As A Young Woman in Leadership

25 / 06 / 2015

Earlier this month, the Victorian Women’s Trust had the pleasure of having young Stella Bridie undertake her work experience at our office. Already an avid and active member of the Fitzroy Feminist Collective, she’s written this article for us discussing the sexist smears that serve as a subtle warning to women and girls with leadership aspirations.

Women in positions of leadership, whether they’re politicians, film directors, or principals, are a constant source of inspiration to me. They are bold, fearless, confident, and appear to just not give a damn about whatever people might be saying about them. They are here to do their jobs, and do them well. We must never, ever underestimate the importance of these women, because not only do they make incredible things happen, but they inspire young women all around the world to do the same.

As a girl, I was never afraid to take charge of a situation. Those situations mostly involved playing hide and seek or swinging off the monkey bars, but to me, it was essentially as serious as the United Nations. The confidence that all kids have inside them is amazing and terrifying at the same time. It’s what propels them to take risks and eat strange foods and jump off of great heights. It’s also what causes the majority of their injuries and mistakes, but that comes with the territory.

Now, as a young woman, I try to at least keep up the appearance of having that kind of confidence. I seek positions of leadership wherever I can, because I want to, and also because I am a good leader. But even as I write this I’m wondering if I should rephrase that last sentence to be more passive, less boastful, something like ‘I think I am a good leader’ or ‘I try to be one’. Five-year-old Stella wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to say she was good at something if she truly knew that she was. So what has changed?

I still have many women in my life who inspire me, from my sister, Winnie, who works in the disability sector and who I learn more and more from everyday, to people like Penny Wong, fighting for what they believe in despite the inherent prejudices of others, to Beyonce, who is hailed as one of best entertainers in popular music. These women, and many more, inspire me by taking control of their lives, of their work, and by using the power they have as individuals, and as members of different communities, to make change happen.

But despite the presence of these wonderful women in my life, there is a certain kind of fear I get now whenever I take charge of a situation, be it with my friends or my family or with fellow students. It’s the same fear I see many other girls my age experience when they’re called on in class or asked what they think about a controversial topic.

It’s a fear of being seen to be a bitch or a nag a fear of having people make snide comments when you turn your back. Or it’s a fear of being wrong, of being laughed at. And it is, quite honestly, a kind of fear that I have never found many young men to have. In fact, most of the boys I know are quite happy to insert their own observations and opinions into any conversation they come across, even when they don’t necessarily have anything particularly insightful to say.

It is because of this fear that I refuse to stop being confident in my abilities, to stop seeking leadership positions, to stop encouraging women around me to do the same. I will continue to be a bossy, nagging bitch until people stop using those words to describe women who display the same traits that young men are commended for having, because I know that is exactly what the women who inspire me would do, and, in fact, are doing.

It is up to me to ignore those fears and ignore the sexist criticism and keep trying to be the best leader I can, keep working to improve myself, keep using the power and privilege I have for good. Because I owe it to the world to the women who inspire me, and to five-year-old Stella, who was, and still is, ready to take on the world.