Last night, I watched the finale of Survivor: Cook Islands. Not a show I typically watch, but I had about a thousand things I needed to be doing so I decided to watch television. I'm glad I did. It was a perfect Throw down your pom-poms case study.
In Survivor, several dozen people are placed on a remote island where their survival skills are tested; every few days the contestants vote someone off the island. When there all only three contestants left, the nine most recently voted off vote on who should win the million dollars.
The final three contestants were Yul Kwon, the son of South Korean immigrants, a competitive water polo player, and a Yale Law School graduate, who came to be known as the godfather or master strategist. Oscar (Ozzy) Lusth, a Mexican-American surfer with Robinson Crusoe-like prowess became known as the warrior; he swims well, knows how to spear fish, and easily scales coconut trees. The third finalist was Becky Lee, also born of South Korean immigrants, and in Queens (as was Yul), a competitive tennis player, and a U. of Pittsburgh Law School Grad. Her actual role? Yul's sidekick?
Which meant that when their peers had to cast a final vote, Yul, the strategist, received five votes. Ozzy, the warrior, received four. Becky, zero. Even I, who wanted to want her to win, wouldn't have voted for her. She not only didn't come across as a leader, she'd been on the island for nearly forty days, and couldn't build a fire.
What's fascinating is that after Yul won he commented that people underestimated Becky's role. She strategized with me; we made decisions together. As a key advisor to Yul, she was the one person he never betrayed. No romantic connection either, just comrades-in-arms. But the roles were clear. He was the general, she the lieutenant.
You know what I am going to say.
Scientific research suggests that women are considered feminine only when they are giving something to someone, be it resources or recognition. Becky was feminine all right, but in this high stakes game, her femininity cost her big. Ozzy, the runner-up, won $100k and a car for being an audience favorite. Yul. He walked away with a million dollars. For Becky, the key advisor? Nada. And, nope, Yul may not share the spoils with her. If he shares, he forfeits.
There are times to hang on to your pom-poms. This wasn’t one of them.
To be clear, relatedness and nurturing are important. If we set aside these traits which are innate to women, we will lose an irreplaceable piece of ourselves. But, being able to set and achieve goals, in the workplace, the community, or even on Survivor, is also an important piece of who we are.
So, when it's time, and you'll know...Throw down your pom-poms.
Do we let our girls know we see them as leaders? That we value their kindness and support of others, as well as their initiative and smarts?
What can we do to make it easier for the girls and women in our lives to get in the game?