WHAT 26,000 WOMEN IN TECH TAUGHT ME

“Women don’t dress up for MEN, they dress up for other WOMEN”


It was a thing I had heard. Can’t remember when it was, but I remember the thought process: ‘yeah, I bet that’s true’ and that was it, I accepted it without much afterthought. Made sense, women wanting to look good and not wanting to be outdone by other women. Kind of a nice thought. Like we keep each other in check, nonverbally challenging each of us to be our best and look our best.

Well, hey, that’s actually a crock of shit. I mean, it IS also true…but it’s still a crock of shit. Let me explain.

This all dawned on me because last week I was at a conference in Orlando with 26,000 other women. It was the annual GRACE HOPPER CELEBRATION for Women in Tech. For 4 days I walked the halls, attended talks, and kicked my feet up during down time with 26,000 other gals from all over the globe – the most beautifully diverse group of women too. And it opened my eyes to a few things OTHER than the fact I know so very, very little about tech. I attended one talk about autonomous driving vehicles hoping to learn a few interesting tidbits only to realize it was quite literally ABOUT them, meaning all about the tech behind it and so after the introduction, I was completely lost.

So much was stirred up in me being there - the inspiration in seeing so many bright, talented, engaged, focused women all in one place and the ease and comfort I felt being among them all. I have never been in the presence of that many women, all women with an occasional male face popping up every so often. I was surprised how at home and relaxed it made me feel. Not that I expected it to feel horrible and make me angst-ridden but, hey, we all have had experiences of being in rooms with all women and it not feeling particularly hospitable. It was 100% opposite. It was warm, welcoming but not soft, mushy or girly. It was simply a non-issue. It was wonderfully FREE of any trope, of any sitcom version of a bunch of tech women…or a bunch of women, period.

I was giving my talk there on the 3rd day, GOOD GIRLS AREN’T CEOs, and 10 minutes before it, I ducked into one of the giant hotel bathrooms where I did my usual last-minute touch ups. I was putting on some concealer when a few things hit me at once. I had only seen ONE woman, up until that moment, putting on make-up. Anywhere. In any bathroom, in front of any mirror, any reflection…this young woman I noticed was on the first day. She was putting on some mascara to take a selfie in front of one of the big GHC2019 signs. But THAT WAS IT. As I scanned back it was visibly absent. Was it happening? Of course it was but it was so glaringly MISSING. Also, I glanced up while in the bathroom and noticed women noticing I was putting on make-up. Yeah, it hit them as odd too. I didn’t feel judged or pitied, more like, “I haven’t seen THAT in a few days” or “huh, wonder why she’s doing that.” And I started to too.

The women on the whole were dressed comfortably. Relaxed but still nice. Jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, flowy skirts. And lots of sneakers. I'd say 95% some sort of sneaker. Not sure if I even came across a kitten heel. And why? Why would there be the need? That’s where lots of a-ha’s started popping in my head…and that stupid quote came to mind: “Women don’t dress up for MEN, they dress up for other WOMEN.” Well, yeah, women dress for other women BECAUSE THERE ARE MEN AROUND. Because life can seem like a living, breathing beauty pageant and there are judges watching. And sometimes the judges are US…but that’s when we are agreeing to those rules. In THAT model – you know which one I mean, the one WE didn’t design ourselves but far too many of us seem quite content to play out, consciously and unconsciously – we are meant to feel we have to compete. Look our best, be camera-ready. Be the head-turner when we walk into a room. There are those who have the power (sadly, many of them don't but we believe they do, and so we hand it over to them…and so they do) and in order to get what we need or want, we have to be pleasing. We have look the part. And we need to out-do, out-shine, out-'feminine' the others to be noticed.

But not here. WHY????!!! Such a fascinating thing to consider! Clearly, it must have to do with the fact this is a conference for women in TECH. How you look is irrelevant in that world. Maybe it’s the fact I’ve lived in LA and NYC for most of my life. Maybe it’s because I am in the performing arts and auditions are part of life. Walking into a room where there are 20 other ‘you’s’ there, knowing only one of ‘you’ will be picked does something to your sense of being ok with exactly who you are, what size your jeans are, and how you look when you glance in that mirror. This was a different world. Had this been the (fill in the blank) Kardashian Conference with 26,000 women attending, it would be a different story. You probably couldn't GET to a mirrored surface without waiting in line. This gathering not feel accidentally different. It felt, “Fuck That” different. It felt empowered. It felt full of smart, confident women who just weren’t going to play that game. Maybe it’s because they would be taken LESS seriously if they DID look like most of the women in the magazines and music videos. Which can make you even MORE upset if you follow that line of thinking…being really smart can’t live in the same space as looking ‘hot’ and attractive (to a man)??!

