Jane Caro Fights Stereotypes
Jane Caro made a great statement at QANDA’s episode for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. This answer should gain more attention.
Caro was concerned about this extreme dichotomous either/or with expectations for women. Female leaders in the Western world can either be nurturing mothers to the entire world, or they can be tough ruthless leaders like the macho manly stereotype. There is no room for an in-between.
This either/or is a restrictive expectation for those who lead, and for responsibilities of women in general. A quiet woman must be a timid little girl. A confident assertive woman must be overly assertive and masculine, like a dog standing on two legs (I take full credit for that wild analogy). Women are only accepted on extreme ends of the spectrum - mummy or boss.
Jane Caro came out with this great solution, “There will only be true equality when we can have mediocre women.” Feminism should not only accept extraordinary women who fit stereotypes. Feminism should allow women to be human beings instead.
As a career girl, I identified all too well with this sentiment. Both extreme approaches have worked to my advantage and disadvantage. Even worse, I was always pidgin-holed into one of those approaches.
Some recent work required a lot of conversations on the phone. It was a constant string of chats, with all sorts of people, all day long. No, I wasn’t a telemarketer. I was managing projects which happened all over the place. Oh what a great social experiment, portraying the right personality when nobody could see me. Impressions couldn’t be made from a pretty dress or serious suit. All I had was my conduct, and by golly, that was interesting.
My approach was quite chilled out with some casual-sounding true blue Aussies. I would make happy chit-chat about the weather or whatever. It was all about nurturing these stakeholders, making them feel comfortable.
My politeness meant I was not fully taken seriously. A stakeholder once said to me, “I don’t really want to worry you with this, I don’t want to upset you.” That’s because he was talking to a ‘girl.’ Would you ever say to a male manager or stakeholder, “I won’t worry you with this, how do you feel?” Of course not! They are expected to be tough. But there was an assumption that I couldn’t be tough.
It was time to prove myself as equally tough as any macho managerial man. My approach switched, and I tried to establish myself as the no-nonsense expert. I said, “You can either listen to my advice, or not. You can either let me help you, and trust my knowledge, or fend for yourself. I know what I’m doing, if you will let me do it.” This assured attitude felt too full of myself. But there was no in-between. As a young woman, there is a need to prove oneself.
Maybe men have to prove themselves as much as women do. But I bet men are never assumed to be controlled by their feelings. They would just get on with the job. I would love to one day have people just trust what I do, without being their mummy or their dictator.
More importantly, both of those situations turned me into a stereotype. I was no longer Mel. I was Melanie Suzanne, the girl. Or I was Ms Wilson, the tough professional. Surely there is room to be more than a category. There should be room for us to be human beings.
Perhaps that is what feminists mean, when they talk about mediocrity. Please keep returning to those powerful words from Jane Caro and feminists everywhere, “Just be yourself.”
And to the world, I have this one request.
Let us be us.