When you are a woman of color in the United States, the glass ceilings are duplicated, because not only you are a woman, but also because you are “of color” i.e. color is a general designation to anyone that is not white American protestant. Unfortunately, this is a reality. But, as Sheryl Sandberg has stated in her recently released book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, some of these issues can start to be addressed with a shift in paradigm inside of ourselves, women.
Despite all advancement in women rights, studies and conditions, we still internalize many of old patterns and standards in regards to women’s position and behaviors. Of those, one that called my attention the most is the usual behavior related to women’s leadership. It is still not stimulated or widely accepted that girls are ambitious and leaders. Girls are still called bossy if they take the leadership in games and play settings, while for boys it is accepted (and expected) as a natural behavior. As Sheryl, I was also accused of being bossy many times when leading games with my friends. As Sheryl, I tried to conform, since it was not a compliment.
Other women feel offended when one of their peers exercise leadership or displays a more aggressive behavior. They criticize each other, which is another problem itself. Often times, things are not done or accomplished if the gentle, nurturing, and “likeable” girlie traits are used, especially in business. Women colleagues tend to feel “weird” if another women “act as man”. Note also that I still defend girlie traits and I even believe some are unique to women, but what I mean is that it is not always useful to achieve some of the objectives one may have.
In addition, this problem takes a deeper and more ingrained direction in Latino patriarchal cultures, like the Brazilian culture. For girls, their appearance and their “girlie”, delicate manners are still expected to be above anything else. In a culture of unhealthy valorization of physical appearance, leadership and ambition are seen as secondary, and even undesirable, characteristic for women. Note, however, that intelligence and street-smart is expected from women to “do the right choices” (get a nice and rich husband and choose and perform up to a satisfactory level a feminine career choice, all of that while being a great mother and wife).
Some Brazilians will disagree with me, but remember that I am talking about paradigms and ideas we do not think about, things we accept as normal and that we have been reproducing for centuries.
So, today, I urge Brazilian women, here or in the homeland, to look to the girls around you with critical discerning. Ask yourselves, before talking to a girl, if you are being fair to her full potential. Ask yourselves if you are merely reproducing, without thinking, the paradigms given to you in your upbringing. Ask yourselves if you are opening all the possibilities doors to your daughters, nieces, cousins. Let’s turn this table of inequities (women still makes only $0.70 to every $1.00 dollar man makes) by starting to believe in our girl’s full potentials, looking at them beyond their sex and gender.