Maybe they have to downplay their femininity to get ahead in the VERY lopsided and sexist universe they live in? (I say sexist because when you start to look at the stats in tech and what financing tech start-ups get if you’re a female, you’ll come to the same conclusion, believe me…not to mention all the stories of what the work cultures are like) Quite remarkable, there was an ease to being there. A comfort-in-one’s-own-skin feel. On the last day, after my talk, I wore my most comfortable ‘soft pants’ that I usually save for my flights. And sneakers. I didn’t spend much time getting ready and as I roamed the halls, even though I’d come to share my knowledge of the GOOD GIRL, I left having been taught some very valuable lessons. One being, there is a future coming where being exactly who we are, right now, is exactly right. Exactly enough. And we don’t have to compete with each other. In fact, being around one another feels exactly like home.

MEN. AS ALLIES.

In July, I was thrilled to give my talk in NYC to a standing room only audience and it felt great for a zillion reasons. One being that there is still interest and a fire to understand where we are at as women, as woke men, and as a culture at large. The Q & A portion is always an interesting and exciting moment for me because I get to hear and feel where the talk has landed -- where is the rubber hitting the road? Where is there confusion? Fear or concern? Where is there inspiration? Hope? Excitement? A-ha's?

Many things are the same talk to talk, but there are always different themes that pop out and I've come to notice they capture a center of gravity about what's happening in that particular place and/or moment. 3 and 4 years ago, for instance, in London there was a theme where many women expressed concern how the men in their lives would 'feel' about all of this, and that we should think about that and maybe tread lightly as not to alienate them or upset them too much.

As you can imagine, that thread has not popped up since. 😉

To me, it represented the group who was present AND what the bigger culture was grappling with, where there was an unconscious 'push back' of the social norms that would be threatened by the kind of change that we talk about in the 2 hours. It's never right or wrong, good or bad, I have come to understand...just fascinating and REALLY great intel.

So, in NYC I was noticing a few themes but one more than the others -- it was coming from the men in the room. More and more, men are coming to the talk which is not only fabulous, it's vital. Because in order for change to REALLY occur, this is a joint venture. It's a change not just across gender lines, it's a change in VALUES. And for the men who are on board with a set of values based on total and complete inclusivity for all, and respect for all, we desperately need them. And they, like they rest of us, will benefit from an increase of inclusivity and acceptance because they are trapped by 'SHOULDS' of masculinity too. (see Terry Crew's video about TOXIC MASCULINITY here...holy moly.)

MEN AS ALLIES is a term I've heard more and more. Interestingly, a week before the talk, I was asked to give my corporate version GOOD GIRLS AREN'T CEOs at a high-powered accounting firm in Manhattan. It was a summit attended by women employees of all backgrounds, job titles, experience, and location. They were part of a movement at this company - a FUNDED and SUPPORTED movement - to make real and lasting change across gender lines. One of their key elements of that strategy was the MEN AS ALLIES group -- male employees of all levels who had volunteered to be supporters and allies in this 'fight', a concept that has caught on and is integral to the success of these missions (articles are listed below). I was able to attend their portion of the summit before my own. Threads emerged.

AND they also emerged a month prior when speaking with Jules Munn (founder and A.D. of The Nursery Improv Theater) on his podcast about all things improv when I was in London. He specifically wanted to go into gender and the podcast ended with a discussion about 'what men who WANT to help (be allies) need to do?'

It's a tremendously important topic -- how can men BE allies to women in this post #MeToo world? We have seen how silence is NOT a good strategy. It's not even a strategy really, more of a cop out, let's be real. Men who want to be part of the NEW and the INCLUSIVE world that we are all responsible for building may not know exactly HOW to be an ally. I saw it in the men at the accounting firm...I heard it in the questions and comments at my talk...and in discussions with fellow improvisers and teachers. The answer I have given the MOST is this:

Listen and don't assume you understand the issues. We know you want to fix it or solve it but I'm not sure you even grasp what IT is yet. And a quick fix IS NOT it. It requires introspection, investigation, and probably some rewiring. (which is why I love Terry Crews' AWE-INSPIRING and COURAGEOUS Makers Conference 2019 talk...he nails this point on the effin' head!) (It's ALSO not that far off from a list I found--included below--in a HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW article below, which also nails it on the effin' head!)

Once again, the magic of improv teaches us MUCH MORE than how to be mildly funny on a stage for 2 minutes. One of the ways we like to explain the "art of listening" at Improvolution is by saying to be a good improviser, you must listen to understand not listen to respond. The world needs a LOT of good improv right now.

And if you have some amazing MEN AS ALLIES in your life right now - friends, family, co-workers - consider sharing that list with them, or even creating a dialogue at yours & their places of work and create a MEN AS ALLIES team!

