“Walk the Talk,” by Kristen Abell

I recently read Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants, and I found it to be all-around a fantastic and entertaining read. There were some great messages to women throughout the book. I especially enjoyed one featuring Amy Poehler’s refusal to be cute just because she was expected to as a woman (seriously, go read that part – LOVED it). I loved just about everything about the book, really. Except for one teeny tiny little part – over, under, through.
What’s that, you ask? Tina advises women in one of her chapters that in order to get ahead in a sexist workplace, a workplace dominated by men and the belief that we all need to act like men to be successful, you should go “over, under, or through.”
“So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way….. If your answer is yes, I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street piece “over! under! through!” (taken from Bossypants)
When I first read this, I completely disagreed – as I’m sure many feminists would. No, no this is not how we make the workplace better – it can’t just be about us. In talking with a friend of mine, I shared my reaction and said that we couldn’t just take care of ourselves in the workplace, we had to pave the way for all women. She quickly came back with, “No, you can’t just do that. Most other women can.”
She’s right – I can’t just do that. I consider it my responsibility to fight battles for women who aren’t even here yet because someone fought battles for me before I got here. And part of this for me is about being an educator, too. What example do I set for those young women who are watching if I don’t pave the way for them?
Every time I go into a meeting and speak up for myself, into a job offer and negotiate my salary instead of accepting what was given, write another blog post or article about women in technology, I am aware that it’s not just about me – it’s about the woman that follows in my footsteps. There are battles we still have to fight just to do our jobs well and get the credit we deserve, and while I’m not optimistic enough to think that I’ll see a day when those battles are completely gone, I hope there will be a few less to fight.
I don’t think I’m the only one doing this – I see a lot of messages floating across the interwebs from women supporting each other. In fact, the whole idea of WISA, WLSALT, and the Student Affairs Women Lead groups/movements/hashtags is to support women. But we also need to live our actions – we need to walk our talk – not just on Twitter and Facebook and the interwebs, but on our campuses. We can’t cut each other down just so we can get ahead. And we can’t continue to support each other while we take a back seat, either. We have to make steps forward ourselves in order to pave that way for someone else.
The ironic part of Tina’s philosophy is that despite her advice, she actually is paving the way for women who follow in her footsteps. She has made great strides as a female comedy writer and producer, and because of her, other women will most likely have opportunities not previously open to them. She may not talk the talk, but she walks the walk.
The question is, are you just talking? Or are you also walking?



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11 responses to ““Walk the Talk,” by Kristen Abell

  1. We are all better because of you Kristen- thank you.

  2. Thanks, Kristen! proud to have met you via these “interwebs” and look forward to working/writing with you in the future.

  3. I felt the same way when I read that part in “Bossypants.” I really liked the book, but thinking only of myself definitely does not fit with how I tend to work on campus. I also believe that it’s up to me to show students how to confront and constructively work through those kinds of issues. It’s also the behavior I want to model for my teenage daughter. Nice post!

    • Thanks for the comment, Shelly! I just so loved so much of what she said, and I was surprised to find something I disagreed with so vehemently. I just think there’s more to us than making our own way – we’re making it for others, too!

  4. Great post, Kristen – I really appreciate your reflection. Though I haven’t read Bossypants, this is one of the pieces of feminism (and women’s developmental theory) that resonates with me. At the core of many women is an inherent care for others – some so much so that care for others is internally valued more than caring for themselves. I see the extremes of both sides – only caring for others and only caring for oneself – and neither are super effective. I agree – we must both walk the walk AND talk the talk – to find balance in leading the way.

    • Thanks for your comment, Erica. I agree – we do sometimes put others before our selves too often, but I think we also have to remember that as we are able to make headway, we’re paving a path for others – not necessarily at our own expense. Does that make sense? I just find it hard to pave my own path without at least laying some groundwork for those that follow me.

      • I totally agree, Kristen. Path blazing and caring for others are certainly different. In my processing of your post, I was reflecting on and pulling up an image of a feminist who is telling women to ignore that desire to be concerned about others (and the groundwork for those who will follow) because it will deter you focusing on what you need to move forward (sacrificing one’s self to benefit others in the future). I wondered if that was the perspective Fey took in the book (which I haven’t read). I feel like I’ve heard that kind of message iterated in other ways.

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