E8: Woman and Lessons from a New One: Paula Stone Williams, As a Woman

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein Lau and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.

[00:00:34] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:35] Anna: Hello, welcome friends. We've got a very exciting conversation lined up today because we are going to be looking at the story of woman from the other side. If a woman feels that she is being talked over or mansplained to, or taken less seriously than she would if she was a man, it's going to be tough for her to prove. In fact, I think that is something that makes fighting for gender equity so difficult. No one believes it until they see for themselves, but they can't see for themselves if they only ever live as one gender.

 My guest today is in a very unique position as having lived as both a man and a woman. And while she is just one transgender person, I think the experiences of transgender people are absolutely vital to this conversation. Not just because they are grossly underrepresented and discriminated against and both subtle and overt ways, as our guest mentions today, there are currently 168 anti-trans laws pending in the U S, but also because many of their stories demonstrate that this is the exact same person living the exact same life with only their gender having changed. And yet the ways they are treated by society in their two different forms are vastly different.

Mary Ann Sieghart and her book, Authority Gap, even dedicated an entire chapter to transgender people's experiences because of this unique ability to isolate the variable of gender. If you haven't already have a listen to my conversation with her in episode one. My guest today was actually featured in that book and that very chapter. 

Paula Stone Williams is the author of As A Woman: what I learned about power sex and the patriarchy after I transitioned. Paula is an internationally known speaker on issues of gender equity, LGBTQ advocacy, and religious tolerance. She has been featured in Ted Women, Ted Summit, the New York Times, the Washington Post NPR, and many other media outlets.

Her Ted talks have had over 6 million views. Today, Paula. And I talk about what she learned and let me tell you, there is a lot. Paula was a married father of three who held several prominent positions within the Christian community before making the life-changing decision to transition at the age of 60.

Her story is one of great courage in which she chose to give up her privilege in order to live her most true and authentic life. And it is also a story of a great awakening to gender inequity and life on the other side. In our conversation, we talk about what life was like for her as a child and her long successful career in an evangelical community that she was kicked out of as soon as they learned she was transgender. 

We also talk about her life now compared to when she was living as a man, including what she finds most frustrating and most common. All things I am sure pretty much. All of my female identifying listeners will relate to. We talk about what men can do as there was a whole chapter in Paula's book called "what I wish I could tell Paul", yet another reason this narrative is so important. 

And while we did enough time to get into the religious side of things in her book, Paula offers incredibly important insight into our current culture wars writing about how certain fundamentalist religions have evolved to believe an enemy is necessary for the religion to survive. And where no enemies exist, one is created. So in fundamental Christianity, those enemies currently being the LGBTQ plus community and people who support women's rights. As Paula points out, this is very convenient given that these religions are led entirely by men and less than 5% are gay or trans. Also terrifying given that these beliefs that men lead and women follow are being taught throughout the United States and taking over one of the two major US political parties. There was a paragraph and Paula's book that describes how fundamentalist evangelicals have since the eighties slowly taken over the Republican party with their anti LGBTQ plus and women policies that reads seriously like the prequel to Handmade's Tale. It would be the story of how Gilead came into power slowly, over time and right under everyone's noses so that no one sees the government that they are creating until it's too late.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to get into this, but you will hear it mentioned briefly at the end. Perhaps I can have Paula on again to discuss more, but today the focus is her story and what we can all learn about what it means to be a woman, a man, or simply a human living in this patriarchal world.

The quote you will hear read during the interview is taken directly from the book As a Woman.

 If this conversation provides some validation to your life experiences, and do you think others might find validation in it too, feel free to forward it on! But for now enjoy. 

[00:05:49] Section: A word from this episode's supporter

[00:05:52] Overdub: This episode is supported by Bookshop.org

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[00:06:16] Section: Episode interview

[00:06:16] Anna: Hi, Paula. It's so great to speak with you. I'm so excited to talk to you today. Thanks for being here.

[00:06:22] Paula: It's good to be with you from snowy cold Colorado. 

[00:06:26] Anna: Snowy cold, snowy cold. And I'm here in rainy gray London. 

[00:06:30] Paula: I would trade. I would trade with you. I would, I miss rain in the winter time. We get none from October through April. We will not get a single drop of rain. Every bit of precipitation we get will come as snow. 

[00:06:45] Anna: But you get, you know, what do they say like 350 days of sun?

[00:06:50] Paula: We to get over 300 days of sunshine a year, which I'm relatively sure you do not get in London.

[00:06:56] Anna: Absolutely not. I think we get just the couple days you don't have sun or the days that we do have sun.

[00:07:02] Paula: I think that's probably right. 

[00:07:05] Anna: So I'm very excited to talk to you about your book As a Woman. It's subtitle "what I learned about power sex and the patriarchy after I transitioned", and let me tell you, I loved learning about what you learned. I think if I had to pick one word to describe how I felt after reading your book, it would be validated.

[00:07:28] Paula: Yeah, I was hoping that was the word, because I've actually heard from women on all seven continents, including Antarctica, either about my first Ted Talk or about the book: "thank you for validating my experience." And it just makes me feel wonderful because more than anything else, that's what I wanted. 

[00:07:44] Anna: Yeah, it has definitely done it for me. And I'm hoping that we can help validate some other experiences here today. What's been the response, I noticed you said, you know, validation from women. What about men's reaction overall? The most common response?

[00:07:59] Paula: You know, it's interesting. When I speak at corporations conferences, I'm always a little bit surprised, possibly even alarmed at the number of men who come up afterwards to tell me how wrong I am. And sometimes with their female partner, beside them looking at me with this desperate look as if to say, do you see what I live with on a day-to-day basis?