Gender Expectation effects us all…this is no longer “women vs. men”…it’s about values, shoulds, and co-creating a world based on respect and inclusivity. THAT will take all of us working together.

FROM ARTICLE:

First, just listen! Consultant Chuck Shelton reminds men that listening to women’s voices in a way that inspires trust and respect is a fundamental relationship promise you must make, and then keep, with women who invite you to participate around equity. Generous, world-class listening requires focus, sincerity, empathy, refusal to interrupt, and genuine valuing of both her experience and her willingness to share it with you.

Respect the space. Women’s conferences and ERGs are often one outgrowth of experiences of exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination. Many of these experiences are painful. Large events and local resource groups have afforded women a powerful platform for sharing experiences, providing support, and strategizing equity initiatives. Tread respectfully into these spaces and before you utter a word, revisit the recommendation above.

Remember, it’s not about you. Ask women how you can amplify, not replace or usurp existing gender parity efforts. A large dose of gender humility will help here. Decades of research on prosocial (helpful) behavior reveals a stark gender difference in how it is expressed. While women often express helpfulness communally and relationally, men show helpful intentions through action-oriented behaviors. Sometimes, we need to rein this in. Refrain from taking center stage, speaking for women, or mansplaining how women should approach gender equity efforts.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Developing psychological standing requires a commitment to learning and advocating for gender equity. Learning about the professional challenges of women may produce feelings of self-shame or self-blame that cause anxiety. The solution is more interaction and learning, not less.

Engage in supportive partnerships with women. The best cross-gender ally relationships are reciprocal, and mutually growth-enhancing. Share your social capital (influence, information, knowledge, and organizational resources) with women’s groups but ask them — don’t assume — how you can best support their efforts.

Remember the two parts to allyship. Keep in mind that committing to express as little sexism as possible in your interactions with women is the easy part of allyship. The hard part requires you to take informed action. Use your experience in women’s events and initiatives to learn how you can best become a public ally for social justice around gender. When the time comes, this may require you to upset the status quo.

MEN AS ALLIES articles:

https://hbr.org/2018/10/how-men-can-become-better-allies-to-women

https://www.forbes.com/sites/joyburnford/2019/05/09/engaging-men-as-allies-a-critical-piece-in-the-equality-puzzle/#70510214557c

https://www.diversitywoman.com/men-as-allies-2/

*from my August 2019 newsletter

...2 YEARS LATER...

I looked back at the date of my last blog post. It was July 2017. I remember writing it. I remember feeling very strongly about the subject. But I also remember feeling tired. Was it tired? Or a resistance in myself maybe is a better word. The whole conversation had gotten exhausting.

I hadn’t done my talk, GOOD GIRLS AREN’T FUNNY, since 3 days before the election. Yeah, THAT election. It was one of my absolute favorite things to do and yet I didn’t want to. I was encouraged by friends that I “should”! “It’s needed more than ever!”

But I couldn’t. I felt…something…was missing. Was I defeated? I didn’t know. It felt too raw. Too painful to talk about. Everything that we had feared was ACTUALLY true. It was actually worse.

Interestingly…3 months after my last post #MeToo hit. October 2017.

With it came sweeping change and a reckoning I’d never experienced in my lifetime. It was deep and hit hard. It took down the good along with the bad and the ugly in some cases. But LOTS of bad and ugly got dealt a blow I never thought I’d see, much less what THEY must have thought THEY’D ever see. Up until then they were untouchable. I’m not even sure some of them knew what they were doing was as awful as it was. But the lid was ripped off and this was NOT going to stop.

It ALSO made me look at JUST HOW MUCH of the patriarchal values of my own self and women I had internalized. Accepted and taken as mine, as true. And what we all had become numb too. It felt like we were all waking up and a thick haze was lifting. The damage, violence, cruelty, unfairness, and disgrace were everywhere. It had BEEN there all along. How did we not see it? Hear it? How did we not FEEL it? (well, in fact we did…which makes it all the more painful and horrific)

We all know what has unfolded since…some have personally experienced more change than others of us, but no one can deny it’s not part of the fabric of our world right now.

What we do in this new climate is still being formed. We have gotten more and more clear on what we DO NOT want any more of. The next step, as some are pointing out, is more precarious. What DO we want? And who is the WE? I don’t think we can assume “WOMEN” are one unit here. The results of how women voted in 2016 and 2018 show that there is a still a huge divide in what women want.

But that’s ok. We don’t ALL have to go to make change happen and stick.

