Why you never need to "man up" to own the room

Every day, I speak on the phone with students who want to learn more about studying at The Academy.

The women on the other end of the line are often at the end of their rope, often a little unsure of what exactly possessed them to follow a trail of social media breadcrumbs to our website and to this conversation.

For about a half hour, we discuss possibilities and frustrations and longings and questions and poke holes in situations that up to this point felt fixed and intractable. 

Sometimes we’ll shake up enough dust to make invisible walls visible, even for a few moments. From there, we start to discern solutions to problems most women haven’t even had a chance to name.

There’s one question that I prize above all others. I hear it at least once a week:

“Can I be powerful without having to act like a man?”

It’s understandable. For years, women seeking influence have been coached into “power poses”: basically the corporate world’s sanctioned manspread.

Loud and clear, we’ve received the message that our words will resonate more deeply when delivered in a deeper register.

We’ve noticed that the women who blazed the trails we walk wore pantsuits, not prairie skirts. And while those approximations of masculine powerwear are still standard for women climbing the ranks, our outfits are never considered standard enough to avoid notice altogether. Because they’re on a female body. And we know that the female body is always a locus for scrutiny.

Then there’s this: feminine leadership beyond the home is still a relatively new concept. Of course we conflate masculinity and power–we’re still trying to figure out what feminine leaders look and feel like.

So when she asks “can I be powerful without acting like a man?” I take a quick little breath that’s half thank-God-we-get-to-have-this-conversation and half where-the-fuck-do-I begin?

And I tell them, not without relish, that it is the conviction of The Academy that power and gender have nothing to do with each other.

They’ve been conflated as the result of millennia of Patriarchy.

At The Academy, we teach women-identified and nonbinary people that influence is a result of where you focus your attention. Once you’ve mastered that, externalities like the pitch and timbre of your voice or the width of your stance or your choice of wardrobe take a back seat.

Which means: you can own the room without ever having to “man up.”

Plus, if we really unpack the idea of what it means to act like a man, in the stereotypical sense, what are we even suggesting?

To become disconnected from your own emotions and those of others.

To become impenetrable and invulnerable.

To place aggression over collaboration.

That behavior might allow you to impose your will on others for a period of time, but it will make you a tyrant, more than a true leader.

The Academy's work is about fostering connections, about identifying and chiseling away the rusty “good girl” conditioning that keeps many of us too encumbered to identify and meet the specific needs of each moment that arises in our lives.

Your body and manner should serve you in telling the truth, anchored in the legitimacy of who you are. All of us who have spent our lives conforming to the demands of being “women” or “men” have lost more than we’ve gained in the pressure to adhere to culturally condoned expressions of gender.

I believe deeply that the wide and wild spectrum of gender performance exists to serve us in our deepest expression of ourselves. Your gender is yours to do with exactly whatever the fuck pleases you.

The kicker is that finding an authentic version of that expression will actually make you more powerful, wherever you fall on the spectrum. That kind of deep-seated legitimacy and honesty is among your most valuable tools in making yourself clear to other people.

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That clarity is where true power lies.

Come see for yourself. Schedule a time to speak with me about studying at The Academy.

Yours in Power,

Rebecca Miller
Academy Admissions