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The Ambiguity in Leadership and Gender

March 1, 2021

By Paige Polk, Senior Digital Campaigns Innovator

Photo by Nicolas Ladino Silva via Unsplash

What are the conditions of leadership?

Compassion, vision, strong moral identity – a calling to bring others along with you for the ride.

As we begin Women’s History Month in March, I can’t help but draw a connection between leadership and the various womxn sparking change in racial justice work and in my life. This time also follows Black History Month, 28 or 29 days of Black cultural and political recognition. With this in mind, how do we experience our cultural and political reality in the context of womanhood?

Before we jump into this, let’s define a couple key words you’ll see in this piece.  

Movement (capitol M) ­– a cultural transformation pertaining to social movements; a shift in collective consciousness brought upon by working class power building.

Womxn – an alternative spelling of “woman” intended to be inclusive of gender expansive identities.

Ambiguity is a requirement of race and gender alike. We’ve built structures that reinforce their reality-to define and categorize life, not just humanity. We’ve made laws, and assumptions- on Capitol Hill and within our own families-to make sense of who is supposed to do what, and why, and how. And to make these ideas even more complex, race and gender require a degree of personal opt-in, and create spaces for shared experiences and understanding.

Ambiguity is also a requirement of Movement work.

How do you address an annoying family member through the lens that no one is disposable? You can acknowledge your discontent, expressing your vision of how you’d like the relationship be while holding the reality that you cannot change others – only how you interact with them.

How do we recognize the difference between want and need when there are lives at stake? We have honest reckonings about what we’re capable of, in the short and long term.

How do you trust that those around you have the best intentions for us all when we’re surrounded by violence, chaos, and pain? You start with yourself, addressing your own hurt and the connections that help you heal.

With the north star of us all being free and safe, we make small decisions every day to show up for our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves. We can have courageous conversations about the power dynamics that frame our days, and how to change them. We can move past pride to acknowledge that we are not our emotions nor our experiences, but something more precious. Claiming leadership in this work requires that we embrace this ambiguity for what it is, an opportunity for expansion. 

Womanhood is yet another shorthand for a nuanced something that defies definition. It holds space for competing and complementary identities. It requires trust and accountability. It inspires leadership in our intimate connections and in the Movement. So, when we think of the power womanhood holds, I urge us to do so while deconstructing the influence of the systems we’ve created.

By deciding we are enough to save our communities. By refusing to live in fear. By having the courage to identify our ourselves and our solutions.

Happy Women’s History Month.

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