This is an absurd statement, of course. But it’s an impression we as a society have – intentionally or not – imparted to girls who dare to tackle ambitious projects.
My 15-year-old daughter spent this past weekend participating in a 54-hour film festival wherein teams had – you guessed it – 54 hours to conceive, shoot, edit, and produce a short film based on a set of parameters they were given Friday evening. My daughter led her team as the project’s editor – arguably the most difficult role because it a) functions as the creative glue binding together the writing, acting, and cinematography, b) because it comes at the end of everyone else’s role and is thus the most susceptible to deadline pressure, and c) requires the arguably the highest degree of technical skill.
We believe she was the youngest participant in the festival, and that hers was also the only female-led team.
When I pointed this out to her – as a seriously proud mom – she said, “Yeah, I guess it takes some arrogance to be an editor or director.”
I said to her that I doubted any of the men who led their film teams thought of themselves as “arrogant”.
So even though I’ve worked hard to instill confidence in my daughter – and have pushed her to tackle big challenges – I am fighting the larger culture here, and sometimes it gets into her head.
How can it not?
Last summer, my brave, talented, confident daughter watched two of my female friends run for elected offices for which they were beyond qualified to serve. One of them – a Navy veteran and entrepreneur – was given the same message my daughter received: “You’re arrogant to run.”
The other one – a woman with 30 years of experience in policy and public life – was soundly defeated by a man whose campaign strategy was to talk about how little he knew about the office to which he aspired.
The cherry on top of all this? The fact that our culture doesn’t even always recognize or acknowledge what it’s doing.
Here’s what I think we have to do. Beyond Girls To The Moon– and that’s certainly part of it – we have to continue to be thoughtful about our use of language and continue to shine a spotlight on women who are examples of the words we’ve chosen to guide us.
When a woman decides to take on a tough challenge, it isn’t because she is cocky or arrogant – it’s because she is brave and ambitious.
I’d go so far as to say that – especially if she is as privileged by race, income, and immigration status as my daughter is – she has an outright obligation to tackle big things.
That is the message for our girls.
By Knight Stivender
Knight lives in Franklin, Tenn., and is CEO of Girls To The Moon.
She’s been named Alumna of the Year for her alma mater, Innovator of the Year for a company with 20,o00 employees, and leader of a Pulitzer-heralded digital news team.