Women are sometimes their own worst enemy.
Much as I dislike that phrase - it strikes me as similar to “boys will be boys,” a throw-away excuse for bad behavior - I have to confess that sometimes it’s true.
Such is the case of the dust-up over the past two weeks between Rose McGowan and Natalie Portman.
If you missed the story, the short version is that Natalie Portman wore a cape to the Oscars that had been embroidered with the names female directors who had been passed over for nominations for Best Director this year.
Rose McGowan, who has been an outspoken activist in the #MeToo movement (and a thorn in the side of Harvey Weinstein), called Portman out on the gesture, calling Portman’s activism “deeply offensive” and describing Portman’s actions as “playing the part of a woman who cares about other women,” but who is really all talk and no action (citing the lack of female directors among the films Portman has made).
Most of what McGowan said is technically true. And I would be the last person to fault McGowan for the strength of her convictions and her willingness to take a stand. But in this case, I wish she had handled it differently.
In many cultures, women are socialized to compete with each other - from an early age, we question who is prettiest, most popular, has the best clothes, the most friends, the latest whatever. And we learn that one of the ways to feel better about ourselves is to tear each other down. That’s the knee-jerk reaction. Happens daily. And it’s how we get the bad rap of being our own worst enemy.
But women can choose to behave differently. We can find ways to support each other vs. feeding into the cat-fight stereotype that diminishes all of us.
I’ve seen this shift in women’s behavior as a result of a program I worked on called Women Generating. The program was developed by a colleague based on her work in somatic practices and my research into women’s leadership and power.
Part of the workshop experience involves unpacking the thousands of years of socialization that affect how women react and respond to each other today. A second part focuses on understanding each woman’s purpose - if we share anything, it is a desire to make the world a better place. Most of us have a single issue or area of focus that drives our work - the workshop helps us gain an understanding of what motivates each other. And women are more effective leaders when the purpose that grounds our work is clear - to ourselves and to others.
The third component of the workshop focuses on the development of leadership behaviors that include holding each other accountable for our work and leading from a place of dignity and authenticity. The most important leadership behavior, however, is building the confidence of each woman through our relationships with each other.
Women spend a great deal of time talking about our need for more **self** -confidence - just like everything else, we think confidence is something we have to do on our own. Yet this workshop experience demonstrates that **confidence can also come from connection**. It can come from knowing that other women support our work, and that we will do whatever we can to help each other be successful. It doesn’t matter who does it or gets credit for it - it matters that the work gets done. It comes from knowing that we have each others’ backs - we actually stand up and put our hands on each others’ backs - because for most women, that’s a totally new experience.
The dust has started to settle between McGowan and Portman - Portman responded to McGowan’s criticisms pretty graciously, and McGowan has now expressed her regret for her initial attack. Soon it will probably be forgotten. And they will miss the opportunity to connect in a way that is meaningful. It could have been the start of something good.