For the last 30 years or so, women have been learning to assert themselves and how to delegate authority without aping the worst traits of authoritative males. Does assertiveness training work? Well, it still helps if people are able to abandon their double standards. Regardless of what one thinks of Hillary Clinton’s politics, one has to agree that she comes in for some bashing for her take-charge attitude.
The Beachhead has always been run as a Collective and nobody is the editor. Editorial decisions are made by the entire group. Of course, since somebody has to lead meetings and organize production, every month one person volunteers to be the Coordinator, which would otherwise be called the Managing Editor. Back when I was on the Collective-late 1970s and early 1980s – each month’s meeting would begin with the last month’s Coordinator asking who wanted to take over for the new month-and somebody would volunteer.
For the first few months, I didn’t volunteer because I was new and wanted to learn more about the functioning of the paper. Then, I didn’t volunteer because it seemed as though all the others were so accustomed to speaking up that I wasn’t able to jump in fast enough.
And then it got to the point where many Collective members were growing weary of the task of coordinating. The question would come up and there would be a moment of silence and then someone would sigh and say “okay, I’ll do it, just this once more.”
Finally came a month when the question was posed. I had been thinking about how I had a golden opportunity to finally “jump in” and say that I would coordinate. There was the silence. Nobody spoke. So I nudged myself and said “I’ll do it.”
Remember that moment in The Fellowship of the Ring when the various elves, dwarves, and humans are discussing who should travel to Mordor to destroy the ring, and everyone has excuses, and finally, little Frodo speaks up and says he’ll take the Ring to Mordor? And the others are abashed and they pledge to help Frodo on his journey?
I felt tears in my eyes when I saw that part of the movie because it reminded me of the time I first volunteered to be Coordinator of the Venice Beachhead.
Nobody knelt at my feet but nobody said “No, Lynne, you aren’t assertive enough to manage things.” It wasn’t Beachhead policy to second-guess somebody else’s abilities. I was entitled to have my turn as all the others did.
That being said, I soon realized that my first task would be to establish a sense of order, for my co-workers were gossiping and I needed to quiet them down. So, when my gestures and murmurs of “Quiet” were not heeded, I took out my police whistle that I carried for self-defense and I blew the whistle! Everyone hushed up at the sound.
Then we laughed and someone said “I like the way Lynne takes charge!”
I coordinated that issue and at least two other issues. There were no fights or ego struggles. I didn’t have to stretch myself into a dictator to get my instructions across.
I don’t know if the whole world could be run by the collective process but I do know that it was and is a system that allows the formerly powerless to taste what power is like-without abusing power.
And over the years, the Venice Beachhead has been the home of a large number of assertive, smart, creative women who contribute to the paper in every possible way.
I’m glad I got to be one of them.