“Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. They just zap energy and waste time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
It wasn’t too long ago…
I was seven when Ruth Bader Ginsburg pressed to pass into law the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that allowed me, as a woman, to apply for credit cards and mortgages without a male co-signer. I was 40 when Bader Ginsburg helped ensure women get equal pay. I was five when she argued to gain protection for pregnant women in the workplace. These are all privileges that I have taken for granted. I have very rarely (never) thought about the women who fought to allow me access to these ideals that allow me to be independent.
Where would my life be now if it weren’t for these privileges and these freedoms? As hard as she fought, consider how many women fought against her. I can imagine that Bader Ginsburg experienced much backlash throughout her years as a judge, a leader and as a woman.
After her death, we’ve heard many wonderful things about her and about what she bravely accomplished on our behalf. But think about how many times she was torn apart, pushed down and verbally shredded. She constantly picked herself up, brushed herself off and went back to fight the fight.
I have seen this happen to women at all levels in government and in business. I have been on the receiving end of this and, to be totally candid, I’ve been on the other side too. I am aware of this and continually self-reflect on how I can do better.
Women need to change how we communicate about other women. I grew up in a small, close-knit neighborhood of about 26 families. We all knew each other and ironically, there were five girls all my age. We were best of friends one day and fierce enemies the next. We all did good things and we all did bad things. These girls, my friends, said things about me that weren’t always kind. It was part of growing up. It was part of processing. It was part of fitting in. It wasn’t necessarily healthy, but common as girls grow up. It’s time we change that trajectory.
Our hope is that we grow out of this. Our reality is that it continues well into adulthood. Some of us get hit harder than others. Some of us hit harder than others. But why? Why do we do it and let it continue to impact our lives? More importantly, how do we rise above it and alter our behavior so that our daughters do not perpetuate or endure the same treatment?
Through my own unscientific observations and experience, I have some theories. One of the reasons I believe women speak badly about other women has to do with how we process information. We often have a more complex emotional “story” that we process by talking about it. Sometimes we are trying to convince others that “our story” is the right story. Sometimes we’re simply thinking out loud. If we can take a moment to understand our reactions to adverse information being said about ourselves or of other women, our reactions can be tempered.
The other more common theory is that women lash out and bash other women because of their own insecurities. There are countless studies that explore why and how this happens between women.
As I get older, I find myself striving to be a champion for other women, a staunch supporter of female professionals and a vocal defender of the many women I call friends. I am aware of my flaws and shortcomings but as I age, I care less what others may say about me. I also try to take negative comments and gossip through a discerning lens.
Very seldom do I whole-heartedly buy into what is being said about someone else. What I want to get better at is flat out shutting it down. We all have bigger, better, more important things to focus on.
Here are some practical actions that we can take:
- Try to learn from your critics but do it through a filter of “what can I learn from this?” and “what might be true to me but was caused by my actions?” Also, think about what the motivation of the critic is. Is she being constructive? Is she trying to hurt or destroy you for some reason? Is she spiteful? Does she think her destructive comments make her look better?
- DO NOT DWELL. I do this all the time. It doesn’t matter if it was a truth, a lie or an exaggeration – it is hard not to take negative comments personally. Some of us make it worse for ourselves by dwelling on it.
- Perspectives can be wildly different. One of the most valuable lessons from Crucial Conversations by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan is the concept of “the story I’m telling myself”. This is a valuable tool when you are trying to understand how someone so completely misrepresented you or is telling a very different story from what your reality is.
- Believe in your own experience with someone and correct, defend and support the women in your life. It is easy to get caught up in misinformation and unintentionally participate. Be a champion for the women that you believe in and especially for the ones you call friends!
- Brene Brown offers this perspective: “Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” If you are one of the “people in the stands”, consider how you can change your behavior to be more supportive. If you are the person being criticized, determine what, if anything you can learn from that. Then let it go.
- Take a hard look at yourself and how you contribute to damaging perceptions about other women. You cannot control what everyone else thinks or says, but you sure as heck can control yourself!
If Ruth Bader Ginsburg listened to the naysayers, the critics, the bystanders, we most certainly would not have the freedoms we have today as women of all walks of life. Not only do we need to recognize this, but we also need to behave differently to ensure our futures are positive. We can do this by improving our own behaviors.
“The most important thing in life is your inner energy. If you’re always tired and never enthused, then life is no fun. But if you’re always inspired and filled with energy, then every minute of every day is an exciting experience. Learn to work with these things.” – “Untethered Soul” by Michael A Singer.