Success….In female terms?

My previous post, Or This with the Girl Effect video, prompted Dave Truss to update his Pair-a-Dimes blog with a lovely post about the inspiring women he knows who are educational leaders. His post caused a bit of a furor, as readers wrote in challenging his choice to be gender specific.  Liz Davis, one of the educational leaders he named, politely told him that it was perhaps  “a tad condescending.”  In response, Dave posted again explaining what may have come across as unintentional bias.  One again, he was inundated with comments. The dialogue on Dave’s site has lead me to write the following:

I believe that public acknowledgment of the accomplishments of women in any field is beneficial although I also understand where it may be taken as condescending. However, there is definitely a bias in the world I inhabit, which I don’t believe is all that unintentional as a general rule. Sure, I know many men and women who never intend it, but it is everywhere as Dave points out.   We don’t think critically enough about it often enough. Blog posts like this with the accompanying comments therefore are useful in the much needed raising of awareness. Though honestly, it is only a crack.

I don’t know any women who aren’t aware of an “old boys” network, as Vicki Davis (aka Cool Cat Teacher) speaks of, in so many areas of our lives. Certainly edtech.  And the way I see it is that “being unbelievably good” so as not to be ignored even carries bias because “good” in this context means participating in that male network in male-ways-of-being-successful.  This implies that being successful might mean something different for women and I think that is really what Silvana is referring to.  If so, I heartily agree that we need to caution against holding up women being measured against male standards of success as the role models for our children, both boys and girls.

Giving a very personal example here, I will never move high in the ranks of our school board, take on a principal position or be the best blogger or best edtech person around simply because I will not give up that kind of time with my family.  I see myself as highly successful, but perhaps not in most of the ways that count in the “male” world.   I work hard when I work but am most dedicated, as is my husband, to our family and the causes we take on together.  In that way we are working to be the best role models that we can be for our two daughters and our son.  To be honest, I don’t worry a whole lot about who they look up to outside of our family, after all my best role models were definitely my own mother and father.  From them I took what I agreed with and changed what I decided I needed to do differently. So I work at being the most “successful” I can be without ever having my family come second.

Photo from Flickr by Funadium

Ok, but this doesn’t really get to the problem of encouraging women to participate, let alone be successful in this world.  Although more and more I meet women who just choose to opt out.  (Why participate IF it is a male dominated world?)  Louise Maine raises an excellent question when she asks “Why do the female teachers think they do not know enough to speak at a conference?” Or Dave Truss’s own comment about women being cut off at meetings.  The world I want to participate in is one which has shifted towards more inclusive ways of operating through forms of dialogue such as appreciative inquiry or any model that allow for every perspective in the room to be heard.  I want to work where we encourage decisions based on consensus rather than lobbying, bullying, back room deals and even majority votes.  Certainly if we want to move towards giving women voice, we need to be sure that we make room for them to be heard.  Then, I believe, we’ll start to see a really different and interesting measure of success and it will be easier for women to see and feel the value in all that we do.

10 thoughts on “Success….In female terms?

  1. Betty,
    I feel I’ve said almost everything I have to say on this subject so I’ll simply add, “Hallelujah!”
    The world you describe is the world I want my kids to grow up in. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  2. Hi Betty – both yours and David’s post have made me think about the topic so much more which I’m grateful for.

    I’ve always preferred to stay away from the gender debate but he is correct unless we talk about it people won’t reflect on their decisions of why they select specific individuals for certain situations. For example Learning 2.008 in Shanghai there were seven male keynotes and only one female.

    Your post reminds me to remember that my work decisions since having kids has always been about what’s best for my kids and our family. It’s been interesting over the years as I have had others try to encourage me to do more because in their eyes I’m capable of so much more yet not have them understand that this is exactly where I want to be for where I am in my life. Thanks.

  3. Betty,
    I’ve been on several of these “best women” lists and, while I appreciate all recognition, I guess there is a part of me that just wants to be on the list list (not just the girl list). But I also struggle with the wanting. As a woman (and a mother) I feel pressure to put others’ needs before my own, my children, my students, my colleagues. If I admit to my own desires then I become a selfish person. I don’t think men struggle with the issues of selfishness the way women do.

    Even your post points out the selflessness you have in putting your family first. And I think that is a key element in why there are so few female key noters. It is easier for fathers to leave their children with their mothers and go do the conference circuit. I have an extremely supportive husband, but I still feel badly every time I leave him with the kids.

    I may have gone off topic here, but I do think that mothering is at the root of a lot of these issues. It takes time and travel to become a “big-wig” in the edtech world. Most mothers don’t have the time and can’t do the travel. But I do admit that there is a part of me that wishes I could.

  4. I love that this thread has moved and continued. I made choices about my family, being home, having children, working part-time, moving into technology and all of these things make me who I am. I imagine that for all of us, men and women, that would be true. It is easy to second guess what might happen if…but then again, we wouldn’t have traveled the road that has lead us here and if we were not here, then we wouldn’t all be in this personal learning network.
    Due to the virtual places we all share our ideas and our voices, our visions travel much further than they would have even 3 years ago.
    These voices mean a lot to me.

