Dare to be a woman

by Rayna van Aalst June 18, 2017

Dare to be a woman

Earlier this week I witnessed a very interesting phenomenon.

I was at the NextWomen Summit, ambitiously called “the Ambitios edition”. The speakers lineup was stellar – Chantal Janzen, Dutch actress, musical star and presenter; Prince Constantijn van Oranje; David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. And the list goes on.

The last keynote speaker before the break was Eva Jinek, one of the most successful female Dutch TV personalities and the only female host of a Dutch talk show. This woman is fire. “I am a feminist. I’m a fighter” was not her opening line, it was something she said somewhere in the middle but girl, was there a power in her voice! She talked passionately about her own experience as a woman in the TV world and her mission to change the representation of women on TV. An interesting fact she shared was that 75% of the team of her show is represented by women while only 25% of her guests are women. Facts are facts, and in this case quite unfair.

Eva Jinek’s speech was not only about her own fight but it also included useful tips for women to make themselves seen. Eva finished with a heartfelt plea to everyone in the room to “be the authority in what they do”.

And then something interesting happened.

The summit moderator thanked Eva for her speech and asked her why she doesn’t do more, why she doesn’t invite more women to the show, after all Eva has a big say in who gets invited (very Dutch approach to a situation). “I’m doing everything I can to have more women on the show but when these women get the call from the show, they need to say “Yes” instead of “I think you should talk to my male colleague who is more competent on the subject than me” was Eva’s response.

Silence in the room.

Then the summit host turned to the audience and asked “Who here has a 10 second pitch to Eva to be invited to her show?”.

Silence.

A room full of more than 150 girlbosses and powerwomen, and silence.

After the host repeated her questions a few times, two women raised their hands. Both nervous, both with trembling voices shared their stories and Eva invited them to talk to her in the break and promised to do her best to have them invited to her show.

In that minute while the moderate was desperate to get just one woman stand up, I realized how all these women, most of them very successful entrepreneurs, were not simply afraid or nervous. There was one more thing which stopped them from raising their hand - they didn’t believe they were good enough. They didn’t believe that they had something interesting, useful, fill in the blank enough to talk about. They didn’t believe they could bring enough to the table of Eva’s talk show.

I was sitting there and after overcoming the initial fear of standing up which swept over me after the  moderator asked for a volunteer, I realized that it was a great opportunity for me to talk about my mission but I didn’t raise my hand because at the back of my head there was a voice saying that I wasn’t ready yet. That moment of “I have something to say” and then the doubt kicks in. I’m not a psychic but I know it was that same voice which held all these women back from raising their hands - my business is not big enough, I don’t have enough speaking experience, I need to do a few more courses on my topic, you name it. All boiling down to “I am not enough”.

During the break, I was contemplating over this realization when something else struck me too. The intention of the summit and the organizers was to promote women but what very often happens during such events for women is that word “woman” is used as a shield or even as an excuse. A great example was when the moderator asked Prince Constantijn, special envoy of Startup Delta, after he finished interviewing the female forces behind two super successful startups – “what are the biggest challenges women face in startups” and

his response was “Why do you ask about women?”

I understand the moderator’s point - it's an event for women and because women do face extra challenges than men but what also became very clear to me in that moment is that very often we as women go into a conversation from the position of being treated unfairly (victims) instead of someone who can make a difference. It's a very subtle different, the line is very thin, but it makes such a huge difference. I know the statistics but to change them we need to believe we have the power to change. And that we deserve the change.

During such “women” events I notice that we also tend to assume the position of “we women” against “you men”. But isn’t this the very same thing women fight against – that world of separation and one gender being superior to the other? Shouldn’t the conversation be about “us, women and men together”.

Eva Jinek calls herself a feminist but what made her speech so powerful was the fact that she didn’t women vs men. As a matter of fact one of the most powerful things she said is (I'm paraphrasing here) - "The human's natural reaction to a situation is fight or flight. .... I'm asking you to get over yourself and change how you respond to each situation". Her message was for women but it wasn’t against men. Her speech was encouraging and most of all empowering for everyone in the room to dare to be a woman, not a victim. And to believe in yourself.

I’ll finish with Chantal Janzen’s approach to a situation we all find ourselves into. Just like Pippi Longstocking says “I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”, every time someone asks Chantal “Do you think you can do it?”, she answers – “I don’t know but I’d like to try”.

Maybe it’s time for us all to start believing we are enough.

xo Rayna

Photo Jinek Live.





Rayna van Aalst
Rayna van Aalst

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