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Asking and Taking

Director Ava DuVernay spoke about something at BlogHer that I’ve been turning around in my mind ever since.  She made the point that women are taught a culture of permission.  She said,

Women have been trained in our culture and society to ask for what we want instead of taking what we want. We’ve been really indoctrinated with this culture of permission.

It’s part of a larger speech about going after what you want instead of waiting for someone to guess at what you want and hand it to you.  And, moreover, not listening to that little voice inside your head that tells you to wait because you’re not good enough.  That talks you out of taking action and turning your ideas into reality.

I love that she tempers the message by saying that we don’t have to take what we want with a sense of privilege but we can act from a sense of personhood and own that every single person on this planet is entitled to go after their dreams. (As long as their dreams are not to harm other people… but does that really need to be said?)

It’s hard because sometimes I think the asking of permission is not just about hanging back and thinking that you’re not worthy.  I think it’s sometimes about gathering feedback, about gauging a multi-source reality with the goal to save you time and heartache in the long run.

But I am thinking hard on what I’m asking for instead of simply taking.  And whether taking is always the route to go, or if asking sometimes opens more doors in the long run.  Knocking and waiting vs. twisting the knob and entering both get you through the door, but I worry at times that if one always enters without knocking that people will, over time, lock the door.

What do you think?  Are you more a taker or an asker?

I think I may be more of an asker.

Side note: tomorrow is #MicroblogMonday.  Get working on your post.


1 Valery Valentina { 07.26.15 at 8:20 am }

Mhm, not sure where I fall. when I was 27 I quit my perm job, flew around the world some, and went to a country with a nice project. I knew someone who had become a consultant, he arranged dinner, I arranged an interview the next day and that was me starting international consulting. Not sure where that falls on the scale of asking vs taking though, but it sure opened doors.

I do remember though that when I was 17 my parents offered my little brother to learn how to snowboard and I was to shy to ask too. When my mother found out she was all ‘but we didn’t think/know you would like that, why didn’t you say something? Say something next time!’ So the year after my brother taught me how to snowboard…

2 illustr8d { 07.26.15 at 9:31 am }

First of all, she’s amazing and I’ve got to go looking for her whole talk (or other talks, I don’t care … anything.) On to your question.

I think I get what she’s saying, and I would say I’m an asker who is trying to head towards doing some being very present in my life, which means going ahead and self-publishing the book, for instance, rather than waiting for an agent or whoever to open the doors. And if it flops, it’s all on me. And I’m fine with that.

3 Cristy { 07.26.15 at 2:36 pm }

This is a very interest take on the ongoing conversation. I’m naturally a pleaser, so am also an asker. But I’ve been trying to break this, instead pursuing what I ultimately want without apologizing. It’s hard to do, as this transition requires repeatedly contacting people and being on their radar, which makes me feel like I’m hounding them. Even though I know this is just part of the process.

One part in particular I like was her talking about personal entitlement vs universal entitlement. The idea that everyone has the right to pursue their dreams. My students struggle A LOT with this as there’s this underlying competition that translates into only a select few getting to do this.

4 nicoleandmaggie { 07.26.15 at 5:33 pm }

I think that there’s some solid evidence that women are more likely than men to be punished when they take without asking. Women aren’t stupid, they’re just working under different constraints.

(And in the first comment– notice that the brother didn’t have to take or ask– their parents *offered* to him, but not his older sister. She was put into the position of having to ask whereas he never was.)

5 Middle Girl { 07.26.15 at 8:52 pm }

From Lisa Simpson: “Why is it when a woman is confident and powerful, they call her a witch?”

Women being trained to ask goes hand in hand with women being trained to apologize for their opinions, for having goals, for pursing them.

I wouldn’t say I was one over the other. I am proactive, without being a taker. I am . . uhm…cooperative, I guess, without being an asker. My confindence ebbs and flows.

6 Mali { 07.26.15 at 9:22 pm }

I am definitely an asker. My mother certainly was too – even now, when she lives alone and has to answer to no-one, she still apologises and calls herself crazy for doing something that she wants to do.

