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“I Have Learned Accommodation”: Lessons in Taking Up Space

Posted March 28, 2014 by Lindsay Bosch in On the Ladder
The popular conversation around #BanBossy has sparked much needed dialogue about negative perceptions of women’s assertiveness.  The viral campaign brings attention to the way in which existing social and language queues discourage leadership skills and confidence in girls.   The ongoing #BanBossy dialogue has reminded me of the amazing slam poetry performance by Lily Myers, which itself went viral late in 2013.  Her energized and personal poem “Shrinking Women” describes the way in which lessons of entitlement and privilege (or lack thereof) are handed down and absorbed.  


I keep returning the Myer’s performance because it captures something unspoken yet true; something about why some of us, even decades after grade school, still have a problem acting bossy.  Myers touches on the way woman can unconsciously learn to reduce our presence in the world.  We accommodate, we recede,  we apologize.  Certainly this can be about our “relationship to food,” as Myers notes – but her poem also suggests that it is about more than endless dieting.  It is about withdrawing ourselves from the space of engagement and interaction, about claiming less of the world as our own.   The tumblr “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train” offers a perfect counterpoint to Myer’s depiction of the women in her family.  The tumblr catches “public assertions of privilege.”  The men in the candid pictures sprawl, they lean, they spread out – they claim the train cars as their own. Feeling entitled, they take up space as their right.

Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train

Shrinking, asking for less, is a trap we all can fall into, even when we think of ourselves as leaders, and know our self worth.  When an editor recently called me and let me know there was a problem with paperwork I immediately jumped in.  “No problem.  You don’t have to pay me this month.  I’m glad to be contributing and part of the publication.”  The editor, a true role model, immediately took me to task.  “We will pay you.   Who doesn’t want to be paid?  Stop apologizing.” she barked.   Even now it takes work to remind myself not to shrink back, to claim my space.


Which of the traps Lily Myer’s describes in her poem resonate with you?

Can we learn to identify times where we are making ourselves  take up less space in the world?

I have been taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks.
I have been taught to filter.
You have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in.
You learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much. I learned to absorb. 
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry.”

About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.