Resilience is more of a gender-specific concept that you might think, and that’s no good thing, writes BETC associate creative director Lauren Haberfield
Let me ask you something. When was the last time you heard someone describe a man as ‘resilient’? ‘Strong’, yes. ‘Flexible’... maybe... but the actual phrase “he’s so resilient”?
Chances are you haven’t. Because for some reason 'resilient’ became one of those words that belongs exclusively to women. And if we take a little walk down history lane, words that are assigned to one gender don't tend to be compliments, no matter the literal definition.
But unlike other sexist words we find in our industry such as ‘bossy’ or ‘shrill’ or ‘fiesty’ - ‘resilience’ has not only slipped under the gender radar, but it is openly celebrated and owned by women.
We are proud to be resilient. We wear the word like a badge of honour. It has become a trait for women to aspire to. Books and articles (from myself included) have been written about the value of resilience. When I was selected for the Cannes Lions ‘See It Be It’ programme in 2018, the theme was... you guessed it... resilience.
We’ve all drunk from the resilience Kool-Aid. And it tasted so good. Finally there was something positive to come out of so much struggle. All that inequality hadn’t been for nothing, it was to build this invaluable trait that would make us better people, creatives and leaders. Resilience in itself is an incredible thing. To be resilient is to be strong, to get up when you’ve been knocked down, to keep showing up and hustling day in and day out, no matter how hard it gets.
Which leads me to question… if resilience is so amazing, why is it only for women?
Why don’t men aspire to be resilient? Why aren’t men looking for challenges that help them to build this invaluable trait? Did we, as women, amplify the power of resilience because we were so desperate for our fight to have meant something? Are we blindly celebrating the very thing that keeps us firmly in our lane, permanently too tired to achieve our goals?
Because let’s be honest. Resilience is exhausting. Needing to ‘be strong’ takes a whole lot of energy. Energy that could be used towards doing better work, negotiating better pay and getting the promotions we deserve. Let’s be clear about something.. resilience is not a synonym to strength. It is not something that you are born with, or a part of your personality.. it’s something you have to earn. And when you put it like that, it is less surprising that it is a word only used to describe the gender that is constantly having to prove their value over and over again.
I’ve come to the conclusion that resilience isn't a compliment, it’s a distraction. It’s another way of redirecting the conversation around gender equality and female empowerment, sending it in circles so that we don’t have to change anything. I’m not saying it is an easy task to remove the obstacles that make women so ‘resilient’ in the first place... but doesn’t it feel like we are wasting a lot of time creating a culture that celebrates resilient women, when we could be changing our culture to simply be more supportive of their needs?
As the saying goes “argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.” The ‘gift’ of resilience is not something I wish for the women coming after us. We need to drop the charade and work towards building teams, agencies and an industry where women don’t need to be constantly held back in order to find their strength.