And I have seen this difference my entire life! I can give you a myriad examples from my experiences in different workplaces, and social circumstances too. Men take, and they get. Women ask, and they get called pushy.

I’ve seen it a lot in infertility/loss too. I’ve dealt with many women (when I was volunteering) who were grieving, and would get very upset when their male partners didn’t know what to do to help them. It seemed wrong, to the women, to ask for what they needed. The idea then of actually telling their partner how they could help was unheard of!

7 Mrs. Gamgee { 07.26.15 at 9:51 pm }

I have been pondering this idea too for some time. I have come to the realization that a lot of my hesitation to ‘take’ my dreams stems from how I was raised. When I was a kid it was drilled into me that I could only do what I wanted to do after I did what I should do. Want to go to the mall, or hang out with friends? Clean your room, do your homework, and help out with the household chores first. Not a bad plan, really. But I find as an adult, there is never a time when my should-dos are actually finished, and that makes it very hard for me to take the time to do the things that I want to do. I’m trying, for the first time in my adult life, to figure out a way to balance the stuff that needs to get done with the things that I want to (need to?) do to feed my soul.

8 torthuil { 07.27.15 at 12:11 am }

I think there’s a time and place to be an asker or a taker. The key is to be aware it’s a choice and not just have a “default” setting. I agree it is not good to be passive all the time but on the other hand a person who always takes and doesn’t ask sounds possibly a bit obnoxious to me. 🙂 Different situations call for different kinds of energy.

9 Heather { 07.27.15 at 12:21 am }

Definitely an asker. I mean, it’s only polite. But I should go after my dreams. That’s important.

10 No Baby Ruth { 07.27.15 at 5:23 am }

I’ve heard this before, particularly related to the professional environment. I think I’ve pretty much always been more of a “teller” than an asker. I don’t particularly like the connotation of being a “taker,” but as a “teller,” I think I can tell someone about a decision I’ve made instead of asking for approval. And if I weren’t that way naturally I think my chosen field of work (civil engineering and construction) certainly would have made me that way. In a field dominated by men, if you don’t “take” or “tell,” you’re liable to get run over.

11 Heather { 07.27.15 at 8:52 am }

Up until recently, I’ve been an asker. Never wanting to upset anyone or nervous that it wasn’t my place to have whatever it was that I wanted or sought.
Now? The hell with that. Maybe it’s because I’m older or because my life has changed but I don’t have time to worry about “Other People” anymore to the point that it overshadows my own needs/wants/happiness.

12 A. { 07.27.15 at 9:51 am }

I think I was shy shy, timid kid and, ultimately, got knocked around enough that I developed a little chip on my shoulder that makes me a taker. I hesitate to use the word ‘taker’ because it has a connotation of ruthlessness or thoughtlessness that I don’t identify with. I won’t step on an innocent neck to get where I’m going; I go through a painstaking evaluation process when I make big decisions – like any type A control freak would – but I definitely don’t ask permission. I am strong-willed and self-possessed, carving my own path through this world on my own terms, and, yeah, since I’m also a woman, I do get called a bitch.

13 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.27.15 at 2:38 pm }

Perhaps, due to acculturation, women should veer toward taking and men should veer toward asking (generally speaking).

I’m more of an asker due to the fact that I like to check boundaries (not make assumptions) before I make an important move. I think I’m good with my personhood overall but I bet there are situations in which I could be less timid.

14 luna { 07.28.15 at 6:46 pm }

Amy Schumer recently did a brilliant sketch about women who apologize for everything, for having ideas and opinions, for using their voices, for merely existing in time and space. I thought it was brilliant yet sad commentary.

Now I teach my kids good manners — I tell them people remember when you have them and they remember when you don’t. But I find the societal expectation that women be subservient and acquiescent so disturbing. We don’t need permission to pursue our dreams. I tell our girls to ask for what they want because out in the real world no one is going to just hand it to them. I want to empower them to find and use their voices, to make their dreams reality.

15 loribeth { 08.08.15 at 2:25 pm }

Oh, definitely an asker. I have seriously considered assertiveness training. I am much too timid for my own good. :p

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