BUT. We do need to know WHAT WE WANT, those of us who are vehemently rejecting this horrific ‘norm’ and everything that has been exposed and continues to be exposed. And this is where I get REALLY fired up. Because part of the reason I feel we have had a difficult time expressing, demanding, and creating what we WANT is that historically we, as women, have never ever been allowed that privilege. We have been handed, decade after decade, the list of options to choose from. We are NOT the creators of that list and maybe we never have been. EVER. (see “Creation of Patriarchy” by Gerda Lerner) What sometimes feels like ‘freedom’ is that we have chosen off that list. But it’s not our list…so how free is it really? (ginormous breast implants, for example) Or, when a group of women push through and DEMAND their options be included on the list, they get SO MUCH PUSH BACK it’s hard to hold almost any ground. (see “Backlash” by Susan Faludi) Not that long ago, women who made demands or chose ‘outside’ the list, were punished in a litany of ways.

So, in a way, I think what we are up against is that very internalization of the values of the past, the misogynistic values that see women capable of a very narrow set of actions and behaviors. (One NOT being the capacity to make choices about her OWN body, for example.) I call a facet of this internalization The Good Girl. And, you guessed it, she was HANDED to us. And we more or less had to choose to become her or risk what lied outside the acceptable norm (being marriage, wifedom and motherhood. The end.) – the other options were horrifically grim. If you watched MAD MEN you saw exactly how the ‘tropes’ of acceptable roles women were allowed to be played out as recently as the 1960’s, week after week. Respectable wife, slut at the office, frigid bitch. The end. And that was the list for affluent white women.

If we are going to make the absolute MOST out of this moment – which seems to be WHY this moment is upon us and with the force and intensity it has with it – we need to get beyond The Good Girl, pronto. SHE does not make demands for herself or women-kind. SHE does not rock the boat. SHE needs to be liked, play nice, do it right, follow the rules, and lives off affirmation from those in power. HER power is dependent on those who wield it. And we have seen just how flexible and generous those in power have been. So…they’re not handing it to us which means we need to build what we want ourselves. And if we don’t ALLOW ourselves to WANT, if we don’t allow ourselves to be PISSED OFF (see “Good and Mad” by Rebecca Traister) at how unjust this is, then how will the change we KNOW is possible and desperately needed actually get here??!!

We need to go beyond our Good Girl to another part of each of us. I call that part the “FUCK IT”. And once she’s in your driver’s seat, there’s no going back.

T.J. MILLER, HELEN WOOLLEY, AND THE END OF THE BULLSEYE CLUB

I’ve read the newest article where someone talks about women being funny or not. I get why there was pushback and I appreciate TJ Miller clarifying his point. I like the guy and think he's pretty funny.

I also agree with the point – culture on the whole doesn’t support in women what is required to create comedy. I couldn’t be a bigger champion of that premise. As a matter of fact, I’ve been talking about that and doing workshops with women about that very thing for over 5 years. GOOD GIRLS AREN’T FUNNY IS that issue explored and unpacked.

Here’s the bulk of the debate it if you missed it:

ORIGINAL PIECE:

As it turns out, Miller — tall, scruffy, and slightly antic — has positions on a great many things, most of which skew villainous or maybe just honest. He admires the comedians Pete Holmes and Patton Oswalt, but of Louis C.K., he says: “He doesn’t say anything surprising anymore.” On Aziz Ansari: “He’s very good at what he does … like Dane Cook.” And on why, in his view, women aren’t as funny as men: “They’re taught to suppress their sense of humor during their formative years.” He also, should you care to know, has positions on Nietzschean moral relativism (“Frustrating, because it’s so dangerous”) and Hollywood kingmaker Ari Emanuel (“He only cares about money, collecting chips. That’s why I defected from him and WME [William Morris Endeavor]”). And don’t forget New York City, where he and his wife, mixed-media artist Kate Gorney, just relocated from Los Angeles: “It can be very lonely,” he says, but it does have “transcendent pizza.” After a brief digression on the Stoic philosophers, Miller turns to his publicist, whose presence at the table was a condition of his doing this interview, and asks, “It’s entirely inappropriate to smoke marijuana, right?” She says it is. He frowns, then face-spritzes. I ask what the spray is, and he says, “It’s embarrassing for you that you don’t know.” (It is, according to the bottle, Evian Natural Mineral Water spray.)

 

HIS FOLLOW UP CLARIFICATION:

T.J. Miller clarified remarks that he made in a recent interview with Vulture that seemed to imply women aren’t as funny as men. “It’s becoming frustrating that if I confuse interviewers they trash me. I DO NOT LIKE IT,” the comedian tweeted on Monday, July 24. 

He explained in a series of tweets that he was trying to make a point about society. “Okay, I guess everyone and their parents missed the point— #feminist SOCIETY depresses humor in women bc it is a sign of intelligence,” he tweeted. “that is THREATENING to men, & so women are taught to suppress those intimidations. It is about SOCIETY’s ills, the misogyny of women’s humor. Don’t get it twisted. The world gets better the more we empower our literal better half. Women ARE FUNNY, against odds that men don’t face."

