"STEP OUT OF LINE, LADIES! STEP OUT OF LINE!"
........ Alex Borstein
MY NEW MOTTO
I have a confession. I adore award shows. the Oscars, the Golden Globes, Peoples’ Choice Awards, the Emmys, the American Music Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The list is endless. My addiction lies not just for the fashions that grace the red carpet, I am besotted with acceptance speeches.
I often sit through hours of boredom seeking that “one moment” that can inspire. That can change your life forever. The reward far outweighs the suffering.
Last Sunday, the 71st Emmy Awards honored the best in US primetime television programming. There were more great speeches than usual, but then there was the one – one brilliant story told in a two minute acceptance speech that was ‘the moment’.
A little backstory. For those of you who don’t stream… you’re missing a most effervescent period comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. A feminist comedy on Amazon Prime. That, by the way, won a Peabody Award, an award that honors the most powerful, enlightening and invigorating stories in television, radio and online media.
No spoiler alerts here. All I will say is the actor Alex Borstein plays Susie Meyerson –Mrs. Maisel’s self- appointed agent. She won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy series.
Her speech was dedicated to her mother and grandmother:
“…to my mother, where are you...to my grandmother, Nudgy, they are immigrants, they are Holocaust survivors, my grandmother turned to a guard...She was in line to be shot into a pit and she said, "What happens if I step out of line?" and he said, "I don't have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will," and she stepped out of line, and for that I am here, and my children are here, so step out of line, ladies. Step out of line.”
I haven’t stopped thinking about that moment. When was the last time I stepped out of line or didn’t!! And if not why not? I’ve never been faced with a life or death situation so what holds me back?"
Have I always taken a stance for what I believe in? Or have I found myself worrying too much about the consequences of my actions and therefore do nothing?
Taking a stance because of my own personal values can leave a lot of collateral damage, inadvertently also hurting the ones I love. It ends up “easier” just to do nothing. But are there other reasons for not stepping out of line?
Backlash! From the floor of the US Senate to auditions for orchestras, researchers have found that men are often seen as more competent and powerful for talking, while women are more harshly criticized, more frequently interrupted, and judged as less competent for the same behaviours.
Psychological scientist, Adam Grant, has written that even speaking up about ideas for improvements at work – also known as “voice” – can be a risky undertaking for women.
“When male employees contributed ideas that brought in new revenue, they got significantly higher performance evaluations. But female employees who spoke up with equally valuable ideas did not improve their managers’ perception of their performance,” reports Grant.
The New York Times recently reported on a research study from Yale psychological scientist, Victoria L. Brescoll, that concluded powerful women are, in fact,correct in assuming that they will experience backlash as a result of talking more than others.
“Results showed that a female CEO who talked disproportionately longer than others was rated as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who talked for an equivalent amount of time.”
What are we to do? If women can incur backlash for bringing good ideas to the table or those in a powerful role can be penalized for “voice”, than what chance does any woman have? Especially those, who occupy a space low on the totem pole, how will they be received when bringing bad news to the attention of her superiors? What happens when she steps out of line?!
When I’ve spoken up, the response– “no one else seems to have this problem” is really a “shut you down” maneuver. I’ve also experienced the “well it’s not systemic within our company” reaction– don’t be fooled. It’s an intimidation tactic to make you to fall back into line.
I’ve yet to figure any of this out. Wiser people than myself hope that growing numbers of women in leadership positions will help diminish the bias against women speaking, let alone speaking out. But depressingly, changes in the gender makeup in the upper echelons of organizations are happening at sloth speed.
Perhaps the answer is as simple as more women “stepping out of line” so that people will actually get used to it and women will no longer incur such wrath. Ultimately, it might even be considered the norm.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”
….The Lorax (Dr. Seuss)