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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

Dec 2018

How can men and women talk about feminism?

MeToo, Mansplaining, Everyday Sexism, Women in the Boardroom, ‘Stupid Woman!’

My amateur lip-reading inclines me towards believing Jeremy Corbyn that he said stupid people not stupid woman. In our house, one of my lot said, If Theresa May had said ‘Stupid Man!’ would there have been the same uproar?

I said, ‘Stupid Woman!’ is loaded in a way that ‘Stupid Man!’ isn’t.

But that’s where the conversation stopped in my kitchen – easier than risking a conversation about feminism that might leave each of us feeling misunderstood.

The gender/sexism/feminism conversation is a tricky one to have in families, schools and in work teams. My experience is that it often ends with awkward silence and individuals retreating to mutter alone or with their tribe.

A wise mentor said to me about this. “Why should we surprised if it’s hard to talk to our families and teams about issues that exist in cultures and systems and histories that are so much bigger than us?” (She’s been talking about the Holocaust for years.)

In my professional life, I make many attempts to talk with leaders – men and women – about female leadership in organisations and have learned hard lessons along the way. I still need a lot more practice.

Some rules that I try to apply:

  1. Acknowledging the trickiness and imperfection of talking about such issues but entering the minefield anyway.
  2. Acknowledging that men and women are all being acted upon by unconscious biases, cultural norms and assumptions that we didn’t choose but absorb nonetheless.
  3. Smiling, looking people in the eye, staying connected, staying curious about their experience and offering mine.
  4. Sticking to the facts where I have facts.
  5. Owning my experience, my feelings and yes, sometimes my hurt and outrage, as mine and not as something I want my conversational partners to feel responsible for or blamed for.
  6. Above all, trying not to take things personally that are, by their very nature, so much bigger than any one of us.

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