Maybe she was just a bot looking to rack up a high follower count. That’s what I hope to be the case. Why? Because every picture on her social media account emphasized one of her body parts.
Her parts were lovely, but skin wrinkles. Boobs and bums sag.
So, this is what puzzles me. Why would a woman want to define herself by something that’s fleeting when so much of what makes a woman unique and wonderful is everlasting?
It breaks my heart to see a cover picture on social media of a woman’s dramatic cleavage or sumptuously curved booty instead of her face. Those body parts are amazing things to have (can only imagine), however, women are so much more than their body parts.
A woman’s whole self—her personality, intellect, abilities—can get separated from her appearance in unhealthy ways.
What we see in the media
Much of what we see in the media encourages gender stereotypes, unhealthy thinking about body image, or objectifies women. Consider:
98 percent of the women portrayed in advertisements are ultra-thin with large breasts. Only 5 percent of women have that body type.
Women were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine 30 percent of the time between 1967 and 2009. 83 percent of those images were sexualized. Only 15 percent of the images of men were sexualized.
The average woman is 5’ 3” tall and weighs 164 pounds; the average model is 5’ 11” tall and weighs 115 pounds.
81 percent of 10-year old girls in the U.S. are afraid of being fat.
From 2006 to 2016, ads portrayed just one in four women as having a job (and to top it off women were 48 percent more likely to be shown in the kitchen).
Between 2006 and 2016 women were shown in sexually revealing clothing six times more than men. In 2017 that dropped from six times to five times, but the number of female characters shown in sexual revealing clothing overall remained the same (one in 10).
In some ads, a woman is a faceless object, reduced to features which are sexualized as objects of desire.
Women’s body parts are four times more likely to be included in advertisements than a man’s.
If women aren’t vigilant about monitoring these influences, they can begin to see themselves as a collection of body parts—only good for looking good. This inclination to reduce a woman to “piece parts” is borne out by the findings that women are more likely to be seen by other women and men as parts rather than as a whole person. Men are seen as a whole person.
What research says about a focus on body parts
This priming to focus on body parts and appearance negatively impacts women’s views of gender equality and social issues. Psychologist Rachel Calogero observes that “women who were primed to evaluate themselves based on their appearance and sexual desirability had a decreased motivation to challenge gender-based inequalities and injustices.” Ugh.
Are women and their worth doomed to being judged by their appearance and body parts?
The body parts researchers modified their experiment to prime individuals to think of women as a whole, not a body part. The result? “The sexual body part recognition bias appeared to be alleviated. Women were more easily recognizable in the context of their whole bodies instead of their various sexual body parts.”
For a little while some years ago, I let myself get sucked into to the appearance-is-everything mindset and became the gal with killer shoes and size 8 clothes.
I wanted to be known for looking good and for being smart and powerful. The last two were getting lost in the shuffle because I was leading with appearance. I was miserable.
7 ways to get comfy in your own skin
I learned to get comfy in own skin—liking myself no matter my dress size—after learning seven life lessons:
Appreciate that appearance is fleeting but that talents last a lifetime
Understand that the best power comes from the inside out, not the outside in
Surround ourselves with people who appreciate us for what we are, not how we look
Believe that we are not just a collection of body part but rather the beautiful sum of our looks, brains, personality, and talents
Accept that looking good, not air-brushed perfection, is enough
Boot the fellas who are more interested in arm candy than a woman with brains and opinions
Celebrate who and what we are, smiles lines, muffin tops, and less-than-perfect upper arms included.
What has helped you get comfy in your skin? What insights do you share with your daughter? Grand-daughter? Female friends self-conscious about their appearance?
At one point in my career, I was a vice president in a Fortune 500 company that had $2 billion in annual revenues. I successfully managed a department of 150 people, consistently delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget.
When asked by the CEO to describe me, can you guess what my boss said?
He said I was a “soft and round Aunt Polly.”
Wow, that stung.
I can’t deny that I’m a woman. That I’m blonde. And that I’m overweight.
But why would my boss describe me by my appearance and sex instead of my accomplishments?
Because I’ve hit the trifecta of stereotypes. Tilt, tilt, tilt for being a dumb, fat broad.
It’s 2019, and gender stereotypes still exist that make it challenging for business women to be seen as both a good leader and a good woman.
