do write a lot about sexual relationships and about rape and about consent and they’re really navigating that territory. But she said in reading what they write that they have really nuanced understandings of it.
They’re influenced by cultural conversations about thinking carefully about things like consent. And she gave one example of young men and young women needing to be compassionate with each other on the question of consent — not being permissive about it, but about young women understanding that boys and men are raised in a culture of misogyny enforces certain biases and so some things they just don’t know. She just found it very interesting how, both the nuanced and the thinking and about how they were bringing it to the table this question of how can we be in dialogue with each other and how can we compassionately understand that we all get acculturated in a misogynist society and how that impacts all of us.
Jeannine: Cross generations can be very challenging because the contexts are very different and the expectations are very different.
Valerie: And we’re back in DC.
Sandhya: This person said the generation above us were not quite the suffragettes but the — you know, sort of Gloria Steinem generation — but were the ones who really broke a lot of barriers that allowed us to break through in many ways and be able to advance into leadership positions. But if you interact with that generation in the workplace, because of how much they had to suffer to make things happen, and this goes back to the theme of lateral aggression in terms of women competing against women or in some cases women almost making things harder for other women. In the example that this woman gave, it was kind of like well we had to go through a lot, we suffered, we paid our dues and so you should too. And so, she felt that perhaps we should be having dialogues within our age cohorts first to kind of tease out what are the issues that are very specific to women of different generations and then bring those cohorts together for intergenerational dialogue, which I thought was interesting.
Jeannine: A friend of mine works for a pretty large non profit in DC, very large actually, and is an executive within this organization, she’s a vice president, and had to leave early one day last week to pick up her son and was reprimanded for that by a woman who is her boss.
Sandhya: Another conversation I was in a woman who was about to take over the helm of a major non profit said that the outgoing director, who was a woman, told her she needed to dress more professionally, and she already very much dresses professionally perhaps with the exception of showing her personality through a colorful scarf or blouse or something like that and this other women, you know the outgoing director, was older and it comes back to the intergenerational dialogue and the expectations of the older generation might have for how the younger generation needs to reflect on… in order to reflect well on women.
Every generation is becoming more and more aware of the impact of the sort of patriarchy on our own biases as women and men. So I may want to go out on a limb and say possibly the older generation because they had to really fight in the patriarchy where there were very few women in power they had to take on those masculine traits. You’ve heard stories or women in the 60s and 70s going to, I mean just watch Mad Men if you haven’t watched that show — women going to strip clubs because they don’t want to be left out of conversations that are happening whether it’s on the golf course or a strip club, right? That generation did a lot of things that were traditionally masculine so that they could actually earn that seat in the boardroom, but they were earning it by acting more like a man. I think subsequent generations, you know, see it a little differently, because there are more women in the workplace and it’s becoming more and more accepted, I believe, to actually be a woman and bring your whole self and hopefully it’s getting better and better.
But I think that internalized misogyny, despite the fact that it is still reflected in many ways on past generations, it’s potentially decreasing because we are more aware of biases as more and more women enter into leadership positions in the workplace and we see more of a gender balance. That’s my hope anyway.
I can share one example I gave about myself which was around makeup. I specifically talked about makeup but you can probably talk about heels or anything that has to do with your outward appearance. I think women, unlike men, are expected to dress in a certain way, look a certain way, have their hair in a certain way, wear high heels — whatever professional is sort of meant to look like for a woman. And I think that is especially true here in DC and I’m sure it’s true in other sectors, in other parts of the country and world, but in DC in particular I think people do tend to dress very formally and have themselves perfectly clothed with hair and nails done and makeup and all the rest and I guess I have always followed that because, not necessarily because it was expected of me, although that’s obviously the case, but because kind of interestingly it’s because I didn’t want people to focus on my hair and nails and makeup and shoes and outfit — I wanted them to hear what I had to say. And so my goal in kind of looking the part was to actually make sure that people didn’t notice that. Right, because it was like, already as a woman you have greater expectations placed on you but then if you are woman who maybe is looking a little drab or disheveled on a particular day people are more likely, women included, maybe in some ways women more so, which kind of comes back to the internalized misogyny.
When I mentioned this example somebody did say, “oh, well I do often look at women if they’re not dressed in a certain way I make past judgement on them.” We’re just so conditioned to reflect what’s expected of us, partly to fit in and partly to be taken seriously, so that we don’t automatically have any dings against us by not playing the part.
