Shrink It & Pink It: Lady Leadership

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. ~Audrey Lorde

Dear Readers,

I am going to return to recent events in a few days, but I need to finish this post first. Nothing is sweeter is to my ears than the Baltimore accent calling me “Hon”–male or female. You should read about the Bali Nine. Thank you in advance for reading my thoughts when there are far greater things to think about today.

Up until recently, I thought my husband had taught me the marketing phrase “shrink it and pink it.” When I mentioned it to him, he said, “No, I learned that from you. Remember when you got kind of pissy at a bike shop when everything was pink and pretty? Don’t you remember going off about the ways they shrink and pink things for women?”

I don’t remember. Too many times to count I’ve been pissy about this very thing. Now I have no idea where I learned the phrase–quite possibly when I worked for REI for a short ill-fated couple of months. Or from a friend who works in marketing. Don’t get me wrong. I love pink. I love pretty. I’m small in stature. Shrinking and pinking gear does not offend me so much that I won’t buy it. I just would like more choices. Nonetheless, “Shrink it and Pink it” is  marketing term for athletic gear made specifically for women. If you just make it smaller, then women will buy it. If you make something pink, then it’s instantly for women. Viola!

Since I’ve become a lady in leadership (such as it is). Below are comments that have been said to me within the last three years. I’ve italicized the things I wish I had said or things I thought but didn’t say.

Clearly you haven’t dealt with your gray hair yet, but you will.

I like my gray hair. Dying my hair at this point in my life feels pathetic and not very late-in-life punk rock. Roots look like too much maintenance. Wait. What?

You can only get that much accomplished because you don’t have kids. Let me guess, you’re a “child-free” person who isn’t “childless.”

Maybe that’s true, but then why are some of my most successful colleagues mothers? Why is my choice to not have children any of your business? Clearly I’d rather be asshole-free in life but there isn’t any “control” for that.

If your husband does all of the cooking then what the hell do you do?

I am the breadwinner in my household and my husband’s a better cook than me. What is this 1950? We could switch at any time and that wouldn’t make him more of a person to me. It just is the way the shitty cards have landed for us. Our situation sucks for humanity and education–especially my adjunct husband. Every time we go out to eat and I pay, the waitresses and waiters always give him the card to sign the bill. Clearly he looks more like an Alyson than I do.

Who is his dissertation advisor? I might know him.

It’s a goddamn HER. A HER. SHE. Here’s a shocker, he sought HER out because she’s a genius. SHE was his first choice as an advisor, and I love her work. HE applied to that school because of her scholarship. SHE selected him because she respects his work. Wait. What?

Don’t you think that outfit is kind of wild for this meeting?

I’ve never once heard this type of comment about a male’s outfit. But thank you. 

You need to not be so nice. People will just walk all over you.

True, I’m willing to deal with that. I like myself less when I’m mean.

Being charming doesn’t hide the fact that you think you’re smarter than the rest of us. You can be such a snob. Nobody likes a smartass.

Sigh. I didn’t realize I was charming and if you’d ask me, I’d say I have a lot to learn from the people in the room. Always. And for the record, I love smart-asses.

It’s not rocket science, sweetheart.

True, but I don’t think very quickly when it comes to numbers. I need more time; that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Hearing you call me sweetheart made me blind with rage for about ten seconds. It wasn’t the complexity of the numbers.

When you’re older and jaded like the rest of us, then you’ll see it’s not worth it to work that hard. You’re a bit too bossy for my taste.

If I ever become like you, I hope I retire and get out of the way. Saucy Bossy: A Memoir of Retirement.

People might take you more seriously if you wore more make-up and dealt with your nails.

I also feel like look like Dee Snyder when I wear more make-up. It’s expensive and I think I look like harlot. Every man I’ve ever loved has always preferred me with less make-up. They look at my face more than me so I took the hint that less is more circa 1991. Fake nails? For fuck’s sake.

All of those comments have been said to me by women. Not men. By women. Not men.

So I write these responses not just to get it off my chest or to take back the night, but to point out that Lady Leadership never gets away from the “Shrink It & Pink It” labels in the workplace and in reality. These comments are tailored made for women. By women. The more exposed you are as a “Leader” the more people feel the need to express their advice it seems. I’ve done a fair amount of research on mentoring and when I talk to some people about these ideas, there usually creeps in some advice that maybe I can use. Those comments listed above are some of the main ideas I’ve been told in the last couple of years.

