Life Matters,  Socio-Political

Cage dwellers

I have just finished reading Glennon Doyle’s latest book Untamed. Ms Doyle likes to use metaphors in her writing. Her first example is about a cheetah that was born in a zoo. The cheetah did not know what it was like to live in the wild. The cheetah was a cage dweller and trained to perform at the zoo, for entertainment. But was the cheetah happy living in its cage? Ms Doyle goes on to use the metaphor to describe herself. At one time, she was also a cage dweller. She was caged by social conditioning and cultural expectations.

The book has many powerful moments of truth about human behaviour. How we behave towards one another. How we are conditioned to behave and our dulled awareness of our behaviour.

Social conditioning begins at birth and happens until adulthood. By then our social conditioning is complete. Women and men believe they are behaving as they should, and by choice. Yet, due to our social conditioning we behave in a way to ‘fit in.’ Accepting what we have been taught, we live with a lack of insight.

Thus, we are all contained within our cages of social conditioning. Change can only happen when we work out who we are and are unafraid to be our authentic selves. Only then can we climb out of our cage. Our cage is everything that is holding us back from what we want out of life.

woman wearing white collared top and beige hat behind of blue cyclone fence
Don’t be a cage dweller. Climb out into the life of a strong, powerful, courageous, confident and successful woman.
Photo by Marcelo Moreira on

When writing about our ‘comfort zones’ Ms Doyle recounts a family outing . She was at her daughter’s soccer game where she saw a girl on the field that rubbed her up the wrong way. She was trying to work out why this 12-year-old annoyed her so much.

I like the way Ms Doyle has grown as an individual. She challenges her understanding of life’s moments. She did not accept her thoughts about the 12-year-old child. She stayed with her feelings and beliefs to understand them. She concluded that her reaction was part of her social conditioning. She had trouble accepting such a confident, strong, and happy child.

Ms Doyle then tells the reader of studies that explain this phenomenon. The data shows that the more powerful, successful, and happy a man becomes, the more people trust and like him. But the more powerful and happy a woman becomes, the less people like and trust her. Despite this, women must take their rightful place. It is an entitlement, the same as men.

Ms Doyle writes ‘We become people who say of confident women, “I don’t know, I can’t explain it – it’s just something about her. I just don’t like her. I can’t put my finger on why.” She then explains by saying, ‘I can put my finger on why: It’s because our training is kicking in through our subconscious. Strong, happy, confident girls and women are breaking our culture’s implicit rule that girls should be self-doubting, reserved, timid, and apologetic. Girls who are bold enough to break those rules irk us. Their brazen defiance and refusal to follow directions make us want to put them back into their cage’ (p. 285).

So, women downplay their strengths. They avoid threatening anyone that might show disapproval. Thus, a woman retreats back into her cage. This is the unfortunate outcome of social conditioning about gender roles and cultural expectations.

But my view is that women have to be stronger and not accept containment. We have to stand up for ourselves – be ourselves. Use our strength, our knowledge, our wisdom, and know that the place we choose in the world is our rightful place. We have to stand up to the bullies, and not let them try and pull us down when we are doing well. When we are living the right way and successful.

What I have found is that people like you to remain at their level of confidence, success, and happiness. They do not want you to exceed their strengths. So, they will ‘pull you down.’ In Australia, we call it the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome.’ It is a well-orchestrated culture. It is resentful, critical, and white-ants a person’s success, and undermines their ambition.

We saw during the past week how social conditioning works in the corporate world. Ms Christine Holgate, the former Chief Executive Officer of Australia Post, gave evidence at a Senate Inquiry. She told the world that she was bullied and harassed when doing her job. The fiasco was all about Ms Holgate giving four staff a gift of a Cartier watch, worth around $20,000.00. Ms Holgate told the inquiry that she had the authority to give bonuses to the staff involved up to $150,000.00. But she chose the watch.

Ms Holgate believes there was a gender card at play, and I agree with her. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scathing in his comments in Parliament. Due to his social conditioning, he unintentionally believed he was entitled to publicly reprimand and humiliate Ms Holgate. This is what he later apologised for. The unintentional hurt.

While she was briefly forced back into her cage, she became stronger. Ms Holgate this week picked up where she left off. She had no interest adopting a rhetoric to please others. She came across as confident, powerful, and successful. Other women in powerful leadership positions should emulate Ms Holgate’s strength of character.

Our society is socially conditioned to watch out for successful women, not to like them or trust them. I am watching Ms Michaelia Cash, the new Attorney-General. So far, so good. As long as she is pleasing those who have authority over her, it will be safe for her to come out of her cage. Nevertheless, she should be careful. The corporate jungle can be a dangerous place once a woman climbs out of her cage.

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