Let me tell you: I love to see women supporting women. Nothing gives me goose bumps like a good Overcoming-the-Patriarchy story. But I think that it is a habit for individuals—myself included—to view support for women as a cut-and-dried issue. If people want to reach out and help women, why should we question it? After all, we are the minority, and that means that anyone who steps in to save us will be welcomed with open arms, right? But there is a danger in letting anything pass as women-empowerment without considering the consequences.
On March 9, an open Facebook group was launched. It is called “Women of Wittenberg,” and is—as stated in a post by the page’s creator Matt Pfouts, ‘14— “an effort to begin conversations about Women in Leadership,” and is meant to be a large-scale discussion of aspirations, passions, and the “plights facing women everywhere.” At first, this sounds wonderful. In fact, I am not wholly against the page. I like that people are posting spoken word about the struggles of every-day women; I like that people are sharing ideas about how to talk to young girls without calling them pretty.
But after a few days of looking at Facebook, I realized that something about the page was bothering me, and it deserves an honest discussion. What bothers me about the page is the fundamental way in which it’s existence is plugged as a way for women to talk about their leadership roles.
If you have not seen the page because you are either not a woman, or were not invited (as several of my female friends complained to me that they were not), then you probably do not see the problem.
To illustrate this, here is the post by Pfouts that describes why this page was created:
“In an effort to begin conversations about Women in Leadership; I am starting this group as an outlet for Wittenberg Women to share their stories… My hope is that we can start a revolution on our campus to discuss the plights facing women everywhere… Make this group whatever you want it to be. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Use your talents and your voice to help inspire young girls everywhere to lead. You are all leaders, and it’s time we all have you sitting at the table. ‘Having light, we pass it on to others.’ Now pass it on!”
The explanation begins and ends with leadership. Good. Let’s start there.
Women should be leaders, if they want. Women should be housewives, if they want. Women should be anything they want, and by insinuating that to empower women is to put them in leadership roles is simply not true, and acts as a silencer to the women who do not aspire to be conventional “leaders.”
Rather than open the world for women, pushing leadership on them as a way of measuring self worth closes them in, making the world, and women, believe that women are only succeeding if they are in these high-up positions, which is simply not true.
This idea that women who are not aspiring to be leaders are somehow failing the gender negates the small acts of female empowerment that happen on an everyday level and are every bit as feminine and exemplary as, say, being the COO of Facebook. As prominent feminist Bell Hooks wrote in her book, “Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center,” “Being oppressed means the absence of choices.” If my only choice in being a woman is to be a leader, I am still pretty damn oppressed.
And this isn’t to say that the founders of this group would perpetuate this idea knowingly, because I genuinely believe that this page was created with the utmost of good intentions. And it also isn’t to say that women leaders are not true women.
But let’s look beyond this Facebook group at the actual women of Witt. Let’s support all the women in our lives, not just the leaders, for overcoming their many obstacles. If all you’ve done for women today is join a Facebook group, then there is a lot more that can be accomplished.
Let’s start by not asking women to sit at a table that they don’t want to be at and then exclude them from the movement that is every bit as much theirs. Let’s not ask women to fit into the patriarchal structures of “leadership,” but rather ask them to be the very best individual they can be and refuse to let people tell them how to be women.