And here’s the most dangerous that I have to express: The people who have been the worst to me as a “leader” have been women. They’ve given me dirty looks, said nasty things, written gross insults, said horrible things behind my back–and I’ve had very few men mistreat me. In fact, my greatest advocates have been male. So what do I do with that?

Maybe men have been rude to me but I’m so not-shocked by that kind of behavior from them. In fact, I can laugh it off or I can insult them back. Or I can destroy them in my mind. It’s business as usual.

I expect more from women, and I think that’s wrong of me. I expect that if you are part of the sisterhood and that you should support me. When you don’t, I get very confused. I think you’re ice-queen asshole. It makes me sad. It makes me want to run from leadership.

And here’s another thing that’s dangerous to express: My biggest advocates who are female are either widely-loved or widely-hated. There is no middle-ground with these women, and I dig it. They’ve made unpopular decisions and they are articulate. If I am their “Mini-Me” then you’ve already judged me before I even open my mouth. Thank you for your feminism. (That’s sarcastic, I know how unbecoming it is).

I’m writing all of this because there were a lot of amazing posts via Twitter last week because of #et4online. There was a panel about being a woman in educational technology. There were lovely photos of Lady Leaders looking happy. Thoughtful men wrote words of encouragement. Here’s the thing; I’m relatively new to this gig, and I honestly didn’t know that the lack of women in this field was an issue. Most of my ed. tech friends are male. All of my male colleagues in the WA State system are truly cool. Like BFF material cool. I’m lucky to work in the system that I do. We have strong Lady Leaders that I’ve looked up to for years.

I don’t even think about being one of the few women (that’s dangerous to admit too). It’s just like the cycling scene. Being a snowboarder. Being a hiker. Being sporty.

I’m usually out-numbered by men. And here’s the thing–the guys that I think are assholes are usually thought of in the same way by my male friends. Being an asshole has very little to do with the penis, the vagina, or gender identification–it just comes naturally for some folks.

And it makes me very sad to think this is not the case for many women in this field. It makes me sad we have to have a panel about this very issue in 20-fucking-15. It makes me sad that Audrey Watters gets harassed so I can’t comment on her blog because she removed that feature. It makes me very sad for my male and female friends and colleagues who have daughters and they want a very different world for them. I’d like to say things will be different for them. I’d like to invite them over to Aunt Alyson’s house for stories about feminist success. My husband would cook us dinner. He reads more feminist theory than I do these days, so we could listen and learn while he stirs the sauce.

So let’s pause for one story that I think can give you hope about generational differences that shows some progress. This is a story I need to remind myself.

My great-grandmother was a high-school dropout who had 12 children (poor, not Catholic). Of the 10 who survived, one child was a female. That’s my grandmother. She too is a high-school drop-out who had my father at 16. He likes to brag he’s the product of the 1950 sock-hop dance and a big backseat. My mother graduated from high-school and shared with me that marrying my father at 20 helped her move out of her mother’s house. They are still together, so I know that love was also a factor. Going to college was never an option for her. She did very well on the corporate ladder until she needed a college degree to advance. At that time in her life, she was worried about how she was going to pay for me to go to college. I later learned the phrase “glass-ceiling” in a Women in Literature class and I knew exactly what it meant without looking it up. I had seen my mother hit the glass ceiling. I got a B+ in that class, by the way, because I was working two jobs and I didn’t own a computer. I always got hit by the red pen because of errors on my papers that I knew I would have caught if I had more time with my typed work. If I had owned my own computer.

I got lucky. My parents moved to an area where I had access to friends who were way above my class status. Their older siblings were worldly, interesting, and college-bound. I learned the value of reading and writing from people I thought were smart. Cool. I travelled a bit and realized how stupid I was and tried to fix that the best that I could. I didn’t get married until my late 30s. I’ve chosen to not have kids. I’ve done a lot things that the three generation of women who spawned me could have never, ever done. I got lucky in the life lottery. My struggles are nothing compared to theirs. My great-grandmother washed diapers by hand for almost two decades. My grandmother packed boxes to move from rental to rental her entire life. My mother trained college graduates who were younger than her daughter to do the job she should have been promoted to do. And I feel guilty complaining about what I’ve got. What I don’t have. What I wish my life was like.

