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  • Writer's pictureCharulatha Dasappa

The Power of NO!

Updated: Apr 5

On releasing likeability to transform how we work

 

Welcome to the Sandbox Collective blog! Each month, we share ponderings and questions that are most alive for us here at 345. Read, reflect, and share your thoughts with us!


345 is Sandbox Collective’s new studio space. It  houses our feminist library, and is a space to rest and reflect, as well as to work. There will be a regular showcase of art and artists, film screenings, performances, talks, workshops and classes. 

 


A: Can I give you a hug?

B: No.

A: Can we take a stroll together?

B: No.

A: Can I touch your hair?

B: No.


What does the act of saying “no” make us feel in our bodies? Resistance? Empowerment? Nothing at all? As part of a series of Feminist Leadership workshops, we at Sandbox were led into a few activities that engaged with this question. One session had us standing in a circle, passing around a ball at random, and staying alert to catch it when it was thrown to us. Then, we were asked to actively NOT catch the ball when it was thrown to us. This turned out to be considerably harder. Another session had us paired up and asking each other questions, to which, regardless of the question, we had to answer “no”. As we observed the responses in our bodies, exploring our own internal meters to disagreement and refusal, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ came to mind:


“...they have been raised to believe that their being likeable is very important and that this ‘likeable’ trait is a specific thing. And that specific thing does not include showing anger or being aggressive or disagreeing too loudly.”


While Chimamanda refers to the American women she befriended, these words ring true in Indian contexts as well. Especially at our workplaces, this “likeability” appears to have a tremendous influence on the trajectory of our careers.


It seems simple enough. Repeatedly outperform yourself at work, be amiable enough, and voila! Here’s your promotion! However, there are more interesting forces at play beneath the surface. Described as the “likeability paradox”, women who don’t conform to the standards of being kind, conciliatory, and nonassertive are seen as less likable, but those who do are less likely to command respect from their peers. And then there’s the cisnormative stereotype of women being more talkative than men, which was debunked by a study of conversations between men and women back in 1990. It was found that the fraction of contributions to the conversation by women were consistently estimated as greater than that by men, although the contributions were identical.


Images from the Feminist Leadership Programme


One of the objectives of feminist leadership is to transform how we work — to build trust, share power, and work towards dismantling the inequalities of gender, race, sexual orientation, class, caste, and more. Through these sessions, we seemed to be edging towards clarity on much of the unease that we, individually, have felt in our own journeys and careers. Yet, this is a continued process of learning and unlearning, which is at the core of what it means to be a feminist arts organisation. 


An interesting inquiry was conducted into four kinds of power — Power Over, Power Under, Power With, and Power Within. It led to an incisive conversation about our relationships with power, and the idea of “invisible power”; how it is better to recognise where power is at work in a certain setting, question it, and rebuild our relationships with it.



Back to our exercise of saying no. How wonderful it is to claim this powerful little word, no matter the internal resistance, no matter the reasons to be acquiescent. No. The beauty of saying no also lies in the way that it makes room for our vehement yesses! And one of the ways that we at 345 have tried to inch closer to our “YES”es, is by recognising and voicing what we need from a space where we work—the “agreements of our space”. 


While revisiting ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, I came across another few lines that sparked my curiosity. Chimamanda writes, “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal [...] If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations.” By extension, I wonder if, by actively practicing voicing our disagreement, by being around and being women who make a conscious effort to say no, by releasing this need to be likeable, what could we transform our workspaces to look like? What if we could actually create spaces where it was truly okay to cry, rest, ask for help, and not be okay? What new models of working could we create? We continue to sit with these questions, and hope that the next few years will see 345 become a space where these dreams are slowly but surely actualised.



 

*345 is a joint initiative of Sandbox Collective and Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore.





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