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Why are we so afraid to challenge the status quo?

Updated: Jun 9

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Throughout history, women have faced immense challenges and often severe consequences for daring to raise their voices. These trailblazers, who put their heads above the parapet, often did so at great personal risk. As a result, many women today inherit a legacy of playing it safe—a legacy shaped by centuries of status quo bias.

This blog explores the history of women speaking up, the consequences they faced, and the modern implications of this inherited caution.

A Legacy of Courage and Consequence

Historical examples of women speaking up...

1. Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 360-415 BCE)

Hypatia, a renowned philosopher and mathematician in ancient Alexandria, was a prominent figure in a male-dominated field. Her outspokenness and influence made her a target, and she was ultimately murdered by a mob, accused of being a pagan and a witch.

2. Joan of Arc (1412-1431)

Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who claimed divine guidance, led French forces to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War. Her defiance of gender roles and outspoken nature led to her being captured, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake.

3. Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)

Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan spiritual advisor whose strong religious convictions and criticisms of the Puritan clergy in Massachusetts led to her trial and banishment. Her case highlights the dangers women faced when challenging religious and societal norms.

4. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

An African American abolitionist and women's rights activist, Sojourner Truth spoke out against slavery and gender inequality. Her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority, but her activism exposed her to significant danger and hardship.

5. Malala Yousafzai (1997-present)

In more recent history, Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for girls' education in Pakistan, survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Her courage to speak out against oppressive forces highlights the ongoing risks faced by women activists.

It's this...

Inherited caution - status quo bias and the 'witch wound'

The courage of these women stands in stark contrast to the reality many women face today. Which is no massive surprise given what we see are the consequences of those who spoke out. Being harmed, murdered, burnt at the stake, or banished. We have been hearing these stories all our lives. And it has an impact.

The "witch wound" refers to the deep-seated fear and trauma inherited from historical events where women were persecuted, punished, or executed for being perceived as witches. This cultural and psychological scar has been passed down through generations, affecting women's willingness to speak out or step into their power.

Rooted in the collective memory of the witch hunts and trials, particularly in Europe and America during the 16th and 17th centuries, the witch wound symbolises the dangers historically associated with women who were seen as too knowledgeable, too outspoken, or too independent. This inherited trauma can manifest as a subconscious reluctance to embrace one's full potential, creativity, and voice, due to the deep-rooted fear of societal retribution or ostracism.

Because of all of this, generations of women have learned to play it safe, a behaviour deeply rooted in status quo bias. This cognitive bias leads individuals to prefer the safety and familiarity of the current state of affairs over the uncertainty of change, even when change could lead to better outcomes.

The Fear of Speaking Up

We are only a short eleven generations removed from the peak of the witch trial fever. This relatively short span in historical terms means that the psychological and cultural impact of these events can still resonate through family stories, societal norms, and cultural narratives.

So what is now preventing us from speaking up and challenging the status quo?

1. Good Girl Conditioning

Women have been culturally conditioned to prioritise harmony and avoid conflict. Speaking up can be perceived as disruptive, leading many women to remain silent to avoid negative repercussions.

2. Professional repercussions

In the workplace, women who speak out can face professional consequences, such as being labeled as difficult or uncooperative. This fear of retaliation or career stagnation keeps many women from voicing their opinions or challenging the status quo.

3. Personal risks

On a personal level, women may fear social ostracism, strained relationships (or worse) if they speak up against prevailing norms. This can be particularly challenging in close-knit communities or more conservative cultures.

Overcoming the silence - the steps forward

Breaking free from the legacy of silence requires conscious effort and collective support. Here are some steps to encourage women to speak up:

1. Recognise and address status quo bias

Understanding the psychological roots of our reluctance to speak up is the first step. By recognising status quo bias, women can begin to challenge their own fears and hesitations.

2. Create supportive environments

Organisations and communities can foster environments where women feel safe and supported in expressing their views. Mentorship programs, diversity initiatives, and open forums for discussion and exploration of these topics can make a significant difference.

3. Celebrate female voices

Highlighting and celebrating the achievements of women who have spoken up can inspire others. Role models play a crucial role in demonstrating the positive impact of raising one's voice. Who are your role models?

4. Encourage incremental change

Small, incremental changes can be less intimidating than drastic overhauls. Encouraging women to take small steps towards voicing their opinions can gradually build confidence and reduce fear.

5. Provide education and resources

Education, coaching and training on communication skills, assertiveness, and leadership can empower women to speak up more effectively and confidently (this is my bag, give me a shout 😉).

So what now?

The history of women speaking up is filled with both remarkable courage and significant consequences. As daughters of generations who often played it safe, modern women face the challenge of overcoming status quo bias, our collective witch wound and the inherited caution that comes with it.

By recognising these patterns and working collectively to create supportive environments, we can empower more women to raise their voices and continue the legacy of those who bravely put their heads above the parapet. Let's work together to not being afraid to challenge the status quo!

Who is with me?

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