The problem with unconditional support for women

by May 25, 2023

The idea of unconditional support for women is too sweeping

The idea of asking for unconditional support for women, because they are women, leaves lots of unanswered questions

 

There is a famous quote that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women. But is this suggestion too sweeping?

The concept of women supporting other women unconditionally is subjective and can vary depending on an individual’s point of view. In general terms, it is always good to support and uplift anyone who needs it, regardless of gender. But the idea of asking us all to show unconditional support for women leaves me with lots of unanswered questions.

unconditional support for women

The reason

The notion that we should offer unconditional support for women stems from the broader concept of empowerment and solidarity among us. I get that. We need to support each other because there are so few of us in the room. It is rooted in the fact that women face huge levels of discrimination, gender inequality, and limited opportunities in many cultures. When we support each other it means we can;

  • Overcome the challenges that women specifically face. When women support each other, they can mentor, guide and show empathy, from having walked in their shoes.
  • Sponsor and mentor:  When women recommend and advocate for each other, they can overcome biases and increase representation in various fields.
  • Amplify our voices: The more women who speak up will increase their collective impact on key challenges around gender equality and women’s empowerment.
  • Act as role models:  When women show solidarity they can inspire and empower the next generation of women to pursue their aspirations.
  • Break down gender stereotypes:  With support from other women, they can challenge these stereotypes and create more diverse and inclusive environments.

 

Podcast which is worth a listen: Gender Stereotypes and Men – Michael Ray and Dorothy Dalton – 3 Plus International

 

Not blind allegiance

However, this doesn’t mean blind allegiance based on gender or ignoring instances where individuals may be engaging in harmful or unethical behaviour. Or acting in a way that is not aligned with your values and thinking. It is not a substitute for critical analysis or to question the actions of the individuals where necessary.

In the age of social media, we see minority points of view gain massive traction, which can potentially be harmful to others.  Experts attribute the increase in eating disorders in young girls to highly photo shopped images of “influencers.”  and extreme dieting challenges. The hashtag #Ozempic has nearly 600 million views on TikTok, where many users regularly update followers about their weight loss losing 40 kgs in less than 3 months. Others promote self-asphyxiation challenges ( the so called black out challenge) or even self-immolation.

Will I support that? No way. Nor will I support other kinds of political or social opinions just because they are shared by women.

I recently queried the idea of stay-at-home-girlfriends and was taken to task for not respecting someone’s choice despite the fact that this is clearly stated in the post that it is their decision. It is indeed a woman’s choice, but if it’s “work” for me they should be compensated for it. I won’t support anything that doesn’t promote gender equity and embeds male dominance.  I am not a fan of a woman being financially dependent on a man and presenting it as a career option to impressionable teenage girls on social media, with a photo shopped image of a finely toned butt.

Fix the system

Nor is supporting other women a replacement for fixing the system. Frequently women are chastised for being competitive (it’s a negative stereotype associated with mean “girls,” but not with men.) Overburdened women executives are asked to support other women, when that support should be inbuilt into the system. (See post on Sponsor Tree.)

It’s no wonder they are burnt out. When women undertake these extra responsibilities they are simply letting the patriarchy off the hook.

Separate behaviour and person

It’s also important to separate a behaviour from the person themselves, because it allows us to distinguish between an individual’s actions and their inherent worth or value. People are complex and influenced by many factors (upbringing, experiences, education and personal circumstances) which influence them to behave in a certain way. But a specific behaviour is not the sole determinant of a person’s worth and we should continue to hold them to account.

Separating behaviour from the person does not mean condoning or excusing actions that are not in line with your own values. It simply means recognising that behaviour may be only one aspect of a person’s identity and that individuals may change.

But in the meantime, no I won’t offer unconditional support for women because of their gender. We should support each when we can, but I won’t suspend independent thought or perpetuate the existence of a system that is already working against us.

 

Make sure that your company is creating an inclusive workplace for everyone, with 3Plus’ Unconscious Bias Training Workshop.

 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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