That really troubles me.
What about you?
Is that the kind of workplace culture we want for our children and grandchildren?
For the women and men who want their kids and grandkids to have a different experience, now’s the time to partner up for change.
Provided both sexes are willing to modify a few workplace practices, together we can change how leadership is defined and practiced. Together, we can put an end to the stereotypes that limit the potential and passion of too many.
9 ways to say good-bye to gender stereotypes
Here are nine actions you can take to bring equity and gender-balanced inclusiveness to your leadership practices.
1. Be mindful of gender stereotypes that influence your thinking about which sex is better suited for certain kinds of work.
Social conditioning nudges people to think about leadership in terms of masculine traits, a practice that puts women and feminine attributes at a disadvantage.
If you find yourself thinking that men make the better bosses because they’re good at taking charge and women the better assistants because they’re the best at taking care, stop. If you always ask the women in your meetings to take the notes or plan parties, stop. If you question the leadership potential of a kind-hearted man, stop. If you describe assertive women as shrill, stop.
Stereotypes push us to apply a specified set of expectations to a whole group of people, whether they apply or not. When we do that, we ignore individual attributes and deny people their potential.
2. Check for inconsistencies in how you select a man or a woman for a job or evaluate their promotion readiness.
Research tells us that women are judged on their past performance, men on their future potential. Why not evaluate all candidates on both their past performance and future potential?
3. Assure that all voices are heard equally in the meetings you conduct.
If the men keep interrupting the women, call them out. If the women remain silent, call them into the discussion. If anyone co-opts an idea that someone presented earlier, assure that proper attribution is given.
4. Monitor how you pay your people.
If you supervise others, look for—and correct—any wage disparities that exists between sexes, ethnicities, etc., holding the same positions.
5. Sponsor both women and men and be proactive about it.
For anyone who has the audacity to insinuate that an inappropriate relationship exists in a mixed sex sponsorship, call out their boorish and stereotypical thinking.
6. Let go of the incorrect myth that power always corrupts.
There are those who use the power of their position for personal gain, but don’t confuse power with the selfish person using it. Power reveals what a person already was.
7. Avoid the “parent” trap.
When a man becomes a parent, it’s assumed he’ll be more dedicated to his work because he has a family to support. When a woman becomes a parent, it’s assumed she’ll be less dedicated to her work because she has a family. Be on the lookout for these incorrect assumptions. Along the same lines, don’t penalize either moms or dads for using family leave time.
8. Don’t confuse physical presence with true inclusion.
Just because there’s a woman or a minority on a team doesn’t mean there’s an inclusive, participative environment with meaningful engagement. Ask yourself some tough questions about whether your leadership practices are reflective of real participation or just window dressing presence.
9. Be willing to be vulnerable so your biases can be detected and managed.
While we all work hard to not be biased, we still are. Create mechanisms so that the presence of biases, gender and otherwise, can be safely and nonjudgmentally identified and eliminated.
Seeing someone else’s biases is much easier than seeing our own. That means using tact, grit, kindness, persistance, and grace are essential for achieving progress, openness, and inclusion.
Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author
As you head out to work tomorrow, remember the shining eyes and hopeful faces of your children. Build the kind of place where you would want them to work.
In Silicon Valley’s bro-culture, women face gender stereotypes that prevent recognition of their actual abilities and gender biases that obstruct their career advancement. Nevertheless, without waiting for their companies’ cultures to change, women can utilize effective communication techniques to avoid or overcome these career-limiting biases.
The trick is to present themselves – using verbal and nonverbal behavior – so they are perceived as competent, confident, committed to their careers, and capable of leadership, without being perceived as pushy, bossy, abrasive, or unpleasant.
That is, they are often seen either as too soft (likable but not competent and confident) or too hard (competent but not likable), and rarely just right. This double bind results from the pervasive nature of traditional gender stereotypes: women are (and are expected to be) kind, caring, pleasant, modest, supportive, and sensitive; men are (and are expected to be) independent, competitive, decisive, aggressive, strong, action-oriented, and unemotional.
When a member of either sex deviates from these expected behavioral patterns there is backlash.
Pressure to conform
Because of the possibility of backlash, women (often unconsciously) tend to conform to these gender stereotypes.