It really is astonishing to me how often I am challenged. It was particularly true after my second TEDx mile high talk, where I talk about men willingly giving up positions of power earlier than they would have otherwise and turning them over to women. Uh, that was a long line of men lined up to say why that was a terrible idea. 

[00:08:41] Anna: Wow. Just that response in and of itself, kind of validates everything else that you're saying in the book.

So I want to talk to you of course, about your story and everything that you've learned so that we can see what the men are disagreeing with you about. But first I want to back up and just kind of go over the basics of sex and gender. You know, I think this is becoming much more common knowledge, but there's still a lot of confusion and unawareness around the differences between the two. So do you mind just walking us through that? How would you explain the differences between the two?

[00:09:15] Paula: Gender identity is who you want to go to bed as, sexual identity is who you want to go to bed with. I think that's the easiest way to put it. So yeah, gender identity and sexual identity are two different things. Your gender identity is the gender that you identify with whether or not it's the one listed on your birth certificate. And your sexual identity is the person with whom you want to go to bed. Is that male, female, both none? That's the difference between the two. 

[00:09:44] Anna: Yeah. And of course, sex as well, being the kind of different physiological and biological components, and gender being the cultural construct that comes with the roles and expectations that we're expected to put on based on the particular body that we were born into. 

So there are people out there, both men and women that think we are in a post-feminist society that the work has been done thanks to previous waves of feminism, laws have been passed, so equality has been achieved. I would love to hear what you would say to those people.

[00:10:20] Paula: Well in the United States, we still don't have Equal Rights Act, so, you know, let's start there and then let's say, okay, even if we did have equality, we don't have equity. You know, as a man, I started a whole lot closer to the finish line than any cis female does. And I don't think most men understand that. It's the same thing for people of color or for particular ethnic minorities or people from particular nationalities.

They do not start as close to the finish line as a well-educated white man from the Western world. And I think that is where we have our bigger issues. That is where we're nowhere near equity, though we might have equality on the books. So no, we cannot be in a post feminist world. If we do find ourselves moving in that direction as a society, I think we lose a lot of the gains that we've made. 

[00:11:15] Anna: Absolutely. Yeah. Even though exactly, as you point out only some legal rights have been gained, we still do have a ways to go there. The progress is drastically unequal amongst different populations and also mindsets have not shifted. So you still have this rigid cultural framework that if you step out of your punished.

[00:11:33] Paula: Well, and you take a look at just the raw statistics. 5.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. 6.6% of Silicon Valley CEOs are women. 22% of Fortune 500 senior vice presidents are women 3% of directors, 11% of writers, and 19% of producers in Hollywood are women. Only 20% of lead actors in movies are women. 3% of venture capital goes to female founded firms. 47% of first-year law associates are women, but only 15% make partner. I mean, you could go on and on and on. In the United States, white women earn 81 cents in the dollar of what men earn, African-American women 69 cents on the dollar, Native American women at 64 cents on the dollar, Hispanic American women 59 cents on the dollar.

So the statistics themselves still show in the United States, and I don't know them as well other places, we're a hundred years away from pay equity in the United States, let alone in the other kind of equity. There are only four states that command pay equity. And they're actually not even places you would expect. Like, I believe that these are North or South Dakota is one of them.

[00:12:36] Anna: Wow. Yeah. So first of all, I'm very impressed with your abilities who recall numbers, uh, at that level. So how often do you notice gender inequity in your life now when something happens that you knew would have been different when you were Paul?

[00:12:52] Paula: Pre COVID. I would say it was weekly. Post COVID I spend my life in a bubble of very progressive people. And so I don't find it happening as often. For instance, in my corporate speaking, when I was in person, there's a whole group of people lined up afterwards to talk with you. I would inevitably and invariably be treated with disrespect I think in some very specific ways. Post COVID that's, uh, you know, far less common, but it still happens. 

I was in a meeting not terribly long ago. And thank goodness a man in the meeting I've known for eight or nine years now, the meeting was driving me crazy. And he's said to the group, "you know, we keep debating this issue when actually are you aware that we have the person in the room who actually wrote the book on the subject?" And they're like, "oh, well, no." And he said, "well, you know, then Paula, why don't you talk with us since you in fact wrote a book on this subject." But because that book was written in my previous life, you know, it didn't occur to anyone that they should be turning to me for my expertise on this subject, though it is also the area in which my doctoral project is focused. So that is just constant. I notice I am not judged in the aggregate body of my work. I'm only judged on the most recent contribution or in many situations the one reason the other people in the room assume that I'm in the room. 

So for instance, some of the board at a sizable nonprofit, and we had an annual conference and we had a new CEO and we were talking about having the CEO speak for that conference and I spoke up and said, "well, you know, she's not a seasoned keynote speaker, it might be better just to have her interview, but if you want her to give a keynote, I'd be happy to coach her." At which point, a powerful white male also on the board said, "Well, if we're going to do that, why don't we hire a real coach?"

And I waited for someone to speak up on my behalf. You know, what I wanted to say was, wait, I've done, um, four Ted talks. I'm a speakers ambassador for Ted. I speak to Ted speakers. I have coached TEDx speakers. I've taught speech in three Universities, two in the United States, one in Europe. Tell me what part of that does not make me a real coach? But in this particular situation, the gentleman's assumption was that the reason I was on that board is because I used to teach a doctoral course, current trends in American Religion. So as far as he was concerned, that was my area of expertise. Wasn't possible that I could have expertise in multiple areas. And that is just a rather typical one that I, I run into. A woman's not allowed to be a Renaissance person. She can't have degrees in more than one field. If she in fact is competent, well it has to be in a very narrow slice of the pie.

[00:15:37] Anna: And if you had spoken up on behalf of yourself in that moment, how do you think that would have been received?

