Women: Let's Take Up More Space

Image  Alex Ruth Bertulis-Fernandes

Image Alex Ruth Bertulis-Fernandes

After the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, women and survivors are feeling scared and unheard. My response? Unapologetically take up more space.

I thought I prepared myself for the inevitability of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the highest court in the land but as the vote progressed last weekend, I was unable to articulate my feelings. I had been working on channeling my anger by reading Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her (read it!), but when the vote went through, fear took over. I felt powerless.

When we feel powerless, the impulse is to make ourselves smaller. But going inward cuts us off from connecting with others. What begins as a protective mechanism can leave us feeling more alone.

And knowing what we know about embodied cognition—the power of our external circumstance to affect how we feel on the inside—making ourselves smaller can make us feel even more powerless. It can start a downward spiral. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s why I advise clients to lean back and open their physicality rather than lean in and close it. It’s why as a short person, I widen my stance and use a commanding voice. I take up more space with my body and voice to combat the impulse of wanting to disappear.

Thanks to Amy Cuddy’s research I know that taking up more space increases my testosterone (which makes me feel more powerful) and decreases my cortisol (which makes me feel less stressed). That in itself is power.

I know there is no right way to react to the news right now. Some need to turn it off and deflect. Others are full of rage, and that’s okay. For me, I’m choosing to take up more space.

“I like to have space to spread my mind out in.” — Virginia Woolf

I’m 5-foot-nothing but that doesn’t mean I can’t make myself bigger. I’m not talking about heels (I love the way Ann Shoket talks about the descent from heels here). I’m talking about body language. I use my hands when speaking. I widen my stance, and then I widen it some more. It makes me feel powerful to take up more real estate. I lean back when sitting and open my heart as much as possible. Vulnerability makes me feel strong.

Women, we’ve done enough leaning in. I’m sick of working so hard. I say lean back. This is power posing personified. It’s why men manspread. Don’t duck out of the way when walking down the street. Don’t apologize when you bump into a piece of furniture. Claim your space unapologetically.

“Reclaiming my time.” — Rep. Maxine Waters

After you’ve claimed your space, channel Maxine Waters and reclaim your time. Many women I work with want help slowing down when they speak. When you set the pace of an interaction, you own the power. Not only does embracing silence make you sound more confident, but it also helps improve the listener’s comprehension 30-40 percent. That’s huge.

When you’re used to communicating within a system built for men, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. We’re in a constant state of sneaking our ideas in between theirs, or we do so apologetically.

Slow the F down. Take a deep breath. Embrace silence. And if you’re interrupted, activate your most powerful voice and don’t. stop. talking. This is a muscle we all need to work on. Amplify yourself, and each other.

Make Space Take Space

On that note, after you take some space (or if you’re someone who is used to taking up space already), practice making space instead. As a white woman, I recognize that I am heard far more than women of color. I’m putting my energy towards amplifying and listening to women of color.

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde

In the end, go towards what makes you feel powerful. Take a social media break, or use it to find your tribe. Ignite your base. They are there and waiting. We all are.

Don't confuse vulnerability for weakness. Yes, we are used to being collegial—we are experts at it—but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight.

Do not go silent. Make noise, Get louder. If not for yourself, then for those of us who need your voice to be stronger.

I thrive on you all.