The Miss Universe pageant made headlines recently. One, because South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi was crowned a winner (she’s amazing) and, two, because of her response to the final question, on how women should take up space. I’ll go into detail about her response below, but I want to point out that while many see pageants as a negative, as objectifying women, I think we can focus on the positives.
Winners are not chosen based on looks alone; their responses to complex questions and talents also help place them. I think if we focus on these positives, and also recognize the platform it provides to share a strong, female-centered message, then we can really push to use it to empower young women everywhere.
The questions for the contestants
With all the issues in the world today, from politics to climate change, to female leadership issues, the questions these contestants are asked have become more and more complex. It’s hard to be politically correct and well-spoken in a world dominated by social media judgment, where everything can be taken the wrong way.
Going through the questions and answers from this year’s Miss Universe pageant, it was great seeing some of the answers that the final contestants came up with. My favorite was what the winner said on females and leadership, on how we need to teach young women to “take up space” and “cement” themselves in society.
“And that is what we should be teaching these young girls: to take up space. Nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself.”Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe 2019
Take. Up. Space. This is how I interpret this, and I think what we can learn from it:
Take up physical space.
Don’t be in the corner away from the action. Stay in the center of it, be physically present. Don’t shy away from controversy or conflict. Take part in it. By physically being present, you will also have a chance to speak up as well. Which brings me to the next:
Take up verbal space.
Your opinion matters just as much as the next person. As a woman, your experiences and background actually give you a unique perspective and so your input may have a greater impact. So speak up!
Take up intellectual space
Hand-in-hand with speaking up and sharing your opinion is sharing your knowledge. There are many of us just as qualified, maybe even more so than our male counterparts, in our areas of expertise. It’s hard to speak up and share what we know sometimes, but it’s important to push through and do it anyway. If you speak to what you know, and speak it confidently, you’ll cement your place as someone to be reckoned with.
Cementing yourself in society isn’t about just saying that you’re “here”. It’s about doing what you feel is right, doing what you want to do, and doing so without apologies. It’s seeing something that needs to be done and doing it, without the fear or hesitation that may come with being a woman.
You may want to do something that is primarily something that only men do. It doesn’t matter. Do it anyway. Cement that you want to do it, take up space with your ideas, be physically present and make the effort to change people’s minds. Change the scenario, change the rhetoric.
For those introverts…
For all the introverts out there, I hear you. Given that I am one, I understand the difficulty that doing any of the above can present. First, I’d like to say that being an introvert is not a weakness. You have just as much power as an extrovert. The key is to recognize that you have it and play to your strengths.
So, take up space in your own way. For instance, maybe instead of speaking up in a large group, arrange a one-on-one with the person you need to talk to and speak up then. Your unique qualities will not hinder you from taking up space. Instead, use your uniqueness to cement yourself in your own way and set yourself apart based on that.
Well behaved women seldom make history
Women who do amazing things do it despite the challenges they face. You don’t need to go down in the history books to make a difference. Sometimes the difference is in your own life, improving the quality of your job or your ability to spend time with family. Sometimes it’s standing up for yourself so that others acknowledge your value.
However you decide to take up space, do so in your own way; make your own history.