[00:15:43] Paula: Well, we have a word for that, um, in English and you know, I mean, it, a man is allowed to have his ambition, you know, but a woman is not. We don't feel badly about Abraham Lincoln's ambition, but we certainly did not treat Hillary Clinton well when it came to her ambition. Ambition is not a respected female trait, just like deference is not a respected male trait. And until we can allow women to be ambitious and encourage men to be willing to practice deference, we're not ever going to get anywhere near gender equity. 

[00:16:19] Book excerpt: “That is another thing I have discovered as a woman: You are always on knife-edge. If you speak too boldly, you are a threat to the men in the room. If you do not speak up, no one will see you as a leader. No matter what you do, it is wrong. And even if you do speak up, you are likely to be interrupted. Women are more formal and prepared, because they have to be. Knowing they will be interrupted, they have to find the perfect words before they speak. Because they are holding back, someone else speaks up and beats them to the punch.”

[00:17:01] Anna: All right. So let's talk about your journey to get to this point, and then we'll get into some more about what you have learned. So, you said you spend a lot of time explaining to people what it means to be transgender, but could you do that for us just one more time and then walk us through a bit of your story. There's a lot to unpack there. So people will just have to buy your book to hear it all, but maybe kind of an overview about what your childhood was like, how you ended up in your very successful career as a pastor and CEO and your decision to transition at the age of 60.

[00:17:36] Paula: So the technical term for someone who's transgender is gender dysphoria and a person with gender dysphoria, a person who is transgender is a person who consistently and persistently finds that the gender identified on their birth certificate does not match the gender they feel themselves to be. And it is something that a lot of us have known from very, very early in life. I have a friend here in the town of which I lived in Colorado who's a psychotherapist whose daughter identified as male at birth, but the first phrase she ever spoke to her mother was "Mommy, I a girl."

And that is not uncommon for transgender women to have that feeling. I don't remember a time when I did not feel I was supposed to have been born a girl. There's a common narrative that the media likes to seize on that says that a trans woman always felt like a woman trapped in a man's body. That was not true in my case, I felt like a man trapped in a man's body. I felt like a boy trapped in a boy's body. I felt I was not supposed to have been born a boy. I was supposed to have been born a girl. So that was my unique experience. And of course I can't speak for any other transgender person. I can only speak for myself because everybody's experience is their own experience.

But I know that I knew I was trans before I was four, because I remember the house in which we lived, that we moved from when I was four. And I remember it rather simply, I thought I got to choose my gender. And I was quite convinced that before kindergarten, a gender ferry would arrive to look suspiciously, like the good witch in The Wizard of Oz, this, you know, surillian blue dress and blonde hair.

And so it was, you know, Glenda in my mind. And that in fact of course did not happen. Surprise, surprise. And so I began school as a boy. I did not hate being a boy. I just knew I wasn't one. And it didn't really become a problem for me until puberty hit. And then it was just utterly awful because I found my body changing in ways that did not feel at all natural to me.

And I experienced testosterone has a very negative substance in my body. I hated its arrival and felt that way about testosterone until its departure. And that is in fact often how you can identify the difference between someone who is transgender and someone who is a sexual cross dresser. 

A cross dressing is in fact, a paraphilia.. It is what we used to call a sexual fetish. A sexual cross-dresser is most of the time someone identified as male at birth who finds sexual satisfaction in dressing as the opposite sex. And that does not identify a transgender person. Transgender person is also not a drag queen. Drag queen is generally speaking a gay guy who's just got way too much style for one gender. And so people who are transgender, it's a very different experience. 

[00:20:41] Anna: Okay, so this was kind of your childhood and coming of age. Can you just tell us a bit about your career, I guess, your career path and how you came to become the CEO of a very large and successful organization?

[00:20:56] Paula: I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian with a father who was a fundamentalist pastor and I had a lot of privilege. I got a great education and lived in the right part of town and had the kind of gender and I was white and, you know, I just had lots and lots of opportunities given to me. In fact, I'll not live long enough to lose my male privilege. I brought it with me when I transitioned. So I had an abundance of opportunities, really at a plethora of things that came my way. Even in high school, I was a disc jockey radio announcer sportscaster at a commercial radio station at the age of 16. Doesn't, that happen to everybody. And doesn't that happen to girls as well in the 1960s? Yeah, no.

So I had a lot of opportunities and had scholarship offers in both broadcasting and in seminary theology. And I was so terrified of being trans that I would not even consider the offers in broadcasting because I knew they would take me out of the religious environment, which I believe was the only thing controlling my gender dysphoria.

So instead I decided to go into ministry, which is probably not a good decision for me to have made it did not serve me well, because it did in fact, put me in a very restrictive environment in which if I came out as an LGBTQ plus person, I was going to lose all of my jobs, which in fact I did. I lost every single job that I had within a seven days time. In all 50 states in the United States, you can not be fired for being transgender, but in all 50, you can be fired if you're transgender and you work for a religious corporation.

So in choosing that particular career path, I in fact, made sure that I was choosing a path that was not going to allow me to come out. During my college years, I actually felt like maybe it was gone. It was on such a back burner that I did not even feel the need to tell my fiance that had been a part of my life in the past.

Unfortunately, however, as soon as I married, I realized that it was not gone because I realized immediately had never had sexual intimacy until marriage and recognized immediately that the body that was engaging in intimacy was not the body I wanted to be engaging in intimacy. And so told Kathy at that point, and it was something we dealt with together.

But again, this is the early 1970s. Nobody really knew anything about it. There were no books out on the subject, and so there was just no information about it available pretty much anywhere. And so we dealt with that as best we could. And didn't really talk about it much until I began therapy a good 10 years later. And even at that point, believed that it was something that would not require transitioning. And I did not want to do that to my wife or to my children. We're a gendered society and families are gendered and I did not want to explode the family narrative.