They often speak and write about themselves tentatively and with diffidence; they often downplay their personal contributions; recount their successes hesitantly; and understate their career goals.
By conforming to these traditional gender stereotypes, a woman is viewed as pleasant and likable but without the drive, competence, and ambition of her male counterparts. But when a woman ignores this expected gendered-communication script and explicitly displays the characteristics of an effective, competent, confident leader, she is likely to be seen as unpleasant, abrasive, and unlikable.
Hence the Goldilocks Dilemma: conform to traditional gender stereotypes and be dismissed as lacking leadership potential; violate these traditional stereotypes and be socially isolated, professionally penalized, and viewed as unlikable.
Whether you work in Silicon Valley or another male-dominated field, attuned gender communication can help you overcome the Goldilocks Dilemma.
Once you understand the gender stereotypes and how they operate to hold you back, you are in a position to take control of your career—even in today’s gender-biased workplaces.
It’s a balancing act
By managing the impressions other people have of you, you can come across as confident and warm, competent and collaborative, tough-minded and likeable. Different communication techniques are needed for different situations; sometimes you will need to dial up your forcefulness, and sometimes you will need to dial it down. But in all situations, you should be able to communicate in an articulate, engaging, and confident manner without coming across as shrill, aggressive, or unpleasant.
It may take some practice, but by balancing the soft with the hard, you can avoid the Goldilocks Dilemma and get ahead in your career – even in Silicon Valley.
Today’s LeadBIG guest contributors are Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris, authors of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, (Bibliomotion, Brookline, Mass. 2016). Join the conversation at www.AndieandAl.com.
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the following core passage in a book a local businessman had written. He’d asked me to help him promote it. This is the sentence that blew me away: “Remove people from your life whose beliefs, ideas, and values aren’t aligned with yours. Make no compromises here.”
To me, that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. I don’t always succeed, but I try to keep an open heart and mind toward those who see the world differently than I do.
I asked the writer if we could meet and talk, saying I wanted to understand why he felt that way. He agreed to meet. When I asked him to give me the backstory as to how he’d come to think that way, he said he was surprised by my question.
“You struck me as being smart,” he said. “I thought you’d understand that position. To me, that sentence says it all. No further elaboration needed. Why clutter up your life with people who are wrong? Do you agree with me or not?”
“I don’t agree.”
“Then we have nothing to discuss now. Or ever.”
True to his beliefs, he removed me from his life. Got to hand it to him—he walked his talk.
These days including only those people who agree with us and excluding others is a common practice. To my way of thinking, that’s scary, limiting, and unnecessarily hurtful.
The human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small. ~Elaine Scarry,Teaching for a Tolerant World
Seeing sameness as both good and bad
Uniformity and conformity arecomforting. When things are same, we know what to expect, how to react. We know where the boundaries are.
The word homophily was created by sociologists in the 1950s to describe the human tendency to “love the same,” that is, our preference to seek out those who share similar characteristics and beliefs. This preference creates the unintended consequence of forming ingroups that have the “right” views and outgroups that have the “wrong” ones. The “us versus them” stuff.
From our periodic chats, the writer/businessman had deduced that I shared his view. We all make these snap judgments about people or situations based on our perceptions, definition of reality, and way of sense-making. From those data points, we draw boundaries—the who’s in, who’s out, who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s the same, who’s not stuff.
What if there’s no need for boundaries?
In a highly connected, interdependent world that’s overflowing with diversity, isn’t demanding sameness unfeasible and fuel unnecessary discord? Why can’t difference broaden our lives rather than narrow them and help us keep an open heart and mind?
4 categories of beliefs
Curious about the ways in which beliefs can vary, I did some research and discovered four groupings of beliefs that contribute to us seeing the world differently from those around us. These four groups represent vast arenas for varying views and approaches:
Moral beliefs, which are our code of conduct for welfare and justice in how we treat one another.
Conventional beliefs, which are our expectations for appropriate behavior.
Psychological beliefs, which is our understanding of ourselves and others.
Metaphysical beliefs, which is our faith and spiritual views.
In our empty nest household, hubby and I bring yin and yang to most everything we do. While there’s the occasional conflict, we’ve come to love the serendipity and growth associated with our differing thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and preferences. Our lives have been made richer by the exposure to what’s different.