 

Great. So...here’s the rub, “why women aren’t as funny as men”. That’s the statement that makes your head explode.  First of all, let’s just put this part of the issue to bed - women ARE just as funny as men. Humor is not a gender issue. Humans are funny, we have developed the ability to create comedy. Comedic ability is not a gendered issue – it doesn’t live in men’s brains any more than in women’s. It’s INNATE. It’s a Venn diagram of so many things – including observation, objectivity, irony, timing, storytelling, empathy, point of view. And I’m sure I’m missing about 10 more things.

Humor has developed right alongside of culture, so much so that it’s hard to separate the two. They are inextricably linked. What was funny in 1418 may not be funny in 2018. Then there is timeless humor like Chaplin was able to capture – what clowning and mime taps into. That can strike a broader audience for longer periods because it’s more relatable. More honest and true.

What irks me and many women I think, it being TOLD what is funny and not funny. According to whom? A straight white man? Well SURE…they may not find everything women do funny. They may not find everything an Indian man does funny…or a gay Asian man. And on and on. But there is a UNIVERSE of difference in saying "I don't find that gay Asian man funny" and "I don't find gay Asian humor funny" and "Gay Asian men aren't funny." The implications are completely different -- horrifically different. Opinions versus decrees.

The red flag that goes up for me time and again around this topic, which has been going on for a VERY long time, around a LOT of areas, is that there is a NORM. A “right” way to be, look, feel, think. Opinions of the NORM become decrees...they are experienced as the same thing. "I think therefore it is." That’s the downside of culture where there is a NORM. A center of the bullseye so to speak and everything close to it is deemed acceptable, right, FUNNY. And everything far away is not. Period. Intersectionality at its most simplistic.

Well, the world is pushing back on that way of life. There IS no NORM. There is no center of the bullseye any more. Newsflash: there actually never HAS been, it's just a perception, an illusion. That’s the maddening piece. Being told you’re not hitting that sweet spot only to find out you were never supposed to or needed to. The SWEET SPOT had to go, not you.

Examples? The COOL GIRL.

THE COOL GIRL has been described beautifully in recent years – a phenomena of “the good girl” and how she has morphed to stay alive in our current culture. She was perfectly dissected in Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL (2014) which you can read here

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/13306276-gone-girl

It is a straight woman’s attempt to change to fit what many guys fantasize about. 100 years before she would have been stoned to death probably for behaving that way so it’s not an absolute, timeless description of attractiveness…it fits the mold of the moment. That’s what being the center of the bullseye buys you: you get to make the rules, decide what’s ‘hot’, ‘funny’, ‘acceptable’. Everyone else slides around to find that sweet spot. The COOL GIRL is just one of the newest ways we find acceptance and that sweet spot. So is the MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL. (can read about her here) Another accepted and therefore established role we gals can play to be accepted. We are chided for stepping outside that sweet spot by being called a bitch, dyke, cunt, whore, etc. Sometimes we are 'taught' with more than just words. These are our cues that somehow this imaginary line was moved once again and we are being too something. Too loud, too independent, too sexy, too assertive, too comfortable, too confident, too passive.

But that’s what it means to be outside the ‘norm’…Simone de Beauvoir coined the phrase in the 1940’s…she called it being OTHER. When you’re OTHER, you don’t rely on your internal GPS because it has been deemed wrong, it gets you in trouble or makes you feel lost, depressed, angry...(hmmmm, I wonder what culture would have done to women expressing any of this...?) OTHERNESS makes you dependent immediately and forever on getting external cues, approval, and acceptance that you’re “doing it right”. That you’re a “good girl”.

So you can understand why it might make some blood boil when once again, someone sitting in the bullseye just because they were born there – meaning they’ve never really had to examine what it means to be there…nor have done much to actually WIN that position – when someone is sitting there, holding court and decreeing who is funny. Again, according to WHOM??!?

HELEN THOMPSON WOOLLEY in 1910 was part of something very radical. She and many women like her were asking if the current model of psychology, which claimed there were normal behaviors, thoughts, and mental processes, were actually just saying these are normal FOR MEN. (and even straight men? Anglo-saxon men? Privileged men? American-born men? All questions unasked at the time, just assumed by the Bullseye Club.) And by putting those standards ONTO another group – in this case WOMEN, an entirely different GENDER – might you be making assumptions that ARE NOT EVEN BASED IN FACT OR REALITY? Well that question implies a LOT that even to this day, you can get a lot of pushback on. The assumption that there is a RIGHT way to behave, to argue, to lead, to debate. When you start saying to those holding down the Bullseye Fort, they hear it so it seems, like "your way isn’t BETTER. HIGHER. THE GOAL. You are one of MANY. Your security that everything revolves around you, the earth, is being questioned." (by the way, the dude that dared to say the earth is NOT the center was put to death….just to give you some context of how much position means to some people….and why threatening that leads to so much insecurity and loss of power and control that they’d rather kill you than consider it. Good thing that’s all in the past, amIright???? Oh shit…wait…) It took until the 60's for there to be an accepted model for women that was different than for men. In other words, women have higher emotional intelligences which is completely discarded in the earlier model that assumed straight men's psychology was "right". Hello lobotomy!!! 