And so worked very hard at trying to make that work and ultimately left evangelicalism and even for a period of time, then I'm actually speaking about that this weekend. And I very rarely speak about this. It's in my son's book, She's My Dad. But there was actually a three month period when after I'd already begun hormones, I decided to go back and try hard to see if I could live purely as Paul hoping that maybe leaving the strictures of evangelicalism, which I no longer believed, would be enough to allow me to deal with my gender dysphoria without transitioning.

And I tried it for about three months. And realized that it was not something I was going to be able to do. And that was a devastating time for me because I knew then the kind of disruption it was going to bring into the lives of my family. 

[00:24:42] Anna: Well reading about your story and, you know, your decision to go through with that and everything that it took, it really is an inspiration to find meaning and, and live out our most true and authentic life, which is of course something that you talk about quite a lot in the book. There's lots of inspiration to be drawn from your experience as difficult as it seems.

I can't even imagine, but I'm keen to hear about your experience now, living as a woman after 60 years of living as a man and as a white man, no less, as you point out. So to start, can you tell us one story that really exemplifies the difference between your life before transitioning and after?

[00:25:27] Paula: I think probably the term "privileged" is very appropriate. I have a lot of sympathy for well-educated successful white guys because every last one of us and I'll use the word "us", worked hard to get where we were, 

[00:25:45] Anna: Hmm.

[00:25:46] Paula: and that is not always taken into consideration. Just because you've grown up in a privileged position does not mean you're going to have the work ethic or the abilities or the desire even to succeed in your field of endeavor. And I was pretty sure, I think that I had made my way to the top of my particular industry on the merits of my own work. And post-transition I realized that, yes, I worked hard. But I started pretty darn close to the finish line. And I work much harder now, and it is far more difficult win the race. So to speak.

The road is full of fallen branches and stones to use Mary Oliver's language. It is not as easy a journey. And I have three children, one child of color, and she and her husband also a person of color said to me, when I began to discover these things, they said, "now you know, just a little tiny bit of what we go through day in and day out, day in and day out."

And it's true. And of course I said to my former wife with whom I'm still close so many times you don't, "I'm just so sorry. I didn't know what I did at no". Because nothing comes as easily now as it did back then. And that is just the reality of things. 

I think the most striking story happened the first time I ever flew as Paula. I flown two and a half million miles with American two and a half million actual miles, not just credit miles. So I've got a lot of time on the inside of an airplane. And it was the very first time I flew it's Paula. And when I got on, there was stuff in my seat, I picked it up, put my stuff down and a guy rather rudely said, "that's my stuff." And I said, "well, okay, but it's in my seat. be happy to hold it for you until you find your seat." And expected him to immediately say, okay. Instead he said, he said, "lady, that is my seat". And I said, "actually, it's not, it's my seat 1D, but like I said, I'll hold your stuff till you can find it." And then he said again, "I don't know what I have to tell you that is my seat." And now, you know, I got a little firmer and said,it's actually, it's not it's my seat, 1D.

At which point, the guy behind me said, "Lady, would you take your effing argument elsewhere, so I can get on the airplane." I was utterly stunned. I had never in my life been treated that way as a man. And finally the flight attendant took her boarding passes, said to the guy, "Sir, you're in 1C, she's in 1D." I put this stuff down in one, say no apology from him. No nothing. And you know, I can tell you exactly what would have happened without was a guy I would've said, "Excuse me, I believe that's my seat."

And instantaneously the guy would've looked at this boarding pass and said, "oh, I'm sorry", because he would have assumed since I was a man that I knew what I was talking about. But a woman who seems to know that she's in first class, in that seat? No, that's probably not something that's not map. It's not, not that's my seat's not her seat.

She's belonged somewhere in the back. She just doesn't realize it. I mean, that's an assumption I'm making about what he was thinking, which is not fair, but I've seen it happen often enough that, um, how go ahead and make that assumption. But I really was just stunned. And my friend, Karen, who works for an American, I knew she was wondering what was going on. And so I told her what had happened. And she said, "oh, well, welcome to the world of women".

That was just staggering to me. And it happens over and over. To me, probably on an airplane is the best example of it, because that is in fact probably the most egalitarian environment in which I exist now, compared to my previous life. My previous life was living in evangelicalism. My current life has lived that side of it, but my experience on an airplane, was the same whether a man or a woman. And so I can look at the contrast there in that thin metal tube and see the massive differences. 

So like last year I was flying from LA to Honolulu and we were on a 3 21 Neo and I said to the flight attendant as he came by, I said, "Do you guys like the Neo?" And he said, "Yes, we'll be having a meal on this flight." And I said, "No, that's actually not what I asked. I asked if you like the 3 21 Neo on this particular route." And he said, "Well, of course we do" and was utterly dismissive. So it's time to come around to take our meal orders. And he looks at the paper and sees that I'm executive platinum, which is the highest level with American.

And he immediately kneels down the apologizes and said, " I treated you dismissively. Yes. The truth of the matter is we hate the neo, it is not a good plane for a five, six hour flight. It is substandard even compared to the 7 57", which is what I was asking him. But no, a woman wouldn't be bright enough to know that flight attendants and pilots might not particularly think that the new Airbus 3 21 Neo is actually going to be an adequate replacement for the 7 57. But he had to see my status before he thought that, I mean, it just happens over and over. And I was on another flight from Phoenix to Honolulu the year before- I know it's hard, but somebody has to do it. And, our flight was extremely bumpy and it was actually on the earlier generation, 3 21 and the woman next to me, she said, "This is the bumpiest flight I've ever been on."

