There is a problem with women living and speaking from outside the box.

Growing up in Brisbane in the 1970′s, very few roles were modelled for girls. Our river-bound suburb filled with brand new blonde brick homes, and the homes filled with babies. Apart from school teachers, check-out ladies and the woman next door who ran a ballet school, women didn’t work.

But every afternoon, TV brought me a different woman. She was smart, funny and even quite crazy. She wasn’t Penny from Lost in Space, Melissa from Little House on the Prairie or Jan from The Brady Bunch. She was Australian, like me. This woman sat in a suspended cane chair, playfully talking to and pulling the nose of a rubbery Pink Panther toy she called Banana Nose. Her name was Jacki MacDonald and she was my idol.

On the one hand she was just introducing the cartoons; she was one of few women who introduced me to a possible life beyond that river.

Thirteen years on, I was offered a job producing and presenting my own daily TV show. I had just finished university and it was an extraordinary achievement. I was equally thrilled and terrified.

But not everyone was as happy. Some university friends rounded on me. The pretexts were my sell-out (to evil mainstream media) and transgressions from feminism (I’d be wearing make-up for TV). Even people I didn’t know had opinions about me. At the time it felt and was very personal. In retrospect I hear a shatter as I shot past anyone’s expectations of what would happen to us next.

Fast forward thirty years and this elephant is still in the women’s room. It was recently spoken to me by a female client. I was stunned when she told me a woman had made this remark to her. I asked her permission to share with the other women to establish how common it is. There have been knowing nods. It sounds like this, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

This is spoken by women – and men – to push back a woman. It’s spoken when she challenges an expectation of how she should behave.

Here are other ways it is spoken:

You’re too /She’s too opinionated
You need to/She needs to calm the fuck down
You’re/She’s a bitch
You’re/She’s ambitious
Don’t take yourself/ She takes herself too seriously
You’re/She’s overreacting
It’s all about you/her
You/She talks too much
You’re too clever for your own good
There are scores more…

How do you think a ten year old girl might respond to that comment, “You’re too clever for your own good”?

I can tell you. That girl was me. First it shuts you up. It also confuses the hell out of you and makes you wonder if in future you should behave in a way that won’t attract those kinds of comments.

On International Women’s Day I’ve enjoyed a surf morning with Brenda Miley, the founder of Lets Go Surfing, one of Australia’s first surf schools. Brenda established the school twenty-one years ago to encourage more people, especially women, to surf. I am one of them.

I celebrate the waves of change, yes. But let’s watch for the undercurrents. We live in a culture which persistently shames, denigrates and silences women, and those women who are claiming their own ways of life and unique voices are special targets.

I am no angel. I grew up with the conditioning and am part of this society. I’ve caught myself thinking these very same thoughts.

I don’t make people famous by having them on my TV show anymore. Nor do I make them famous putting them in media, as I did for decades. These days I guide men and women to their own voice and public visibility via writing as Dangerous Bloggers. It’s done in a partnered program, which means I am present and available as they take these bold steps out of invisibility.

I see now why guiding and partnering are important aspects of this journey. Women, especially, look for social permission and need to feel safe. We’ve been told to shut up many times. We hear the negative comments about other women so often we almost don’t hear them at all.

Next time we think or hear someone say words that sound like “Who the Fuck Does She Think She Is?” let’s call it out. Because when we let that comment pass, we allow anti-woman culture to stand unchallenged.

The theme for International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change. I love boldness and I love bold women. I also want to be bold enough to challenge and change anything in myself and others which impedes authentic, creative, original and much-needed voice of woman.

I ask myself what is the opposite of “Who the fuck does she think she is?” I’ve come up with “Becoming Her”. I’d love your suggestions too.

To see upcoming Dangerous Blogging Workshops and Dangerous & Brilliant Writers’ Retreat (May 24-27) click here. 

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