  5. Betty; wow, who would have thought a short post on the ‘Girl Power’ video would have provoked so much discussion?!

    I have often thought better equality between the sexes will exist when the definition of male success changes. When just as many men as women opt for parental leave, and are not disparaged for making that decision, we will be closer to true equality. When it is not an expectation that employees (male and female) have no life in order to climb their professional ladder, we will be closer to equality.

    Three years ago I was working just shy of full time (0.85 FTE) and my children were ages one and three. I was constantly stressed out and felt that I was doing none of my jobs well (teacher, mother, wife…) I did *not* feel successful. Now I work half time. I feel that I am doing all of my jobs a lot better, and that my children are happier as a result. There are still not enough hours in the day, mind you 😉 In some people’s eye’s I would not be seen as being very successful. If I was a man and made this choice I suspect I would be seen as *very* unsuccessful. That’s gotta change to get true equality.

    As an aside, I’ve found it very interesting that a video on helping people in poor communities by harnessing ‘girl power’ has led to a discussion on equality of women. Most of the discussion has centered around equality of women in the western world. Most of the discussion has involved, consciously or not, white western women; on the whole a fairly privileged group. If you’re reading this and haven’t watched the video yet, give it a whirl. It may give you some much needed perspective 🙂

  6. Hi Betty, A random thought…..
    To even enter a debate about gender equality assumes some deep part of you doubts your equality. What is it about Condaleeza Rice, Eleanor Rooseveldt, Golda Meir and the like, who all transcend the need to long for gender equality? I think its that these women never put men on onto a superior pedestal. Eleanor said once, No one can ever make you feel anything, unless you give them permission to do so. I think its about recognising the fundamental and beautiful differences between male and female energy and a realisation that the melding of the two energies, like the Ying and the Yang, create the perfect balance. Men so NEED to feel the superiority. Without it they begin to feel inferior as a man. Women perceive this, empathise and move to accomodate. Who IS the stronger gender when you look at it this way? We are masters of the ‘personal world’ , (Anais Nin) love, sensitivity, warmth, generosity, kindness, tolerance patience. I believe our strength simply lies in a deeep belief in our own worth and what contributions we have to make. If we simply believe in our perfection, who can deny it? And if they try, with our deep belief in our personal worth, how can we be convinced otherwise? Dethrone your oppressors and they cease to be oppressors.

  7. Pingback: I was thinking… - Thinking, learning, caring

  8. Very nice post. I think it is important to note what you are saying about the “measurement” of women on their own merit.

    You may not know this but I was a stay at home mom for 4 years and then ran my own business out of the house for another 4-5 before coming to teach. I look back on those as the most successful years of my life because I was pouring myself into my kids.

    I also look on those as some of the toughest years b/c of the lack of positive reinforcement from anyone – people trying to sign me up for things because I didn’t have anything to “do” or volunteering me to do “stuff” because that is what women who “stayed at home” do.

    I believe there are many worthy roles for men and women and also rebel against the “I am what I do” mentality.

    Part of me is strongly considering at some point in the future (maybe near) quitting teaching again so that I can focus on my children. To me, without putting my family first everything else just doesn’t matter.

  9. Hi Betty , I found my way here through some emails from other bloggers who also “got my point” I loved the post ….my mother once told me that to be a good role model for your children you must be a good role model for yourself, by that she meant you have to live a good and fufilling life…….being the best does not have to be measured in terms of power or status…
    The woman who has affected me most significantly over the last year is a 78 year old grandmother at my school. Her daughter has been struggling with life in general and basically took off and left her mother with 3 primary school children aged between 5 and 11. This woman refused to let them go into local authority care and instead of enjoying a peaceful retirement is taking on teenage anx and supporting her grandchildren better than some 2 parent family. She will never give a keynote speech or be on the Queen’s honours list, but she stands like a giant in my eyes and when I am moaning about having to work over the holidays I think of her and I am humbled….and thats a role model and a leader and she doe not even know it .
    Once again a great post
    Have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year

  10. I think Liz Davis in comment #3 hits the nail on the head… gender discrimination is rooted in women’s roles as mothers. It is women who worry about how their ambition will affect their families, not men. Men have the luxury of “knowing” that the family will work around their career.. and they have that luxury for the most part because we women give it to them. That is partly because of how the world sees and much about how we think about ourselves.

    I never felt dragged down in life for being a woman until I became a mother. Then, all of a sudden, there was all this stuff I could not do because of my child’s special needs, my then-husband’s attitude that if he was bringing home a steady paycheck, all was fine, and my inabilty or unwillingness to fight the idea that my needs no longer really mattered in the face of all of that.

    I am now divorced. My son is 20 and lives semi-independently and now I have something of a career. Compared to all that kept me back professionally for 15 some-odd years, that idea that I have to “bully” to be heard at a meeting is nothing. Besides, men cut off each other at meetings, not just women.

    Until we expect men to take on half of the child-rearing responsibilities, there will never be any sort of equality between the sexes in the workplace. Organizations like NOW fight the wrong battles.