And I said, "Yeah, it's pretty bad, but we're on a 3 21 and a 3 21, actually, he's going to have to burn off some fuel before he can get up above this weather. And he really can't go around it because the 321s, it's a bit of a stretch to be able to make a trip like this. So it can't really divert around weather as much."

She looked at me like I had three heads. A male flight attendant comes by and she says to him, "why is it so bumpy?" And he said, "oh, because we can't get up above the weather yet." And I, and she's like, well, thank you very much. And I thought, no, wait, I just explained to you why we could not get up about the weather and yet, no, she had no interest in taking that from me because there's no way a woman could understand anything like that, about the airplane that we're on. It just happens over and over. 

[00:32:07] Anna: Oh, God. Yeah. I loved that story about the man thinking you were in his seat. Because it made me think about what I would've done in your shoes. And I almost certainly would have apologized to him and just automatically believed him over myself, which is a whole other thing that you talk about in the book that is something that women have a tendency to do. And you talked a lot in the book about the differences you noticed in the workplace when it comes to gender, power and authority, you know, starting in the hiring process and then impacting everything from our confidence levels to our ability to speak at meetings or even to be in meetings in the first place and that all of these things add up to a recipe for burnout for women. So can you walk us through some of the biggest differences you noticed in the workplace as a man compared to as a woman?

[00:32:59] Paula: I think the biggest is when I already stated, which is, I would have thought when I first began recognizing it, that it was actually more subtle and maybe not as significant, but I find it to be very significant. And that is that I am not judged in that aggregate body of my work. I have to credential myself every time I walk into a setting and yet a woman credentialing herself is not acceptable.

 It is seen as being too ambitious. It's maddening to me, the lack of deference I see. I mean, in the particular field that I worked, which is the establishment of new churches, I led one of the two largest organizations in the nation within our denomination in that and it is striking to me how dismissed I am and how my knowledge, even my own in my own church is not taken seriously. It is assumed that I cannot have that level of knowledge about it. Being judged in the aggregate body of your work, and then not being able to, to be ambitious or to advocate for yourself in that setting.

I think one of the others is constantly being interrupted. And so you finally get to the point that you don't speak up because you know that if you in fact do speak up, you're just going to be interrupted because men interrupt women twice, as often as they interrupt other men. But lack of confidence you have, we teach our sons to be confident. We teach our daughters to be perfect, and we think we're doing them a favor, but you know, when they get out into the real world and that first job is theirs and the position opens up and it has four requirements and they have three of the four and they think to themselves, I can't apply for this position because I'm not perfect.

A guy has two of the four and he thinks, yeah, I got this because he's been taught to be confident and he ends up getting the job for which she didn't even apply, even though she's more qualified for it, we've got to stop teaching our daughters to be perfect. And instead we need to teach them to be persistent, that they also should be confident and that they should grab the brass ring.

And so that to me is, again, if you do attempt to grab the brass ring you're seen as being "that woman". And, and it's a shame because most women, I find them just back off from that because the, the narrative is well, you're just going to be the devil wears Prada. When the truth is, if you take a look at women CEOs, what you find is they often have the paradoxical strengths of great confidence coupled with great humility. And you don't see that as often with men. I mean, you do see it, you know, you see it with those extraordinary leaders, like, oh, let's even say a Jimmy Carter who had great confidence coupled with great humility, or George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush 41. But for the most part, you don't see that with men, but you do see it with women.

I mean, just take a look at the first phase of the Corona virus. What was it that Finland, Norway, Germany, Iceland, Taiwan, and New Zealand had in common. All three did extremely well through the first phase of the Corona virus. All three also happened to have a female Head of State who saw her health department as collaborators, not subordinates who are willing to admit when they had made wrong decisions and quickly pivot to make the right decision. 

You know and then you contrast that with what happened in Brazil, the United States or Great Britain where you had, in my opinion, men with not a lot of ego strength and a boatload of ego need, who therefore just muck things up royally by not having that combination of great confidence, coupled with great humility that you saw with everybody from Angela Merkel to Jacinda Arden.

[00:36:35] Anna: Yeah, I loved seeing those countries doing so well and people making the connection about what they all had in common. In terms of confidence, you know, you talked about how you actually felt like you lost confidence after transitioning because you started no longer trusting your own instincts and even doubting yourself in ways that you never did as a man.

And of course, that makes sense when you look at the context of you're in these situations where people are doubting you and are making you credential yourself. But what have you learned about overcoming this? You know, how do you think that women can go about building up, raising our daughters in the next generation to not be perfect, but for us now who are full grown adults, what do you think that we can do to go about building up our confidence and authority and to stop apologizing so much?

[00:37:25] Paula: Yeah when I figure that out I'll let you know, because I, I actually find it it gets worse. 

[00:37:30] Anna: O no.

[00:37:31] Paula: I find myself now apologizing far more than I did even five years ago. Because it accumulates, you know, and I mean, any cis woman knows that she's been taught deference from the time she was a child. And, you know, I mean, here, I've only been learning deference over the last eight years, and yet I find myself losing so much confidence. 

[00:37:53] Anna: Yeah. I mean, I think it's a self-fulfilling prophecy as well that you doubt yourself so you don't take chances and the world kind of sends you these signals. And then that just continues on in a loop until, um, I don't know, the, the system changes or we find something in ourselves to be able to overcome it.

But the other thing that you wrote about that struck me in terms of the workplace was that you said you have experienced more conflict with women in the six years as a woman than you did in the 60 years as a man. And I'm not going to lie, I found that quite disheartening. So I was hoping you could walk us through that. You know, what have you noticed with the dynamics between women and how is this different to what happens with men?