In a world populated with over 7 billion people and as many opinions, expecting sameness and alignment seems unrealistic. When faced with the smorgasbord of differences, what I’d love to see happen is people replacing intolerance for differences with respect, acknowledgment, and inclusion.
Accepting that what we believe to be true might not be the only truth is a big shift in thinking. Making that mental and emotional shift to keep our minds and hearts open requires a boatload of courage, determination, resilience, and grace. Two tools can help us with that shift .
2 tools to keep an open heart and mind
One tool is reflective thinking, a concept introduced in 1910 by educator John Dewey.
Dewey defined reflective thinking as the “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends.”
Reflective thinking is critical thinking in which we think about our thinking. We mindfully evaluate our thought processes to see if we’ve made the unexamined examined. That is, we thoughtfully assess whether or not assumptions, pre-conceived beliefs, or stereotypes have unconsciously colored our decisions.
Without reflective thinking, we can fancy ourselves being tolerant while still being prejudiced.
The other tool is building tolerance for ambiguity.
Confirmation bias, which is us seeing what we unconsciously choose to see and ignoring facts to the contrary, sucks us in all the time. When we do that, we inadvertently let confirmation bias negatively impact how we assess people and situations.
We escape confirmation bias by nurturing our capacity to accept deviation and uncertainty in what we define as being the truth. We let go of rigid boundaries, like the writer’s assertion to “Remove people from your life whose beliefs, ideas, and values aren’t aligned with yours.” We resolve to keep an open heart and mind.
Building a tolerance for ambiguity means forfeiting a measure of certainty, sameness, and control. Building a tolerance for ambiguity means we let go of dogma and become skilled in both doubting and believing.
Call to action
Sadly I’ll never know what motivated that businessman to adopt his position and defend it so fiercely. Was it dogma? Bigotry? Fear? Something else? His refusal to engage leaves me guessing.
If it were within my power, I’d create a golden rule about making room for everyone. I’d enable people everywhere to replace their fear of not knowing or being right with unconditional positive regard for themselves and others.
Making figurative room for everyone wouldn’t mean having to accept someone’s differing viewpoint. All it would require is simply acknowledging without judgment that everyone has a right to believe and think differently. No one’s right or wrong, just different; and that’s OK.
We were all enjoying the last remnants of sunlight, watching a mixed sex group of 12-year-olds play soccer.
One fierce and fearless girl was playing for the visiting team. Her ponytail danced in the wind as she did a stop and go, completely fooling her opponent. She’d get tripped, fall to the ground, and immediately jump up and fly after the ball.
Her performance was delighting many on the sidelines, but not all.
“Girls shouldn’t be allowed to play soccer with the boys,” solemnly proclaimed one dad. “They could get hurt.”
Yes, they could. But so could the boys.
Several of the women on the sidelines tried to engage him—in a very friendly and non-threatening way—in a conversation about letting girls have the opportunity to play with the boys.
He wasn’t buying any of it.
A teachable moment about benevolent sexism (a chivalrous attitude toward women that feels favorable but is actually sexist because it casts women as weak creatures in need of protection) didn’t happen.
Everyone sees, thinks, feels, and acts from their own unique perspective. Variety makes life interesting. However, sometimes we get stuck in the rightness of our opinions and beliefs and fail to notice how the world around us is changing.
If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death. ~Daniel Quinn, The Story of B
This dad had once seen a girl injured during a co-ed soccer game. Now he believed girls’ participation should be limited because they, in his opinion, aren’t up to the physical challenge.
Peter Elbow, a professor who writes extensively about doubt and belief, observes how our beliefs can blind us. “The flaws in our own thinking usually come from our assumptions—our ways of thinking that we accept without noticing. But it’s hard to doubt what we can’t see because we unconsciously take it for granted.”
Out of concern, this dad had created a boundary that limited opportunity.
That evening, he wasn’t ready to be curious and explore his assumptions. Dr. Elbow suggests that “our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking is to enter into different ideas or points of view—ideas that carry different assumptions. Only after we’ve managed to inhabit a different way of thinking will our currently invisible assumptions become visible to us.”
Here’s hoping that someday this dad will be open “to inhabit a different way of thinking” so he can gain a better understanding of how certain notions unfairly hold women back.