5 Reasons Why Many Women Avoid Public SpeakingFeb 10, 2021
5 Reasons Why Many Women Avoid Public Speaking
True avoidance behaviors involve the complete avoidance of the feared social situation.
I asked my sister (who works with me at TEEwithD) to source some photos for a blog on confidence (you might remember it?) the other day. It was the first time she’d taken over this end of the work, and it was a brand new world for her. I sent her the sites to check, the parameters to use, and off she went.
She returned, today, horrified.
Why? Well, in her words: “I went to that page you gave me and began by searching for pictures of confident women - it took me THREE WHOLE PAGES until I got to ONE picture of a woman. Everything before that was men. THAT’S JUST WRONG. And it explains so much.”
Doesn’t it just?
She discovered the very thing that I talk about to anyone and everyone, every chance I get (even when they clearly don’t give a shit): men AND WOMEN don’t see women as confident. Men? Yup, sure, no problem, probably born with confidence.
Women, on the other hand? If she was born with confidence, it was probably berated, shamed, minimized, ignored, laughed at, derided, and/or beaten out of her before she reached adulthood - maybe even before graduation. Hell, I’ve seen the light go out of the eyes of girls in elementary school, for god’s sake.
And really, what do we expect?
Despite the rhetoric around empowerment, and “girl power” and “my floor is her ceiling” and body positivity, we’ve got a looonnnngggg way to go. Girls aren’t dumb - far from it, obviously - and as humans, the survival instinct is all-powerful.
Many, many girls learn (even today, even in the Western hemisphere) that their survival depends upon a very narrow range of elements:
- appearance (facial beauty)
- appearance (physical shape and weight)
- appearance (in some areas, skin colour)
- smiling (and it’s best if your teeth are totally straight and perfectly white)
- charm (not to be confused with charisma)
- malleability (in other words, the ability to conform to the expectations of others)
- being unthreatening (you can’t be smarter, more clever, more innovative, quicker, more competitive, more accomplished or more talented)
- making other females the enemy
Why? I think it’s because for so long we’ve been fed a pretty straight diet of male-scarcity.
As in, “Mr. Perfect”, “Mr. Right”, “The one that got away”, “All the good ones are taken”, “I might never get another chance”, and “A girl like me can’t be too choosy.”
If we can’t, don’t, or won’t make a successful male match, then our chances of survival - and any children we might choose (or be forced) to have - are greatly diminished. Nowadays, it might not be pure survival that’s at risk, though there are certainly enough instances of survival being endangered in North America and Europe to merit its continued inclusion in the discussion. No, now we hear about thriving (or, as some truly obnoxious would-be linguists now say, “thrival”. Ick.).
Thriving is the ability for ourselves (and any children in the mix) to not only hold on to life, but to have a life that meets a certain standard of quality.
Most of us know that THAT benchmark keeps getting moved (though I have read recently that this generation - the one born in these last few years - is the first generation in modern history likely to have a decreasing overall quality of life, as opposed to the century-long trend of increasing. But I digress.).
No longer is it about having food, water, shelter, education, healthcare, safety, opportunity: it’s about the best schools, the best foods, the most elite opportunities - you know the drill.
And all of that takes MONEY.
And money doesn’t grow on trees (trust me, I’ve had a money tree growing in the backyard for decades, and it hasn’t produced one damn cent).
Where does the money come from?? Yup, we’ve circled back around to the notion of having a successful male match (though I acknowledge that there are other potential matches, more so now).
Yes, a woman can be successful in her right. Yes, a woman can raise children on her own. Yes, a woman can vote, own property, etc. (and - btw - that right is only one hundred years old, and that’s only in some places). But those are the women we either a) criticize or b) laud as a saint. Why? Because it’s fucking hard. So, we’re not out of the woods, Goldilocks.
So what the hell does ANY of this have to do with ‘public speaking’?, you might rightly ask.
Simple. Public speaking - for MANY women - is when all the shit HITS. THE. FAN.
Along with the survive/thrive, the successful “pairing”, the putting of a bullseye right smack in your midsection, the drawing of attention, the exhibiting confidence that threatens...EVERYTHING.
Take a moment with that thought: Think about the female “successful public speakers” you know of - now think of yourself. Would you put yourself in their category? The Michelle Obamas, the Oprah Winfreys, the Kamala Harrises, the Hillary Clinton? The Meryl Streep? I’m betting you wouldn’t.
Because they’re the exception - and in many cases it’s been a struggle and they’ve paid a personal price for these choices.
We admire them: we kinda want to be them. But we also kinda don’t.
Now think of successful male public speakers (you won’t be blamed if you pretty much think of all of male-hood in this group): is there a single one that you think, “Oh, he’s so great at that. Boy, it’s remarkable that he can do that that well. I’m sure he made a lot of personal sacrifices to get that good - and that level of recognition.”
I’d bet serious money you NEVER EVEN THINK ABOUT the ‘specialness’ or ‘uniqueness’ of a man being a great public speaker.
Which is exactly my point.
So, finally, here are my 5 Reasons Many Women Avoid Public Speaking:
- They believe that their appearance is not “good enough” to be “onstage”, and by having the spotlight on them in this way, they’re opening themselves up to criticism, risk, etc.
- They believe that “nice girls” don’t make waves - they are conflict-avoidant, because they haven’t been given the skills OR the permission to stand strong in their place when tensions or challenges rise up.
- They’ve had little encouragement to develop their thoughts, feelings and beliefs to the point that a public stage seems like a legitimate place to be (in other words, they have nothing valuable to say).
- They haven’t been given an opportunity to learn the skills necessary, nor the space to practice those skills - so they don’t feel “ready” or “good enough”.
- They are convinced that everyone else is smarter, wittier, more educated, more eloquent, more expressive, more natural, more interesting, more engaging, more worthy and worthwhile than themselves.
In sum, how DARE they put themselves in a position of centrality, focus, authority, or anything else that will threaten.
Now, if you’ve read all this, and you’re saying to yourself, “Whatever. Totally doesn’t apply to me...or my friends,” then I say, “Good for you. You’re lucky. Now, what are you going to do with this power?”
More likely, you’re one of the very many going, “Shit.”
And I say to you, “What are you going to do now, with this awareness?”
Maybe nothing. Maybe you’ll keep telling yourself that “that’s just the way it is” or “other women are doing this, so I don’t have to” or “I know things should change, but I’m not the right woman for the job” or any of a million others things we tell ourselves.
All of that is fair.
But I want to leave you with one last question:
Are these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs based on reality and truth, or are they the stories you tell yourself, based on years lived under the influence of family, friends, society, communities, institutions, etc., when you were too young to realize WHO you were, and what was being done to your true self and potential?
Again, just a thought, shared with love, respect, belief in you and your potential, and the very real power that women have just waiting to be tapped.
Maybe someday, when my niece goes looking for photos of women who are confidently speaking in public, she’ll see a picture of you.
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