[00:38:35] Paula: You know, I had a wonderful interview with KK Ottesen at the Washington post, and it was over two days. And on the first day she challenged me on that notion and said that that had not been her experience. And then the next day she said to me, you don't have is talking with Madeline Albright, as one does I suppose, and she said, "oh no, actually I don't you remember? I always used to say that there was a special place reserved in hell for women who do not empower one another". My own experience. And again, that's all I can speak from is that women see each other more often as competition and do not empower each other.

Men empower each other within hierarchical systems. What I believe men do is you come into a room. The first thing you do is identify who the alpha is in the room. Then you rank yourself accordingly. And then you'll just set about accomplishing the purposes of the alpha. So you to use it in American sports analogy, you get on a huddle, you slap each other on the butt, and then you advance the quarterback and the ball down the field.

So you know who the boss is and you know, your position in all of that. And so within that structure, men do empower one another. Women, I find more often do not. And I understand likely the origins of that. A woman gets into a C-suite possession and then the other woman comes up the ranks and she's like, wait a minute, you're not having to work half as hard as I did to get here. And so, no, I'm not going to make this easy for you. And so there's a threat that is implied in that the woman who's newly arrived and it's ironic and paradoxical really because I do observe that women work together collaboratively better than men do, but when it comes time to empower one another in leadership opportunities or positions, they more often will be in competition and sometimes even undermine each other.

And I have, I have a good friend in New Zealand I was speaking with just last night and she said, "you know, you might be a senior citizen, but as a woman, you're 17, you know, you're just learning how women can be with one another. And I'm sorry that you're finding it so difficult." It is easier to navigate leadership as a man than it is to navigate leadership as a woman. 

[00:40:58] Anna: Yeah and you know, this is one of those things. I find it really difficult to discuss because I think it's something that we do really need to talk about so people can be aware and look at their own behavior, but at the same time, I don't want to perpetuate the godforsaken catfight stereotype. And as I said, it is quite disheartening just generally, because it's, it's absolutely not that catfight scenario. 

If I can just give my 2 cents on the matter, you know, I see this as something that really stems from being a woman in a male dominated environment in which women are inherently devalued. You know, as you say, it leads to women seeing other women as competition for available spots, or maybe they worked really hard to get there and they expect other women to do the same, as opposed to men who are surrounded by other men, all moving forward in their careers at the same time, with more opportunities, shall we say?

And another part of that, I think is it's women responding to sexism by trying to distance themselves from other women, perhaps, which, you know, I think makes sense if women are devalued and generally speaking, considered not fit for leadership, you're going to want to distance yourself from the fact that you are a woman for the sake of your career, and even just for your self esteem, even if it's completely subconscious. 

You know, "I'm not like other women" is kind of the classic line. Or putting down feminine traits and glorifying your own masculine ones. You know, "Women are so emotional, but I think more like a guy or whatever". And I know I'm absolutely guilty of this, especially when I was younger and unaware of these dynamics, I very much tried to align myself more with men because I knew men were regarded differently than women, you know, they were taken more seriously and women were seen as frivolous and men were successful. So I told myself that lie for a long time that, you know, I'm not like other women until I finally started to unlearn and unpack what it really meant.

And I think what it really means is: I see the system doesn't think very highly of women, but I am a woman. And I think highly of myself. So surely I'm not like those women, which means I must be more like men and all of this just leaves women perpetuating the stereotype that there is something inferior about being a woman and also, you know, the not empowering or holding each other back instead of directing that energy toward the system and those who hold power.

[00:43:35] Paula: It is interesting to me. I believe that that it is a more common issue for women with an agentic personality or what we traditionally have called an alpha personality. And my experience is consistently that women who score high in the dominance area, they are the ones who have the most arrows pointed in their direction by other women. And I believe it's because they are naturally agentic leaders. They are naturally leaders who function better in vertically based hierarchical systems. And I think a lot of times they're not rewarded for that. And they're certainly not encouraged to own that and to be proud of it. But I do find it is the one area on which I speak that I get the biggest pushback from other women is on the whole issue of women, empowering one another.

[00:44:27] Anna: Yeah, I think just being aware of gender and all the gender dynamics that exist is a great place for women to start kind of unlearning and unpacking all of this. So... 

[00:44:39] Overdub: “And now for: “men are losers too”... in gender inequality of course. These are not "women's" issues, these are everyone's issues, because as long as women are held back from their full potential, so are we all.”

[00:44:54] Anna: But I want to, I want to talk about, I want to make sure we have time to talk about men and what they can do and how all of this impacts them. So there's a, a recurrent segment on this podcast that looks at all the ways that gender inequity and gender inequality negatively impacts men. And of course you offer a very unique perspective on this question. So as curious, if you can tell us, you know, how do you think the current status of men and women harms men and what do they stand to gain in a more gender equal world?

[00:45:26] Paula: I think we need to teach these men the value of not just being allies, but being assistants. You know, it's one of the things that I love seeing. And I've seen this particularly with one particular company that I've worked with, Upside, uh, with Scott Case, who's their CEO. And he's willing to work at the direction of the women on that team where he's not just an ally, Hey, I'm here with you and I'm supporting you, but he's saying, what do you need me to do? And that is marvelous, when a man is willing to take that position of being an assistant or an apprentice and say to the women with whom he works or the friend that he has, or even his own daughters and in spouse, to be able to say, what do I need to do?

And that I think is the value of men learning deference. And until we can see deference as a respected male trait, we're never going to get there. Men too often see deference as weakness instead of saying it, it has coming from a position of great strength, particularly even with a weak ego structure I think, see things that way. 

I think another thing is that men are not taught to listen. Men are taught that they are the ones who solve problems and not truly deeply listen. 

[00:46:42] Anna: Hmm.

[00:46:43] Paula: I think for a lot of white men, there is, oh God, it's almost a patina of arrogance that sits above a healthy, good core that is because they have never been broken. They have never learned what Rilke talks about in his poem, The Man Watching, which he ends by saying "Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows by being defeated, decisively by greater beings". never experienced being utterly and completely lost as a man.