I appreciate Mr Miller shedding light on how culture is asserting itself on women and our ability to express ourselves and hey, we need as many guys as we can get interested and willing to even HAVE that conversation. So very sincerely I do appreciate his clarification and where his heart is. What I think is the almost ironic piece of this, is here is a straight white guy who has performed on TV, a few films, and done some improv, deciding what is “funny” for an entire gender. The statement ITSELF is part of the problem, as much as it was intended to help. It kinda does both. Helps and embeds the problem even more.

I don’t care if TJ Miller finds me or any of the multitudes of women I know funny. We don’t need approval and a diploma which offers us the affirmation to know what we're doing is funny. Because who the fuck are these guys anyway? Why do we allow them to decide things? Are there women who claim to be funny that just aren’t? OF COURSE!!! Are there TONS of men also who claim to be funny that just aren’t? HELL YES!!! Claiming you're funny doesn’t make you funny. Claiming to be a great athlete doesn’t make you one. We all get that. But unlike sports where you can see scores and observe speeds, strength, and ability, comedy is a more subtle and complex skill. It’s about truth in the end…all the greats have said it. Even ol’ Homer Simpson – it’s funny cuz it’s true. The thing is, the people sitting in the Bullseye may not relate to everything that everyone else is doing. And MAYBE, if they started moving around and realizing that, moving to the left and right of where they have taken hold, they might ACTUALLY broaden what their truth is. Like the rest of us have been doing for a VERY long time. Maybe it’s the folks in the FALSE middle - that worn-out bullseye that has deteriorated like the emperor’s new clothes - who are the limited, suppressed ones.

WOULD YOU LIKE A FORCED SMILE WITH THAT?

I recently found myself on the same day at a Starbucks and a Ruby’s Diner. Not to brag or anything. But I noticed something in both places that I feel are linked and so I’m using this blog to try to figure that out exactly. So, here we go and I hope this winds up taking us somewhere interesting…good luck!

I think as women it’s tough for many of us – definitely for me – to trust my GUT. It’s taken a lonnnnng time for me to FIND my voice, let alone listen to it. It was a combination of things that led me back to my voice, but the biggest catalyst was improv. Which is just one of the reasons why I am such a devout fan of it. I shall refrain from rambling on about the glories of improv but just know that I easily could.

One of the things improv asks of anyone doing it, is to trust YOUR response. Since there is no one “right” way to do it, no one “correct” answer, you are left having to use YOUR OWN ideas, reactions and information. And you learn that THAT is plenty. In fact, it’s great! So over time, you start listening and trusting what your impulses and instincts are more and more. For me, and I think for a lot of women, it reconnects us to ourselves. Our own ideas. Our “gut”. Connect to it and more importantly TRUST it. HONOR it.

When I was in improv for about a year, I realized I was getting REALLY angry and defiant in scenes. That was NOT how I pictured myself…a nice, polite, thoughtful person (a k a doormat) from the Midwest. But once that synapse started to get reestablished in me, there was suddenly all this POWER there. Tough women characters, badasses who stood up for themselves and challenged whomever was “in charge”. Really fascinating stuff if you think about it. It was as if I was reintegrating all of that back into myself because I started to change. I started to get more confident, say my mind more often and easily, and not care as much what others thought of me.

I see how that has translated into my life in, what feels like, a million ways. BUT I have also seen over time how the world has been built in particular ways that reinforce us gals being nice, polite, accommodating and thinking of others before ourselves. It’s SO deep and SO engrained that I feel like I’m just starting to see the more subtle layers and its EVERY-FUCKING-WHERE!

CUT TO: Starbucks, Olympic and Fairfax, Los Angeles

Here are the facts:

It’s about 9am and I’m sitting at a table with my Cascara Latte (it’s new…yummy…lots of sugar though) and I have 2 notebooks open. I am prepping for my BUSTING THE GOOD GIRL workshop which starts in an hour. As I scan one notebook for things I want to bring in to today’s workshop, I am interrupted by a male voice. He is standing almost directly at the edge of my table and says right above me, “Copying your notes?” I look up. It’s an older man, hippie-looking dude, beret, white beard, beads around his neck. I smile a little (not too much as to invite a long conversation) and say “yeah, I guess I am.” I go back to writing. “Is it for a class?” Without looking up I say “Yes.” He says “can I ask you what the class is about?” I look at him and say “I’m actually doing some work to get ready for it.” His smile disappears. It’s pretty clear he’s not happy with my response. He very abruptly turns away and goes to sit down at a nearby table.