So here’s the thing: I care a great deal about educational technology. About education. About technology and how it’s used to teach. About learning. About teachers. About your daughters. About your sons. About students who don’t have computers. About students who have the same or worse class background than I do.

So I’m writing today to not add my voice to that hashtag but to maybe connect with somebody who feels a bit outside of that conversation. Pull up a seat. None of those ladies in leadership are going to say the crap that I’ve listed above–they won’t. Trust me. If you want to comment on their blogs, you should. Write what you would say to Audrey Watters if you could comment on her blog. I do.

I had a lovely conversation with Amy Collier  and I shared with her this phrase: Shrink It and Pink It. And I got to share with her that one of her posts really helped me at a time when I was feeling a bit down about the judgmental sisterhood. About events for Ladies in Leadership. About the direction I was taking in life. She asked me good questions in turn.

So seeing all of the smiling faces involved in this panel really got me thinking. I have to work harder on being more inclusive with women. I want to make sure they have a voice with me whether they have fake nails or not. Whether they dye their hair or not. Whether they have children or not. Whether their husbands have gotten a raw deal in their careers or not. Whether their clothes are wild or not. That’s their call. Rock on your own sense of fashion, just give me your ideas. That’s all I care about really. Just give me your ideas. That’s what feminism taught me. That’s the sisterhood I want for your daughters.

If you could shrink and pink that feeling, I’d buy it.

If I could shrink and pink that feeling, I’d make it open source and I’d share it with everyone.


About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
This entry was posted in All The Things and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Shrink It & Pink It: Lady Leadership

  1. Lisa Chamberlin says:

    Reblogged this on Frogs in Hot Water and commented:
    This needs to be reblogged 1,000 times. Three cheers, my friend. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!


    • Thanks, Lisa. I’ve sat on this one for quite a bit. Thanks for the Huzzahs!
      Damn that Internet problem you have faced this week! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I’m working with Lisa Chamberlin on______” today. You are missed at the ATL.
      Next year, we’re presenting on our FLC. BTW, I’m writing it. We’re doing it. And I look forward to failing with you;)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Chamberlin says:

        Now that I can reply decently (from the home Interwebs), I have to say my experience with pink-on
        -pink “violence” (and by violence I mean words or actions meant to tear down rather than build up) has been all done by females as well. In fact, the worst experience in my working adult life was set in motion by a female colleague.

        I agree, with my male coworkers, I know where I stand. Like me, hate me, or somewhere in between, they deal plainly and transparently with me. The Machiavellian masterminding is always the mean girls. What’s the saying? Poison is a woman’s tool of choice.

        We, the Sisterhood of the Non-manicured Hands (not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just can’t type worth a damn with long nails), just have to show there is another way. Not only can the girls do EdTech (even without a pink keyboard), but we can climb up into leadership and mentor others without using the destroyed carcasses of our sisters as a ladder.

        Now, back to the land that the Internet forgot. 🙂 …FYI 39 state agencies have been hit in WA St..not just our school.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. francesbell says:

    I loved your post and was so sad that those patronising comments came from women. In my long career in IT then education then IT education, I had some great women and men in my network, and also worked with some women who were self-obsessed, though outnumbered by the self-obsessed men. I think the feminist issue is not just about the goodness or badness of the men/women we work with (though that does get important in the day to day) – it’s more about the unspoken assumptions that are so corrosive and evident in our lives in general and marketing in particular. Even where structures are hidden, they intrude. I wrote about this here

    Liked by 1 person

    • Frances,
      You truly amaze me. I’ve been thinking lately of whether it’s the fedwiki itself or the people that I’ve met because of the Happenings that is making me so pleased with life. I’m not sure. The first Happening seemed very intimate and very much about the ideas of the people. The second Happening seemed to be very much about the question of the bugginess or the software-ness of the fedwiki. All the same, I wrote a lot. Thought a lot. Connected with people I truly find fascinating. All the while I knitted. I’m working on a small collage of things I have knitted during this time, and I know you will appreciate it.

      I agree with your astute point about the culture of gendered marketing.
      You hit the nail on the head with this quote from the blog post you linked:

      Cosmetic surgery as a business in USA grew by 465% in the first decade of the 21st Century and 85% of its costs are financed by borrowing. Business was not damaged by the financial downturn. Essig found that some women were opting for cosmetic surgery in an effort to become more employable or more lovable, and financing it by remortgaging their homes.