And I discovered it pretty quickly as a woman. And I'm in that place again right now and have been for about five months. And it's awful. It's terrible. I see parts of myself more clearly than I ever have before. In fact, my former wife was just saying to me last week, she said, "I've never seen you stay so long in the dark side of your heart." What a difficult thing to have to hear her spoken and to know intuitively of it's truth. I think it is a blessing when men are broken, but it takes a lot to break them open. I have been broken open, and it's why I'm a better communicator now than I was before. And a better leader now than I was before

[00:48:08] Anna: What do you think, you know, if there's men listening or. What do you think that, that they can do to try to start to recognize their own privilege and join in this fight for gender equity? Is there any, anything that you would recommend for recognizing that and anything that, you know, maybe a simple place, simple ways to get started?

[00:48:37] Paula: Yield and trust to the women you respect. Your daughters, your wife, if you are straight and have a spouse. I think starting there is critically important. You must trust that I know what I'm talking about and not assume that your experience is the universal experience. Men begin, particularly white men, begin from a self-referential perspective, always and ever. Just stop thinking you know best yield and trust. And don't, you know, not just anyone. Yield to those who have earned your trust, but recognize that your experience is not the norm. 

[00:49:23] Anna: Yeah, I, if I could just read one section from the book, you said, " there is one thing men can do that will pay dividends beyond all others. Ask your wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters about their experience. Ask them what needs to change at work and at home. Listen to them. Seriously listen to them. Life is tilted in your favor, even if you do not see it, trust that what the women in your life are telling you is true. Life is more difficult for them. Leverage the power you have to create a better life for women. Create a better future for your daughters and granddaughters and the generations to come.

[00:50:04] Paula: Every time I speak, there is one line that I use that gets more applause than any other. On a number of occasions, it's gotten a standing ovation in the midst of it. And that is when I say "guys, if there's just one thing you could do, one single thing would make a huge difference. Assume a woman knows what she's talking about and treat her accordingly."

[00:50:27] Anna: Seems simple enough.

[00:50:28] Paula: I mean, you know, it, it is, and the applause is so great you can see the stunned look on the men's faces because you recognize that that statement has struck a cord that runs deep. 

[00:50:45] Anna: Yeah. 

[00:50:46] Paula: That is fascinating to watch. 

[00:50:48] Anna: Yeah.

[00:50:49] Paula: If I look at my second TEDx mile high talk, where I use that line, if I remember correctly, I haven't looked at it in a couple of years, but if I remember correctly, the camera pans to the audience, and there are a number of men sitting in that are resistant, rejecting a pose of arms crossed before them, as I say that. 

[00:51:09] Anna: Yeah, it's going to take a certain level of, um, self-awareness to be able to recognize if you are not believing, and I think that a lot of times that can be so deeply embedded that yeah, as you have well seen their reaction to advice like that might not always be received well, but it seems, it seems simple enough. So just ask questions and listen and believe. 

So if people take one thing away from this conversation today, what would you want it to be?

[00:51:41] Paula: I think I have to give a gendered, and specifically to each gender response to this. And I would include the gender non-binary with women in this. And, the women and the gender non-binary people, I would say own what you know, don't be afraid to own what you know, and to the men, it would be what I just said, assume a woman knows what she's talking about and treat her accordingly. 

[00:52:04] Anna: Love it. All right. So just wrapping here. So you wrote that we will achieve gender equity when we all sit down together on the front porch and share our stories and that's exactly the type of space. I would like to provide with this last section of the podcast where we invite listeners to share their own stories.

[00:52:23] Overdub: And now for: “Your Story”, the part where you are invited to reflect on this story as it relates to your own life - think about it, write about it, talk about it, and if you wish, share with the community. Whether or not you are listening in real-time, if you send in your thoughts, experiences, questions, and recommendations, they may be included in a future listener-led episode. Check out the link in the show notes, or revisit the Your Story episode, to learn more. Remember, no matter your story, you are not alone in your experience, and there is power in our collective realisation of this.

[00:53:06] Anna: So as listeners come away from this hour with you, are there any questions that you want to put forth to them for sharing their own story? You know, things they can pay attention to or ways they can reflect on their own experiences or ideas that you would like to hear more about from them?

[00:53:24] Paula: I do believe that we are a narrative-based species and we don't sleep without dreaming. And we don't dream in mathematical equations, we dream and stories. And so I don't believe arguments get us anywhere. Never have never will. We do take in new information, but not unless it comes to us in a non-threatening way.

So I think that as people tell their stories, just telling their stories simply without the intent of changing minds is the only way we change the narrative in our nation or increasingly in the world. As I see the increased polarization taking place politically in so many nations across the globe. I think another thing I would say is taking the words of a late sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson rather seriously, that we're the only one of the tribal species, nine tribal species, we're the only one who believes an enemy is necessary for our tribe to survive. And for no enemy exists, we create one. And I think asking ourselves who are the enemies I have created that I think are necessary for my own community's survival. Because he's shown pretty convincingly that none of us escape that. And so I think that's another thing I wouldn't, I would suggest. 

[00:54:42] Anna: Oh, yes. We're not going to have time to get into it, but I thought that was fascinating how you talked about the kind of origins of fundamentalist religions, and how those have evolved to basically help form the basis of our culture wars that we see today. And a lot of that stems back to creating...

[00:55:04] Paula: enemies that don't exist. Yeah. creating enemies that don't exist... 