Now…here’s what stuck out to me. First of all, his energy was my first red flag…just kind of one of those people who have no problem interrupting you and not taking the subtle cues of “hey man, I don’t want to talk to you right now” so you have to get pretty direct for them to get it. But the whole exchange stuck out to me for a few reasons. The minute he approached my table I just felt encroached upon. He walked right up to me, there was no respectful distance or even an “excuse me” or when I say I’m busy, no apology…no “oh, sorry to bother you”…it was rapid fire like he owned the place. When he asked me to tell him what my course was about I felt the familiar hiccup within me. The split between my gut and my Good Girl, my “should” – the part that watches from the outside and tries to figure out what I SHOULD do, what the RIGHT thing, the NICE thing, to do is. Not what I want, but what is “right”. The intel comes from 2 completely different places. And it all happens so fast.

Gut says: fuck off old hippie guy, if you were nice, if you had a different vibe I might totally want to chat with you but there’s something about you that I don’t dig and I am busy and I don’t want to get into a conversation with you about my class because I guarantee all you REALLY want to do is have someone listen to you talk about yourself or your thoughts about my class and right now, I’m interested in neither.

SHOULD says: oh wait, SHOULD you tell him? Would it be MEAN not to? RUDE not to? How is he going to feel if you say NO? It sort of feels like he’ll get pissed if you don’t, he’s very much expecting you to…maybe you just SHOULD.

Both going on…at the same time. Well, NOT the same time. GUT was first. SHOULD swooped in, weighed in, tried to get me to calm down and think. Reason it out.

A ha!!! That’s where the synapse is cut I think!!! Stopping ourselves from pushing back, saying no, not doing what someone expects, not taking care of them or their feelings before my own. I am programmed to HESITATE. Double check my responses to make sure I don’t…don’t what? Say the wrong thing. Speak out of line. Make someone mad. Hurt someone’s feelings. It’s not exactly clear what the hesitation prevents but it’s a general feeling of “oooooh, I’m possibly in touchy waters here.” Or the stakes are too high. There are endless articles about this stuff, this hesitancy, our need to take care of others, etc. But when you know it and STILL see it operate in yourself, you can appreciate how deep it goes and how strong a force it is in us. The programming worked. The synapse (my word for it) between any gut response that feels angry, defiant, or bold seems pretty weak if not severed. I have had SO many women in improv classes (traditional improv and corporate workshops) have a VERY hard time getting angry, even if it's pretend. They can't yell without smiling or their voice just won't go there.

An earlier version of myself would have listened to the SHOULD voice almost immediately, siding on the “when-in-doubt-be-nice” strategy. I am in no way saying not to be nice BUT it does seem like WE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS EXPECTED TO BE NICE. And that we take the hit so others are comfortable. So to be honest, I was glad my hippie friend felt more uncomfortable than I did. I wanted to give that back to him instead of ABSORB it. It’s such a familiar movement but these days, NO WAY. I listen to my gut. Not that it’s ALWAYS right but it is ME and it values ME. The SHOULD values just about everyone and everything else BEFORE me. Had it been a different hippie with a different energy, who knows, we may have had a lovely conversation. But at that moment with that particular person, nope. And that’s all I needed to know.

It got me thinking about us inherently not valuing OURSELVES. I think it’s something we’ve been groomed to do – rewarded for it and punished when we don’t align. I think it’s the same move that we make when we tell a guy we have a boyfriend even when we don’t just to make the “sorry, I’m not interested” easier for them to take. It becomes, “oh I WOULD! But I can’t.” so they feel better. But we have invented an imaginary boyfriend on order to do that…and pretended there was a chance in hell we’d date the guy when there wasn’t. The way this older white guy was behaving, it was as if this place was HIS. And that is definitely NOT the first time I’ve seen that. Hardly. It occurs ALL THE TIME. But this really stood out to me because I have tried to become more aware of when I feel myself split in 2 and doubt my first, gut responses. Now, I can’t totally blame this guy…the Western world has for the most part been curated by straight white men. That’s just how things have been for a few thousand years. And from one perspective, rightly so…they have been the ones out there building the world. Makes sense that their preferences and values would set the tone for how everything was to shake out. When you’re the center of the world – creating it - you must see things differently than when you’re not. Women know what it’s like to be in the “not” category. Any person of intersectionality is in the “not” category. It effects your thinking, your feelings, your sense of right and wrong, your sense of yourself…everything. There’s a lot of fascinating work around intersectionality and if it interests you, have at it! Too much to say about it here…