      Geez. What to even do with that but mourn for people who think that’s the answer? The way? The path? The reason why? How can you even expect someone to love you when you don’t love yourself? D

      You’ve captured a nasty point of who we are as a culture. The Lego example is also explored in Amy Collier’s example of her son following directions and Mike Caulfield’s reflection that we once played with Lego without directions. I have no answers but I feel better knitting row by row. Counting stitch by stitch. Frogging what I knitted last night;)

      Liked by 1 person

      • francesbell says:

        I am with you about the fedwiki happenings – I have got to know better some wonderful people like you and Alan and Kate. The second one coincided with a tricky time in my public (and semi-public) online life and the writing and rubbing against the writing of others was so soothing. Knitting, speaking, writing – they are all so important to me. Last night, I had a skype with an edtech friend who is a demon knitter. She helped to talk me through the final stages of my Fair Isle tea cosy project – the steeking where you CUT the knitting, unfroggably. It was quite a challenge as my Skype calls have to be without video at present due to some unsolved tech problem. We managed to talk around it, come up with a pragmatic solution that deviated from the pattern (notyetness of knitting) and I am confident that I will get out the scissors today. Then she shared with me that she had witnessed my tricky time online (seeing some nastiness that I had missed) and we had a great private talk about it, edtech stuff and the General Election in UK. So this is what women can do for each other instead of demeaning as in your examples. We can support and listen to each other in private and witness our public troubles. What is the really tricky thing is to learn when and how to speak up for each other in public, and that is a challenge. Outspoken women can be perceived as shrill, as harridans and there is evidence of the spiral of silence on Social Media . One thing I do believe though, is that the solidarity has to cross generations, and that is one of the many reasons I value my friendship with you Alyson. We differ but we are in sisterhood.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I just attended a conference for the past three days, and remind me never to click publish on my blog before such an event! Wow! I had no idea I’d get such a response from some blog therapy.

        I’m sure your knitting will be lovely. What an inspiration you are for me to push myself with the yarn. If only I could read, write, and knit at the same time–life would be complete. Notyetness of knitting *completely* describes my abilities. Notyetness came up in every session I attended. Everyone I told it to loves it. Such a brilliant word!

        I value our sisterhood too, Frances in all the ways you describe. We talked a bit about generational differences at the conference and I pushed back on folks who were ready to say that only the young use social media. Only the young are good with technology. I’m sure I sounded harridan-like to a few younger than me ears. They were just so wrong. I cited you and Ward as examples of people who make getting older look pretty damn good. I cringe when people make assumptions about generational differences. I wish we talked more about how we are alike. Makes me want to frog the whole conversation and start all over.

        But I think you’re right, learning “when and where to speak up” is very tricky. I just hope that someday I can mentor a woman without having to prepare her for what I’ve experienced.


  3. CogDog says:

    Next time I roll through Bellingham I’m stopping by for stories and cooking. I thank the serendipity of the FedWiki happenings to have come across your writing. What I like from its sharp tone, humor is it seems to come from a place of honest lived experience.

    I’m in my own plastic bubble of having rarely if ever been among anyone of any gender who said such things to someone else. I’m not ignorant nor denying of it, but I might as well try to understand Sanskrit.

    Yes it’s said to be so not far with gende, race equity this far beyond theaters when we were supposed to have flying cars. But it does (silver lining) seem at some incremental level out in the open.

    I never had the strong Bawlamore “Hon” accent (it’s pretty local like down in “DunDawk”) but usually call the stuff that comes out of the tap “wooder”.

    Keep on the fab writing!


    • Beer is on me with you’re in the Ham. Just sayin’

      I think the Balwamore invite goes like this: “You come round, hon. We’ll cook ya dinner. Tawk bout dis and dat. Hon, you’re da best. Da best. Yeah. You do too? Come uptown. I’ll make ya dinner.”

      You are one of the many folks I’ve had the pleasure to connect with via The Happenings, hon. Truly amazing that federated wiki.


