Last Thursday morning I had the privilege of listening to Jane Caro speak at a breakfast event.
Jane’s bio describes her as an “author, novelist, lecturer, mentor, social commentator, columnist, workshop facilitator, speaker, broadcaster and award winning advertising writer”. In her new book, Plain-Speaking Jane, she writes about being fired when pregnant, her battle with anxiety, and how to have the confidence and freedom to be precisely who you are, not who you are expected to be.
Jane identified one of the most significant hurdles I believe face women today: perceptions. Both their perception of themselves and others’ perception of them. Women, Jane explained, are constantly subject to a dichotomy of varying forms: madonna/whore, submissive/aggressive, over-emotional/cold. The list is a familiar one for most of us. According to Jane, the categories in which we are placed ensure that we always get it wrong. “We’re told to ‘lean in’ but not too far. We’re told to be assertive, but not aggressive…Be brilliant, but not scary and difficult”.
Sometimes, we fall into the trap of believing that these perceptions of us are actually us – or should be. Sometimes we exhaust ourselves trying to fit into the boxes in which we think we belong.
We are more than one side of a coin, and no one has the right to reduce us to a category just because it suits their world view.
Jane’s solution? She believes we will only start to see true equality when women themselves stop subscribing to these categories and instead be unashamedly ourselves. So the house is untidy and you think it reflects badly on you? Who cares. You get told you’re too emotional at work? Well, how much is too much emotion and who gets to decide? Be as emotional as you need to be. The categories don’t matter much if you ignore them.
There is no right way to be a woman, so being yourself is a pretty good option.