So…next stop…

CUT TO: Ruby’s Diner @ The Citadel Outlet Mall

Many hours later I took a jaunt to the Citadel and stopped off at Ruby’s Diner to have a burger and chill out. I sat at the counter and took in the 1950’s vibe, listening to Elvis and Chubby Checker. While I was sitting decompressing from the overwhelm from the insane amount of shops that were there, I saw one of the waitresses self-consciously pull her skirt down as she brought out a tray of food to a table. She was wearing the uniform all the women were wearing. And I looked at all of the waitresses in there and then the waiters. I had one of those wonderful moments where you see almost with new eyes, looking through the veil of what is “normal”. Almost like one of those movies where aliens come to earth and see all of our habits and norms for the weird things that they are.

What I saw so clearly was the NIGHT AND DAY difference between what the gals were wearing and the men. The women were wearing TINY tight skirts, tight tops, and lots of make-up (encouraged to look like 50’s girls it seems). The men? As usual, long pants – not tight – and shirts, also not tight. Nothing unique about their hair…not greased back like in the 50’s. At a quick glance, the women were exposing a lot of skin...their legs, arms and neckline. The men? Just what existed after their baggy shirt sleeves stopped, maybe 1/2 an arm. I thought, just for fun, what if a bunch of ‘cougars’ (I actually dislike that term but you know what I mean) or any of my gay guy friends were in charge of the uniforms? If they owned the chain and thought, “fuck it, I’m going to dress my employees how I want to see them”…I’m guessing it’d be a different story. Men in tight shirts, good bodies a must or at least a plus, tight pants or even shorts. Women could wear a tasteful jumpsuit, not too tight, flattering lines and cut. Comfortable and practical! Why not? Well, because this is all built around what straight MEN WANT. What they VALUE. Duh. So obvious. And yet often something new about it will hit me. And the fact that it’s 2017 and still so prevalent and accepted is what interests me. WHY? Why is it still OK?

So to go back to the point of this post, our gut. Sitting at the counter looking at the waitresses and waiters and how completely differently they present themselves…and what those differences are…made me angry. It felt ridiculous, outdated, and wrong. Why are we still allowing this? I believe it was in Australia where at one bar the men wanted to see what it was like to have to wear what the women are told to wear – high heels, tight skirts and tops – and they found it both degrading and almost impossible to do for more than 30-40 minutes. I wondered if the female Ruby's employees ever complained? If they ever wrote a letter to corporate asking for more “equal” uniforms?  Underneath it, there's simply the FACT of the difference. That it’s existed for such a long time and that we hardly see it. Or hardly get upset about it. And how unfair that all seems.

And that’s what I’m getting more and more interested in. Is there that moment when they are putting on their uniform that their gut tells them to refuse. Or if one of the female managers looks out on the floor and notices how, well, sexist the uniforms are and wants to address it. But they don’t BECAUSE maybe that synapse hasn’t been reconnected. Where not making waves and fitting in is MORE valued than speaking your mind and standing up for yourself. And when you HAVE stood up for yourself or seen other women do it, they not only are NOT rewarded but perhaps even punished.

Just tonight I was in an improv class and even though it's an advanced improv class filled with men and women with lots of experience, I noticed yet again: the men all spoke first; in the scenes where we needed to identify the 'protagonist' they were all men. The women - as badass as they are - were happy to wait. Hesitate. Did they even see it? Last week I was in Orlando leading a corporate workshop for a sales team of about 80 employees. The experience was evenly distributed between the men and women there and it looked as if there might have even been slightly MORE women on the team than men. Even so, when it came time to volunteer to start an exercise, or share experiences, or ask questions, or provide suggestions...every time, men spoke first.

I would be very interested to see what would start happening if more and more women got connected again to THEIR wants, needs, and desires…listened to that voice before the SHOULD and then decided what to do. Not that one is always the “right” tactic…But I think without knowing what WE want first, we can so easily slip into the groove worn for decades and decades by women ‘behaving’, listening to the SHOULDS, fearing from NOT doing what they say, rewarded for it in fact.

As I left Ruby’s and the 50’s behind me, I walked into the gorgeous, late afternoon sun and thought what a VERY significant moment it is for us women. Perhaps for the first time ever…or at least in a VERY long time, we are free. We live in a world where we can start to push back. We can start from what we value and not adopt anyone else’s value system, norms, and unspoken rules. But we need to get aligned with the truest part of who we each are to know how to navigate. We may piss off a few hippies but that’s ok…what’s that quote that keeps going around? “Equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege."

Time to take up space, ladies.