[00:55:07] Anna: Okay, Anna from the future here. We ran out of time, but I just can't help myself. Paula with her very extensive knowledge of religious history and theory and her decades of work and life experience from inside the evangelical party has some really important insights that can help us understand where we are today and also how far some groups still have to go in recognizing women is equal to men. And how much influence these same groups have within our countries and our government, especially those within the United States. It's admittedly a bit of a tangent, but I think it's too important not to mention. So I'm just going to take a few minutes here to summarize, but she offers even more wisdom on this topic in her book. 

So Fundamentalist religions are any religions that adhere to strict, literal interpretations of its scriptures.

[00:56:01] Paula: In the United States were most effected by fundamentalist Christianity, but in other places it's fundamentalist Judaism or fundamentalist Islam. 

[00:56:09] Anna: Paula explains that Islam, Judaism and Christianity all began as desert religions. And as such were religions of scarcity teaching that God's love is restricted to the elect. And she goes on to explain how these have evolved to believe an enemy is necessary for the religion to survive. re no enemies, one is created. She writes that the current enemies created by the evangelical Christians are those within the LGBTQ plus community and those who support women's rights. 

Paula also calls out how suspiciously convenient these two enemies are for the religious leaders writing: " should we be surprised that the two social issues chosen by these patriarchal religions are issues that personally cost their male leaders nothing? All three are exclusively led by men. No male clergy have to decide whether to get an abortion and fewer than 5% are gay or transgender. They have conveniently chosen social positions that require no sacrifice on their own. These are the same religious teachers who maintain that men are equipped by nature to lead, while women are equipped by nature to follow."

[00:57:24] Paula: And you know, Wilson said, if we don't get a hold of that as a species, we lose the species of likely the planet. If we don't stop making enemies, that don't exist. 

[00:57:34] Anna: And here's the kicker that those of us outside these religions may not realize: these aren't small groups of people that are being taught about these enemies:

[00:57:45] Paula: They just don't realize on either coast that in 30 states of the United States, the major religious teaching is that a man that's supposed to be in charge of a woman, at church at home and by extrapolation and every other part of society. And people from Washington to Boston and in Hollywood just don't get that. Or, or really even all the way up to the Pacific Northwest because evangelical Christianity has such little influence in those areas. You know you get back to the Midwest or the south and it has incredible levels of influence.

[00:58:12] Anna: ...and not just influence within the religion, but within government and politics:

[00:58:18] Paula: So much so that the New York Times not long ago had an article in which they were showing that Americans are equating republicanism with evangelicalism, that they are one and the same. 

[00:58:28] Anna: And how could this have happened? How did fundamentalist evangelicals with their teaching of man and woman's place become one in the same with one of the two major US political parties?

I'll read one more section from Paula's book, which quite frankly, it sounded to me like a Handmaid's tale prequel telling the story of how Gilead came into power slowly over time and right under everyone's noses. She writes: 

"We underestimate the power of evangelical Christianity at our own peril. Since the 1980s, evangelicals have become increasingly politically active. They began running for positions on school boards. Then demanding that those schools teach total abstinence in their sex education classes and teach seven day creation in science classes. From there, they began working to take over state legislators. In a number of states, they hold the majority in both state legislative houses. They then emerged onto the national scene with tea party Republicans and have virtually taken over the Republican party. After having permeated the top levels of the legislative branch, they're wanting to leave their mark on the judicial branch where lifetime appointments can keep their ideology and power for another generation."

So very slowly, one step at a time so that no one sees the government that they are creating until it's too late. Does that sound like Gilead to anyone else? But it doesn't mean religion has to be this way. Paula ends with examples of the work she and others are doing with non patriarchal Christianity that doesn't see church as existing for its own self protection, but as existing for the common good, teaching that God is the ultimate loving servant, not the angry judge who makes up enemies and sends people to hell for being, or supporting one.

[01:00:28] Paula: It's frightening. It's truly frightening. I believe, you know, I think it's important to say. I actually believe religion is a good thing for the species. I don't believe that fundamentalism is a good thing for the species. 

[01:00:38] Overdub: And now for: the “feminism gets a bad wrap because the narrative has been just a bit one-sided" corner.

[01:00:45] Anna: All right. So just some rapid fire questions to wrap up. These are questions I ask every guest at the end. So, Paula, what does feminism mean to you?

[01:00:56] Paula: Feminism means to me, um, something that I am just beginning to understand and need to be really careful what I do and do not say about it. 

[01:01:06] Anna: All right. Um, and what is the story of woman to you?

[01:01:11] Paula: The story of woman is a story of creation. 

[01:01:14] Anna: I like that. Uh, what are you reading right now?

[01:01:17] Paula: I am reading two books by James Hollis, the union analyst. One is The Middle Passage from misery to meeting and midlife. And the other is Swamplands of the Soul new life in dismal places. He's I think a brilliant, probably our most brilliant living, union, a writer, 

[01:01:35] Anna: All right. And, uh, what are you working on right now?

[01:01:39] Paula: um, trying to become a better human. 

[01:01:44] Anna: That's great. Aren't we all? That's great.

[01:01:47] Paula: Oh you know what? No, I don't think we always are. I think that there are periods in time when we just have to kind of sit and relax by the fire and accept ourselves and show self-compassion. But I think other times we can muster the courage to face the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves and confront them without filter. And I'm in one of those phases. 

[01:02:10] Anna: Yeah. That's beautiful. That's an excellent point. And where can we find you? 

[01:02:16] Paula: Paula stone williams.com. 

[01:02:18] Anna: Wonderful. Great. Thank you so much for your time, Paula. It was great to chat with you. 

[01:02:23] Paula: Good talking with you. Thank you so much.

[01:02:26] Anna: Thanks you for listening. The Story of Woman is a one-woman operation, with some editing help from Clare Mansell and voiceovers done by Jenny Sudborough. 

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Paula Stone Williams
Paula Stone Williams
Author of As a Woman