Filed under: art, business, Gender politics, theatre | Tags: authority, Being Nice, good girls, New York Women's Equality Coalition, objectification, pre-school, the Broad Experience
This kid in this video is my new role model. First, look at what all the other little girls are being asked to do. They’re pre-schoolers and their choreography is basic burlesque. They’ve got their arms up in a Playboy “Look at my swimsuit” position. They’re blowing kisses at “Mr. Producer” and enacting all the hallmarks of objectification – but cute, like for girls! And most of those little girls are getting it right. They’re shimmying appropriately, they’re looking coy, they’re showing off their legs in Marilyn Monroe “Who me?” positions. And this kid’s not having it. She’s doing the moves she likes and also doing her own. She seizes the authority of her own experience and just does her own dance. And gotten over 3 million views in the process.
But while she’s my new role model, I was nothing like her as a child. I can relate to the other little girls attempting to do the choreography as best they can, confused by the one who isn’t being good. I believed in following the rules, not getting into trouble and always always being nice. Apparently I’m not alone in this legacy and it could be one of the major things holding me back.
On Ashley Milne-Tite’s brilliant podcast, The Broad Experience, one of her guests said. . .
“One of the reasons women do so well in school is because we’re great followers of authority. We check the right boxes. We follow the proper procedure. We tend not to act outside the authority that we’re given.”
As a child, I thought the rules would save me. And in school they did. But now I can see that the rules essentially just hem me in and breaking them is required to get anywhere. No one ever makes a mark in their art by coloring in all the lines or exactly doing the choreography and while I sympathize with that little girl’s choreographer, I know no one would have cared about this bit of choreography if that kid hadn’t just done her own show.
As I was attempting to promote my own rule-breaking show, I found myself consistently up against the question of what was appropriate. Things like, do I have the authority to ask this person AGAIN to come to my show? Have I stepped out of my lockstep shimmy choreography by sending my third email to this guy? Am I going to get in trouble if I put this poster here? I didn’t let my perceived propriety stop me from doing any of these things but I watched the question come up again and again. I realized that success probably means a willingness to get into trouble, to step out of the bounds of propriety.
In being socialized to be nice and appropriate, we are often hamstrung in every field because we never learned how to take authority we aren’t given. School teaches us one thing. The world demands another.
In my art, I feel perfectly able to be the authority. I break a million rules. I do it my way. But as soon as I attempt to engage with the outside world, I’m flummoxed by how to grab authority where I don’t seem to have any.
Success literature will tell you to just go out and TAKE things, to stride into that guy’s office and ask for that raise or whatever. But as this article points out, women who do this are perceived differently than men who do it. Men who ask for things are usually perceived as forthright straightshooters. Women, doing the very same thing, taking the very same advice, can be perceived as demanding ballbusters.
We’re not crazy to avoid stalking in to places of power and asking for things. Experience tells us it will not be well-received or accomplish what we want. There’s still a loophole in NY State law that allows someone to fire you for talking about your salary, so good luck raising the question of why that guy makes more than you do.
All of which leaves us in a sticky place about how to gain authority. Be nice and fail. Be assertive and fail. Play the game and fail. Ignore the game and fail. But this little girl has found a brilliant and hilarious way around the problem. She’s doing the dance. She’s singing the song. But she’s singing and dancing it her way.
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