Why Women Give Up

Question: What do women want?

Elizabeth Debold: What do women want? I think if you have to ask the question, which women? Who are we talking about? Because I think that for most women on this planet, what they want is security, a safe place to be able to raise their children, a way to ensure that their children's lives are in some ways better than their own. These are classic things that women have wanted for, probably for millennia.

But if you're asking it of someone who watches Big Think, who are typically more progressive, you know, educated, post modern women, what do we want? I think what we want is the capacity to really make a difference and to have a deeper connection with an authenticate source of power, with a deeper way of being that allows us to have a kind of confidence that is very rare in women. I think we want dignity, respect, and those things are home come by for us women. If you look at, maybe look at the landscape of billboards and advertisements and television shows, you don't see a lot of women with dignity. That's not a characteristic of woman in popular culture at this point.

So I think that there are deep things that women are looking for, a new role in culture. A new way to be able to be active and engaged co-creators of culture. And that's not been our role ever. And I think that women are hungry to be able to do that and the thing is, we often give up, long before we ever even really start to make any headway or we give up very, too easily on that dream of making a difference and having a deeper purpose and authenticity in authority.

Question: Why are women known for backing down?

Elizabeth Debold: I think that because we're very conflict avoidant. I think that when the going gets tough and creative friction starts and you're not sure where things are going to go, I think that we women often want to control things and that's not the way to create something new, or we withdraw. In many ways, we withdraw from the edge of a creative process with other people. We're afraid of the conflict, so it's like, okay, everyone be quiet now. Or no, we're going to do it some other way, or I'm out of here.

And I think that because of having a role as kind of an equal partner and real co-creator in culture is still, to a great extent, optional. That, too, is optional. The being a wife and mother is now optional, but also having work in the world and engaging as a creator in culture is also optional. So whenever things get tough, you can back out. And I think that they're very, very deep reasons why a kind of backing away and self protection is almost an instinctive reaction in women, to things when they get charged and when they get tough. And to be able to be in touch with a deeper creative impulse that allows you to really engage and allows you to engage creatively and with that kind of creativity that you don't know where it's going to go, you don't know what's going to happen next, you're not sure whether or not the room's going to explode, someone's going to get upset, you don't know what's going to happen. To be able to really drive from that place in yourself, that's not a place that women are accustomed to coming from. And as a result, we often opt out, give up, and back down.

Recorded on November 2, 2009

Human development expert Elizabeth Debold taps into the psyche of post-modern women.

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