  4. Kate Bowles says:

    As the mother of daughters and also a family breadwinner for originally similar reasons, I love your vision of sisterhood for these girls in their futures. There’s no single template for being a working woman–some come with fake nails, some with jeans and sneakers, some with grey hair. But this post really reminded me that to be a woman who works is to be subject to scrutinising assumptions about what any of things mean about your signalling value to a team or an organisation. I’ve worked with senior male colleagues whose dress was eccentric in all sorts of ways, and that was the word used, often with a chuckle. Oh yes, senior guy with the backwards baseball cap, of course he’s such a genius he doesn’t have to care. But senior woman who let her hair dry right out of the shower as she drove her kids to school, that’s all you need to know right there, she’s not serious about her work.

    This is a great post, Alyson, thank you for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tweets, Kate. It truly felt shallow to focus on something so personal in light of greater tragedies in the world. Your compliments about my writing are truly special to me.

      One valuable lesson I’ve learned with in the Happenings is that I need to complete one thought before I start another. I have to complete one piece of writing before I move on to another. If I don’t, then I just have one giant mess that doesn’t feel productive. How is it that one page with a silly “factory” can give me a sense of accomplishment. If I don’t create one “page” with intent then I can’t think about the next.

      Before I could process the horror of yesterday, I needed to get this draft done. I’ve been amazed at the response. You’re right, there is no “single template for being a working woman”–and that’s what I want as feminist.

      Maybe I can let my gray hair peak out of my baseball hat at my next serious meeting–thanks for the idea;)


  5. John Farquhar says:

    Only recently have I become acquainted with the term: microaggression. Your examples in this article led me to consider how I might respond to such acts. After some thought, I’ve come up with the response: “A lesser person might be offended by such a comment.” I think this might raise the issue of concern and open a conversation while simultaneously avoiding taking offense. And, even if I failed to think of this response at the moment; I could repeat it to myself to keep myself from feeling slighted.

    But, I don’t really know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For every micro-aggression, there’s a macro-aggression. It’s all about scale, really. I see what you mean about being “a lesser person” and I don’t have an easy answer on how to have a conversation with somebody about what was offensive.

      With all of those examples, I was honestly so shocked in the moment, that I couldn’t have even identified whether the comment was a micro-aggression or not. I just thought to myself, “I would never say that to somebody. Ever. You kinda suck.” You know, something academic sounding like that.

      But, I don’t know either. Thanks for your thoughts.


  6. sharonslade says:

    So much of what you had written resonated… As the only girl opting for a maths exam at 16 (as opposed to secretarial maths, whatever that is), my (male) teacher asked me what I was doing there and told me to get back to the kitchen where I belonged. So began an association with the issues of being a woman and mathematician. Because of that teacher, I went on to do a maths degree and PhD (OK, I do love maths anyway, but I was more interested in being bloodyminded. I’m gonna show ’em, etc, etc). My first work experience (at a military establishment, no less) when I was doing my degree involved my (male) supervisor giving me regular shoulder massages while I sat at the computer coding (I noted that this wasn’t a work benefit offered to my fellow male colleagues).
    So, I perhaps began working life with a bit of a chip and I can see now looking back that I may have come across as a bit distant and cold and with too much to prove. But (but!) I have been blessed with several very supportive managers – mostly women. They have been generous, found time for me and made opportunities to push me out of my comfort zone and offered stacks of support and positive examples. I think I am lucky indeed. The OU (where I work) is run at the very top mostly by senior males but there are lots of canny, funny, inspirational women who don’t seem to be worried about sharing their experiences of getting on.
    (I still have a bit of a chip, but I’m working on it! I also have a partner who works from home, did much of the early tricky school stuff, shops for food and does most of the cooking. Yay, emancipated men!)
    I will work harder to be one of those generous supportive women – thanks for the inspirational post.


    • Thank you, Sharon. I love that one comment was such a catalyst for that “I’ll show you” bloodyminded spirit that I think a lot of Lady Leaders have. In a way, that negative inspiration made you work harder. A colleague of mine who is an astro-physicist said that lives in fear that a teacher is going to tell her daughter that math isn’t fun and that she can’t do it because “she’s a girl.”

      It’s only recently that I’ve met women who in STEM that I know are changing the lives of their students–male and female. Had I been their student as an undergrad, I’m sure my life would be different. I’m glad you found this post inspirational, and I’m even more delighted to hear your story.


  7. kgitch says:

    Reblogged this on kgitch on learning & technology and commented:


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