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Psychology Today: Does Feminism Have Room for Shy or Introverted Girls?

July 25, 2011

Does Feminism Make Room for Shy or Introverted Girls?

Leadership lessons for shy or introverted young women.
Published on July 19, 2011 by Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts

In our efforts to instill confidence in young women, are we promoting an ideal of sassy outspokenness that’s just as confining as the 1950s model of docility?

Here’s an excerpt from a thoughtful piece in Feministing by intellectual powerhouse and feminist Courtney Martin, questioning whether contemporary feminism makes room for shy or introvertedgirls:

“As I make the rounds of girls’ leadership development programs and camps this summer,… I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of leadership model we are pushing for young women. I fear that too often we present leadership as something necessarily loud and a leader as someone who must seek the limelight. It’s understandable, of course, that the pendulum has swung in this direction; after all, we’re facing up against centuries of the reverse socialization–the ideal woman as demure, quiet, and in the shadows..But, sometimes I fear that in our well-intentioned advocacy for more assertive, more outspoken girls, we’ve sometimes made those whose style is naturally quieter and less showy feel as if they aren’t bonafide leaders…

Courtney articulates something I have long worried about. As someone who has taught negotiation seminars for over ten years to groups of young women, including in the context of feminist leadership organizations, I believe that feminism does and should train women to speak and communicate, in large and small groups, and everything in between. I also believe that introverts, including shy introverts, often make terrific public speakers.

But many (not all) introverts have a quieter, more thoughtful style of sharing ideas, and we need to do more to explicitly celebrate this style and to proactively work with young women to refine is power. People who speak thoughtfully and judiciously have a very disarming might at the podium, and in person. Yet too often I have seen young women with these styles exhorted to be louder, bolder, more uninhibited, when a more nuanced approach would have suited them better.

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