While sitting on stage in front of a room of fired-up women at the United State of Women Galvanize Conference in Chicago on July 15, 2017, Illinois Senator Toi Hutchinson had one word of advice:
The suggestion, or instruction (depending upon your interpretation), was echoed by a number of speakers throughout the day, and leaders including Dick Durbin and Valerie Jarrett encouraged women to run for political office.
Every time I heard that three-letter word, chills ran up my spine – in large part because I’m a sucker for a good call to action.
Of course, running for political office is no small task, as it requires organization, perseverance, and courage. But the need for more women in decision-making roles is imperative. As Senator Hutchinson put it:
“Think about what it means to have your voice and presence in the room. Little girls need to see me, because how can you grow up to be me if you can’t see me?”
— Senator Toi Hutchinson
Running for political office is a subversive move for women in a culture that has traditionally cast women in the submissive role of consumer and caretaker rather than producer and decision maker. Running for office and taking up any leadership position requires the courage to be seen, be heard, and most importantly, to take up space.
Keep these statistics in mind…
This concept of taking up space sank in for me during my Leadership Track breakout session during the conference, where we discussed the importance of becoming aware of the many layers of communication and the fact that, while words might seem to be the most important part of communication, in reality:
Fifty-five percent of communication is visual, thirty-eight percent is vocal, and only seven percent is verbal. What does this mean? Vocality (tone of voice and how something is said, rather than the content of what is said) has more of an impact on how we communicate with others than the actual words we say. But more importantly, our bodies talk more than our mouths. Our posture, our stance, and our physical movements all communicate subtle messages that influence the way people feel about us and what we say, often much more than our words and sounds alone.
After introducing these levels of communication, our facilitator instructed us to “sit like a man”.
The room filled with nervous giggles as cross-legged, condensed women began to spread their legs and open their arms. I grabbed an extra chair, draped my arm around the back, and spread my legs, taking up the space of two people.
I felt like a completely different person: shameless, bold, and comfortable. I felt like a king – like I owned my space and I was meant to be there. I looked over at the woman sitting next to me with legs still crossed, taking up the space of half of one human.
As women, our bodies are the storehouses of our power; our bodies are the foundation of creation. And as women, we receive messages from all directions – from media, other people, and ourselves – telling us that we should be smaller: be thinner, lose weight, lose fat, eat less. I don’t go through a day when I don’t hear at least one woman comment on her need to lose weight or eat less. Often that woman is me.
Physical health is unquestionably important, and anyone at an unhealthy weight should do what they can to reach a healthy weight.
However, we live in a weight-loss obsessed culture. Whether your body is stick-thin or voluptuous, odds are that you think you need to be smaller. Our culture stamps us with a seal of body shame. The message, though not always intentional, is clear: be small, decrease yourself, exist in limited proportions.
Essentially, women are told to be less. To take up less space. And really, this body-obsession is distracting and a waste of time.
By the end of the conference, I couldn’t help but draw a connection between the lack of women in political office and leadership positions, our culture’s weight-loss obsession, and the concept of taking up space. If women are going to start taking up more space in the world, then we need to be willing to love and accept ourselves — ALL of ourselves. We need to let our bodies be and be willing to exist BIG. To be BIG.
Of course, I’m not talking about gaining weight. I’m talking metaphorically.
Close your eyes, and think about what being BIG feels like. To be expansive and limitless.
Because the world needs more of you.
The world needs more of us.
The world needs more of us. It’s time for women to take up more space.
It’s time for women to take up more space. Sprawl. Exist in epic proportions.
We must give ourselves permission to take up more space – in political offices, in the public forum, in STEM, in the media, and in any and all leadership positions.
Saying that we need to lose more weight is just another version of saying “sorry” and “just” anytime we start a sentence. It is apologizing for our existence. It diminishes our power.
Ladies, it’s time to unapologetically exist. Let your body be. Let’s assert our needs and take what is ours.
Women, in many ways, are women’s greatest enemy. I know that I personally am incredibly competitive with other women. Step into any all-female exercise class and you will know what I mean. I see this inner-gender competitiveness as just another example of the belief that there is not enough space for us all to exist and thrive.
In reality, there is more than enough space for ALL of us to pursue our true desires and be successful. What is it that you truly feel called to do? Do it. The more women pursue their truth, the truer a world we will live in.
What if the amount of energy we put into trying to look a certain way was redirected to running for office, taking up leadership positions, and making our voices heard?
In the beautiful words of the lovely and powerful Senator Toi Hutchinson, “There is nothing more intrinsic to freedom than bodily autonomy.”
So, yeah, uncross your legs and RUN. —LW