On the way to school drop off this morning, my 13 year old daughter and I were talking about her conflicting schedule for this afternoon, as she has meetings for both the American Red Cross club AND Student Council on the calendar. (Please note here that she is much more involved - and evolved - at this point in her life than I ever was in the late 1980s.) I suggested she email the sponsor of the Red Cross club, letting the sponsor know that she wouldn’t be at the meeting today because of the conflict. My daughter agreed and then immediately began drafting the email with a lengthy explanation of why she wouldn’t be at the meeting, how she felt about that, a promise that it wouldn’t happen again, and an effusive statement about how much she enjoyed Red Cross club and hoped to be elected an officer.
Her actions - the apologizing, the explaining, and then the justifying - reminded me so much of both Jeanne and I…and what I would love to change about us. And also, maybe the majority of women, right? As a culture, we expect women to accommodate more, to explain more, and apologize more. And personally, I’d love to see that stop. And stop without the connotation that the absence of it means that we’re not agreeable, intelligent, or engaged in the conversation or the outcome.
At PJP, we are often approached to buy services or advertising. Often those sales people are relentless in their pursuit because well, that’s their job. I find myself saying no to whatever it is and then providing a litany of reasons: we can’t afford it, we aren’t sure about it, we haven’t discussed it, we don’t think we need it, etc. Then the person responds with an argument of how it will pay for itself, grow our business, make our lives easier, etc. And the whole thing just becomes this constant circle until I’m hiding in the bathroom to avoid their phone calls like the legit professional that I am. When I mentioned this trend to Behind-The-Scenes Jason, he looked at me and said: “Why don’t you just say ‘no’ and end the conversation”. Huh. This is apparently how it works in male leadership. He apparently just says “NO, THANKS” and then the whole thing ends. Wait, what?
Does it matter WHY I don’t want to buy something, attend something, do something…if I just don’t? No. And that is what I tried to impress upon my daughter this morning…a simple email stating she wouldn’t be at the meeting today because of a scheduling conflict with Student Council is sufficient. And her reaction was so spot on because she looked right at me and said “well, what if the sponsor of Red Cross doesn’t think I care about her club, because I do!!!” And right there is the problem, at least with the women in our family. She cares about Red Cross Club. I care about PJP. If we don’t answer everything with an “OMG, I would love to help, love to buy, love to participate”, does it mean we don’t care? Or is that the story we’ve been trained to believe? Why can men say no with apparent relative ease while women work to ease the sting of “no”?
I have no idea. But I am fully invested in not watching my daughter feel obligated to explain herself constantly as she grows into a successful woman. She deserves more than having to have the burden of that…and really, we all do. We just have to start somewhere. And maybe that is by saying no and not hiding in the bathroom, EVER. Right?