Last week I watched a video made by a male student on how to prepare for a job interview. The video was bursting with raw and unencumbered confidence. You couldn’t help but like the student’s work, it was evident he was comfortable in his own skin. Later in the week, while working with a group of students, a female student was explaining her idea for their project; she was unsure, rambling and confusing. In my head I watched a reflexive and judgmental reaction occur: she sounds so unintelligent! Later, I reflected, I know she is an incredibly talented and intelligent young woman, how can these 2 identities co-exist?
Is it, that as a female, she is more porous to what others think of her? For this girl, it is just too risky to reveal her intelligence? Whereas, for the young man, he lacked fear of being unaccepted; he is relatively impervious to others opinions about him. His identity does not hinge on acceptance. For the female teen it is paramount to her identity to be like and accepted. I know this is both oversimplified and old news.
I see teenage girls spending serious amounts of time perfecting their profile pictures and intently discussing how many likes a girl’s photo has; the skill set of taking a selfie is highly developed and valued. Teen girls know how to pose model style and silhouette their form in the light. Maybe Sheryl Sandberg’s book should have been titled: Lean In Girls and Get More Likes on Facebook!
Teen boys, can be found at the other extreme; busy making biking movies, taking selfies of their skate board tricks and similar action shots.
Does our connected world emphasize the divide of gender cultures or work to quiet it? Does the digital world further widen the pre-existing extremes and reduce the middle ground between our gender cultures? And does the dominant gender culture get to define the norms of communication in our connected world?
Yes, we can teach girls to stand up taller, avoid the questioning lilt at the end of their sentences, and sound less shrill…but does it or will it change how it feels for teenage girls?
I have wished I possessed the raw confidence of some men. Simultaneously, I recognize and value understanding others before being understood, being hyper-sensitive to group dynamics and driving towards consensus (I am not suggesting these skills are mutually exclusive). Should I sacrifice one skill set and focus on developing my self-confidence? To that end, can I derive my self-confidence from other sources other than being bombastic in my approach?
When I reflect on the male student’s video, although I did love it, I can also identify his voice as not mine. In that moment, I both appreciate his voice and feel separate from it. Just as, when I hear the female student’s voice (maybe she does really have one yet?) I both react critically and connect to it; I can hear my own teen voice in her uncertainty.
I have fought hard to find and develop my voice and I can’t help but wonder: if I was a man would I have had to work so hard at it? In the midst of a Saturday night discussion that ensued on Verena Robert’s post with George Couros, I was provoked to wonder:
- When one group creates the mainstream of change, should all voices be coherent with that vision?
- If we didn’t have voices that sound alienated, different, or less confident, could we imagine how it feels?
- Do we need to listen for what it sounds like to feel alienated, less sure and less confident?
- Are alienating voices a direct result of feeling alienated?
- When the intent is towards working together, should we be “critiqued” for being honest?
- When I don’t feel my authentic voice being heard, can it feel like a team approach to change?
- Can I be confident with my own voice or do I have to alter it to suit the cultural norm?
- Lastly, on a non gender related issue: as classroom teacher is our job to find consensus with teachers or with our students, and what if one role alienates the other?
I wish for my daughter, for the teen girl, and all students male and female, is the choice to lean in OR lean back. I hope their generation will be themselves, not trying to emulate “male traits” to be “successful”. Rather, creating a vision for themselves beyond gender, culture or class.
Does the digital word open up and allow for the evolution of new values, voices, and points of views braided together? As suggested by a study in Science magazine the idea that groups containing more women demonstrate greater social sensitivity and as a result experience increased collective intelligence compared to teams containing fewer women.
Can we begin to foster a new collective confidence?
Whose voice will you use?
Who will you alienate with your words?
Who will you braid into to your identity?