I think these podcasts and these, just the topics and the Power Talks are really giving all of us an opportunity to think more deeply about how we interact with each other in the workplace in particular, but also in our personal lives. I’ll just say for myself, somebody posted on Facebook this video of Jennifer Lawrence who just started this organization and they did a whole video about this organization and it was all about, you know, engaging very very locally in politics and it was really fascinating. It was very intellectual, very research driven, statistics heavy thing and Jennifer Lawrence narrated a lot of it and I couldn’t help but think, as I was watching this, I really wish she didn’t wear that crop top that exposed her midriff, because it just took away from what she was saying. It’s such a terrible thing to say. I mean, again, this is totally internalized misogyny, right? In my head I was thinking, oh like I wish she had worn something more conservative because then she’d be taken more seriously. I don’t know if that’s the case or not that’s what was happening in my head because I was projecting my own experiences on her.
Valerie: And then you were aware of it.
Sandhya: I was aware and the point is I was aware of that narrative, that internal dialogue that was happening.
Valerie: Yeah, hey it’s the first step.
Back in the LA Power Talk they got deep — for example: who defines what it means to be human?
Catherine: Characteristics and qualities that we would have to say are masculine in character but that happen to just get framed as human in our culture. Right, they are sort of the default of what it means to be human. So things like being assertive and dominant in practices of power, right power itself is defined in masculine terms and for a room of women who many of whom would describe themselves as sort of alpha, ambitious, that was something we all grappled with in some way. Balancing trying to navigate who we are while being very mindful of the biases that we’ve been taught and on the flip of that also being mindful of our biases in many respects against certain hallmarks of “femininity” feminine stereotypes. It’s if we define ourselves as not or like myself, I’m a mother but I’m also a mother who doesn’t consider herself very maternal or nurturing in traditional ways. But instead of navigating how much of that is just who I am as a person and how much of that is a social bias that I’ve just internalized over my four decades on the planet that it’s more powerful to not be maternal for example. It is one of the things that is sort of a sticking point to the conversation — is really calling out cultural biases in exactly that way.
There are a lot of characteristics we think of as just stereotypical characteristics of being human, right? Or aspects of being human that we, sort of, unconsciously understand in terms that once you start to unpack it are actually masculine and power is sort of the big one, the assertiveness, the things that are, accomplishment even to some extent, aggressiveness. And I think we recognize it in its most obvious forms we can see in the current political climate in the US and some of our political representatives. The toxic side of that is very very apparent but to a different extent we don’t really question the value that we place on certain models of competition or ambition or assertiveness and the way that we value them over things like cooperation or collaboration or compassion. And it’s not that these are necessarily biologically feminine or masculine because more often than not they’re not, but those are the things that have been subtly coded over a very very long time as masculine or feminine. They really do shape how we understand the value of women and girls or women and girl identifying people as against men.
Actually, I wrote a piece about two years ago it was in Boston and a few places on why I refuse to call my daughter a tomboy. What I related in that piece was that when I had that conversation with her initially I actually said to her that I prefer to think of her as a badass rather than a tomboy. And part of the work I sort of had to work through was like is that was sexist too? But for me it was better because it isn’t, there’s nothing necessarily masculine about it. Tomboy is a very gendered term, but to be a badass is to assert your right and freedom and ability to carve your own path, to be who you want to be, to choose who you are, to be the author of your own story and it happens that we call that a badass because it’s unusual. So we think of it as this power posture because it’s not something that people ordinarily do. Sadly it’s rare and sadly it’s even more rare for women and girls which is why I think some of us might think oh well that’s gendered too. That we think of men and boys as badasses but not women — I don’t think that needs to be true. It is something to do with asserting who you are and feeling like you have the right and freedom to assert who you are, whatever that looks like.
How have we just broadly been acculturated in a sexist culture that just makes us think all of this is the norm; this is just what it is to be human is to value things that are actually coded masculine over things that are coded feminine in that kind of really all pervasive cultural conditioning? How do we stay awake and aware and alert and push back? It’s a.. culture is a big big thing to push back on and this is not new, this is millennia right of cultural conditioning and it’s hard, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do it and that we shouldn’t do it.
Valerie: Hell yeah.
Special thank you to this episodes Power Talks hosts Catherine Connors of LA and Jeannine Harvey and Sandhya Rao of DC.