We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller.
We say to girls
“You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man”
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes.
(Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Around midnight on December 13, 2013 world superstar Beyoncé quietly dropped an eponymous visual album in the iTunes store. The world was introduced to joint hits like Drunk in Love (featuring Jay Z), Mine (featuring Drake), and Flawless (featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) (Hampp, 2013). While the former two supporting artists were already world famous, the latter is likely less familiar. She isn’t a singer, rapper, or a DJ. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the Nigerian author of We Should All be Feminists (2015). Beyoncé broke historic ground as she honored Adichie with a featured credit based on sampling her 2013 TedX Speech, featured above.
This week in our Lesson 13 commentary, Dr. Williams mirrored Adichie’s words as he outlined the expectations of women (2018, L. 13, P. 1):
- Take risks, but not be consistently outstanding
- Be tough, but not macho
- Be ambitious, but know they will not receive equal treatment
- Take responsibility, but follow others’ advice
Both Adichie (2015) and Williams (2018) hypothesize that these confusing and unfair social rules stem from the confusion between whether women are supposed to be feminine or masculine to succeed. Williams (2018), summarizes the series of works of Eagly (1992, 1995, 2002) to show the confusion. Eagly (1992) found that women leaders who used traditionally masculine leadership styles, particularly directive or autocratic, were disliked. In 1995, Eagly found when using either masculine or feminine leadership styles that there was a clear hierarchy of perceived leader effectiveness. The most effective leaders were seen as men using masculine styles, followed by women using feminine styles. Women using masculine styles were seen as the least effective (Williams, 2018, L.13, p. 1).
In 2002, Eagly noted that women who are presenting in a dominant, assertive, or self-promoting (masculine) styles were still the least respected. Williams (2018, L.13, P. 1) summarizes this distinctly: according to these studies, women should not act like men. He theorized that this was because they were deviated from the traditional female norms. Williams summarizes this distinctly: according to these studies, women should not act like men.
Adichie (2015) also speaks heavily of these gender expectations that are placed on us as children. “We teach boys to be afraid of fear,” she writes, “of weakness, of vulnerability.” She says that in Nigeria, this is called making a boy into a “hard man” (p. 10). She says that this is the worst thing that we can do to them, because this leaves them with very fragile egos that can easily be emasculated (p.12-14). Is this perhaps the connection between gender norms and leadership effectiveness? Are men emasculated when women portray traditionally masculine leadership characteristics?
We Should All be Feminists (2015) contains a poignant story of Adichie’s first day teaching. She knew that as a woman, she would need to prove her worth. She decided that if she looked too feminine, she would not be taken seriously. So she shunned her everyday lipstick and skirts and wore “a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit” (p. 1). She offhandedly comments that a man does not have to worry about being taken seriously based on what he wears, before saying that her self-confidence was so low that day that she couldn’t teach well (p. 2-3). For me, personally, I am very feminine. It’s an odd day if I’m wearing pants. I believe this style looks the best on my figure and when I’m feeling confident I feel I can be more effective. Because I’ve never had a “masculine” style, I’m not sure if there would be a respect difference. Girls, do you tend to dress more masculine to impress or go by what looks or feels best? Do you feel you are treated a different way because of it? Guys, do you think there is a difference in respect level women get when they dress in a certain way?
Adichie, C. (2018). Excerpt from WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Retrieved from https://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/adichie.html
Hampp, A. (2013). Beyonce Unexpectedly Releases New Self-Titled ‘Visual Album’ on iTunes. Retrieved from https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/5827398/beyonce-unexpectedly-releases-new-self-titled-visual-album-on
Williams, 2018. Lesson Commentary. PSU. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1887594/modules
TedX Talks. (2013). We should all be feminists | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | TEDxEuston. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc