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Podcast Transcript

On The Nightstand 1

Marsha Clark  0:11  
Hello to all and welcome to "Your Authentic Path To Powerful Leadership with Marsha Clark!" Today's episode is going to be a little bit different from some of my previous podcasts. It's entitled "ON THE NIGHTSTAND" and I'm going to share my thoughts on a book that I recently read in titled "Cassandra Speaks" by Elizabeth Lesser.

As you know, if you've listened to my previous podcasts, we want to bring our listeners useful information, research, tools, and resources to help us be powerful, authentic leaders. This is one of those resources. So I also want to share with you the subtitle of the book. It's really what caught my eye and one of the reasons that I wanted to share this with you. The subtitle is: "When women are the storytellers, the human story changes." I couldn't agree with that statement more or that subtitle more. So let's get started.

So Elizabeth Lesser in writing "Cassandra Speaks" has broken her book into three different parts. And the first part part is called Origin Stories. And I love the quote that she begins the book with. And that is, "History isn't what happened. It's who tells the story." And, that's by Sally Roesch Wagner. And I'm gonna share some by reading directly from the book. I hope that is okay with each of my listeners, in the sense that I can't say it better than the author did, and I just want you to know that this is a book that I would encourage you to read. If you're interested in what you're hearing from my podcast, I think you'll also be interested in reading Elizabeth Lesser's book. So it starts this way....

"My mother, a frustrated writer and high school teacher, read to her girls from a wide range of literature, Greek myths, Bible stories, Homer's Odyssey, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Grimm Fairy Tales, and Little Women. From these texts, and from observing my parents, I drank the cultural Kool Aid. I metabolized to the preferred range of human behaviors. The noble characters in the book we read had qualities like quick thinking, curtailed emotions, rugged individualism, and a competitive nature. They did not exhibit what my father called "the girly stuff" -- excessive feelings and concerns about the feelings of other people. My father was the only one dismissing the girly stuff and elevating his own ways of being. My mother upheld his ways to even as she strained against them."

So that's an opening paragraph in the book or one of the early paragraphs in the book. And I just think it speaks volumes to what I hear from the women that I work with. And, and I think also from my own experience of books that were lauded and praised as being classics and worthy of reading, and even in the top lists of books, read or encouraged to be read. So just thinking about that as a foundational element of Lesser's book.

And so it's important to know these stories and ask questions like, "Who told them?" "Why?" and "How have they maintained their authority all these years later?" They're still very present in our libraries and our literature today. I think it's important to understand that the stories were not created to help women respect their bodies, their intelligence, and their legitimacy. They were not told to help women tap into their strengths or to use their voice to influence priorities at home, and at work, and in the world. Quite the opposite. They were told, and are still told, to bury the truth of our quality or value and our voices. Becoming familiar with our culture's origin stories and tracing their influence is a surprisingly effective way to take stock of our own lives, and to claim it authentically powerful voice. One that proclaims not only our equal rights, but also our unique capacities and concerns.

By origin stories, I'm referring to stories from modern Western cultures, including Adam and Eve from the Old Testament, Pandora and Cassandra from Greek myths, and novels and plays from the canon of Western literature. And by the way, I would also add, even if you think about the early Disney movies that many of us grew up on or that we may still watch with children and grandchildren. They too had a very specific way of portraying the women as damsels in distress princesses, wicked stepsisters, stepmothers, the wicked witches, and so on and so forth. Again, not exactly the most positive images of women.

So many of these same stories impart the same themes. Men are morally pure and noble ones. Women are the ones who submit... excuse me, women are the ones who succumb to evil and tempt the man. The old stories paint a wildly improbable description of what it means to be a woman. erotically seductive, yet emotionally fickle, in need of protection, yet dangerous all at the same time. Who could trust such a creature? And I will tell you, I encourage each of us to get curious and call in to question this essence of these storylines.

You know, I'm not saying that they weren't... You know what we'll hear things like, "Well, that was the sign of the time. So that's ancient history. Those aren't relevant anymore." And yet, we're still studying them. And they're still laying foundational thoughts and beliefs about how women are and how we should be seen or heard or not heard, or valued or not valued.

And so let me share one origin story that really is the basis of the title of the book that I'm sharing with you today. It's the story of Cassandra. Cassandra was a very beautiful princess from the city of Troy, and she had many suitors both mortal and immortal. Zeus, the king of the gods was after Cassandra, and so was his son Apollo, to woo her. Apollo gave her something only a God could give -- the coveted gift of seeing seeing into the future. When Apollo tried to seduce Cassandra, she refused his sexual advances. This enraged Apollo. Instead of just taking the gift of prophecy away, he grabbed her, spat in her mouth, and put a curse on her. "You will remain clairvoyant, Cassandra, but now no one will listen to you. No one will believe your predictions." So, no matter what she foresaw, from the sacking of Troy, to the death of her brothers, to the multiple travesty tragedies that would befall her people, no one believed Cassandra. She was eventually driven mad by knowing the truth and being doubted when she spoke it. Her final indignity came at the end of the Trojan War. As her city lay in ruins, just as she had prophesized, she was abducted and raped by a Greek warrior. This idea that she was eventually driven mad by knowing the truth and being doubted when she spoke it, it's almost a foreshadowing of today what we refer to as gaslighting. You know, knowing the truth, speaking the truth and being made to feel that we're the ones who are crazy.

So let me share a more recent quote that Lesser includes in her book. And it's by Carol Gilligan. Gilligan is an American psychologist, ethicist, and feminist. Gilligan says, "The hardest times for me were not when people challenged what I said, but when my voice was not even heard."

And I see so many similarities from the Cassandra story. Even in today's world, the #MeToo movement is full of them. And how many times I've had women tell me they say something in a meeting and get no response. Our voices are not heard. Then a man says the same thing and everyone hears it and responds to it.

One of my clients said in her company, the women call it a "He-peat." He, the man, repeats what she said, and suddenly it matters. Whether it is Cassandra, Pandora, or the book by Ben Sirach. It's entitled "Book of Ecclesiasticus" and he was the Hebrew scholar around 200 BC. The messages are all quite similar.

To quote Sirach -- "Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good." Just saying, by virtue of us being woman, we are somehow less valued. Now some of you may be thinking now, that's just ancient history. These are all people and books and words that were written a long time ago. I just asked you to take it in and continue or what what the current day version of this the sentiment and, you know, dare I say even the belief that are captured in the words that were written so many years ago.

And as you can imagine, people send me a lot of material relating to various gender topics. And here's one that I received very, very recently. And it's by a gentleman, Jackson Katz, K-A-T-Z. And he's an American educator, filmmaker, and author, and he created a gender violence prevention and education program. And he says, and I'll quote, "We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped them. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys were the ones who harassed those girls. We talked about how many teenage girls got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated those teenage girls." He goes on to say, "So, you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. It shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto the girls and women. Even the term violence against women is problematic. It's a passive construction. There's no active agent in the sentence. It's a bad thing that happens to women. But when you look at that term, "violence against women," nobody's doing it to them. It just happens to them. Men aren't even a part of it." And that's the end of this quote.

And so if you think about that, ancient history versus current times, how many times have you heard statements or questions recently such as... "She was asking for it." "She shouldn't have been dressed so seductively." "She shouldn't have been drinking." "Boys will be boys." One that really gets under my skin... Like girls can't be girls by not liking it? Or saying no? "That's what she gets for..... (fill in the blank)." Doing something that then creates or is followed by harm to her. And somehow it's always her fault.

It's often the victim becomes the person on trial. And that's true in writing. It's true in our political systems or court systems. There are many examples of that if we, we don't have to look very far to find them. So that's our current version of ancient history. So just think about that in terms of the origin stories that are being taught in our schools, that are being lauded and praised as classics and books to read and books that are most read. That's the origin story, or stories.

Part two, she calls Power Stories. And here she has starts with a quote, "If women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine." And this is a quote by Dame Mary Beard. And Dame Mary is an English scholar of ancient Roman civilization and a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge.

And I will tell you this quote, I really liked it. It speaks to me. When I think about the work that I do, the book that I've written, "Embracing Your Power: A Woman's Path to Authentic Leadership and Meaningful Relationships," this podcast, the programs that I deliver, the coaching that I do, are based on three key words that I think are reflected in this, quote. Authentic. Power. And, Leadership.

And it is most definitely about redefining power to include a broader set of competencies, perspectives, and stories. Those of women. That's my, that's my life's purpose in the work that I do in trying to help women find that power, that authenticity, and the power that that authentic power that then leads them to be authentic and powerful leaders in their own right.

And, Lesser goes on to say or to write about power, the word power. It's been so abused that it feels like a dirty word. But what is it actually? Power is a natural force and it's something we all want. The energy, the freedom, the authority to be who we are. To contribute to and create. The world's domination and control have become synonymous with power. That power does not have to come at the expense of others. And I particularly like this turn of the phrase that she says here, "It does not have to oppress in order to express." We don't have to oppress others in order to be powerful ourselves. I just I think that is such a strong statement.

The urges to subjugate, punish, or annihilate are corrupted versions of power. Not legitimate power, but corrupted versions of power. And she says that, and I certainly agree with this, women have an advantage as power outsiders for most of recorded history to step in now and question some of these basic assumptions. We haven't been a part of the power definition or the power stories, and we have that opportunity now.

And I want us to take full advantage of it. We have to question some of those basic assumptions that, such as domination and violence are necessary to maintain order. That men are divinely or biologically predetermined, you know, to lead. And that the strong and silent warriors to be revered while the emotional communicative caretaker is somehow second, right? Do we really want to break the glass ceilings just to end up in that same old story? If that's all we do, we'll just get more of what we what no longer works? Or, and this is the big OR, as we gain influence, at home, at work, and in the world? Do we want to shake the foundation of the whole story? As women claim power, or as I say, in my book titled embrace power... As we become protagonist in the stories that shape our world, we must keep asking these questions. Power for what purpose? Influence? Why? Promotion? Money? Leadership? To what end? What are we going to use power for? To me, that's the big question that I encourage us to think about to be be mindful of, to be intentional and deliberate and thoughtful about what how are we going to use our power as authentic women leaders.

And so as she talks about the old story of power, she found herself in her attic, maybe her basement, I forget... looking at a box of books. And she pulls starts to pull out some of these books, and many of them are are about power. And the first one she pulls out is "The Prince" by Niccolò Machiavelli written in 1532. And Machiavelli championed the kind of leadership that shunned morality and empathy. The statement that we've heard many times - "the ends justify the means" - can be traced back to Machiavelli instructing a prince on how to behave and how to keep up appearances. Another line from "The Prince" states, "When considering power, it is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both."

Wow, I just don't think about the word fear. You know, I don't imagine it as a word that represents power. It represents fear. She goes on to quote from Aristotle's "The Politics," Karl Marx selected essays, Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations." The one I want to maybe dive into just a little bit here is one by Robert Greene called "The 48 Laws of Power" and I just want to point out that this was published in 1998. So not 1532 or not decades or centuries ago, but just 20 plus years ago. So I want to I want to share some laws that this is "The 48 Laws of Power." Here's some standouts that really at least stood out to me that were cited in this book, which was, by the way, a best seller in 1998.

So law number two regarding The 48 Laws of Power is "never put too much trust in friends and learn how to use enemies." Kind of flies right in the face of what I've written about what how important it is to build trust. Because not putting too much trust in friends and learning how to use enemies is the opposite of law number four "always say less than necessary. Keep them guessing. Withholding the ultimate form of control." This is about the 48 laws of control not the 48 laws of power in the way that I think about power. Law number seven, "get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit."

Do you know how many times I hear that story in my programs and from the people that I coach. It's one of them. I mean, it's like, again, and again. Tthis isn't ancient history. This is current, current reality. Law number seven, excuse me, law number 17, "keep others in suspended terror. Cultivate an air of unpredictability." Once again, keep them on their toes. Keep them guessing flies in the face of building trust which is consistency, predictability. And the last one, law 42. Number 42, "strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter." Again, I go back to fear, keep people scared.

So again, let me be really clear, this is against everything I believe, against everything I teach. And it's certainly against the way I choose to live my life. And then she goes on to "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. And I will tell you in my corporate life this was considered to be a great business leadership book. And that two most often occurring words in "The Art of War" are fear and deception. Those were the tactics that Sun Tzu urged a leader to display. Because, he said there were only two kinds of people in a leaders world:  subjects and enemies.

So I'll stop here because I don't want to share any more examples because I really don't want to give them any more focus or any more focus, or dare I say power than they deserve. You know, I've read and heard many times that stories can break the dignity of the people. And I believe that to be true. And, and this is what I want to emphasize is that stories can also repair the broken dignity. And my wish is for us as women to create and live and tell new stories. And my story and your stories to change the narrative and to broaden the perspective and the perceptions of what power it can be. And is in a much broader sense than what these power stories that have been told, and again, admired and revered and practiced for so many years. So where do we start?

Lesser speaks about her life toggling between being an activist which is someone interested in changing the world. That would be me. I like to think of myself as a social justice warrior or activist, and toggling on the other side as an inner-vist. And this is a word that she created I-N-N-E-R-V-I-S-T. She made up this word to describe the part of herself that seeks interchange and inner healing. She states that if we focus only on fighting what we perceived to be wrong out there, we miss out on the very real work waiting to be done within our own hearts and minds and lives. If we don't look at our own blind spots, our projections, our hypocrisies, we can end up doing what Frederick Nietzsche says and warned against. And his quote is, "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." And so this idea of we have to do our own work first. We cannot be an authentic leader. We cannot be a powerful leader without doing our own work.

And when speaking of women in power, we need to really think about it and talk about it, but in terms of both inner-vism and activism. Inner-vism because women hold personal and collective pain in their bodies and souls that needs healing from the inside out. Not, someone can't do our work for us. We have to do our own work. We also have to talk about it and think about it in terms of activism because there are indeed monsters. The ones that nature warns us about in this world who need to be confronted now. And, Lesser suggests several opportunities for doing this work. She refers to Carl Jung's, who's a psychoanalyst, his shadow work. The author Scott Jeffrey summarizes what our shadows are by saying, "Our shadows are always standing right behind us just out of view." The shadow is a psychological term for everything we can't see in ourselves. It is all that we deny in ourselves, whatever we perceive as inferior, evil are unacceptable. And it becomes part of that shadow. The personal shadow is the disowned self.

And you know, when you think about projections, one of my my phrases that I think about for myself as well as in what I support and teach others is projection. We can often see in others that which we cannot own in ourselves. And I can see it and others because it is in me. And yet it is often in that shadow space that I want to and have disowned. And what Jung does is encourage us to bring these hidden parts of the self into the light, to understand them, to own them, to admit them, and to transform them.

And that really is at the heart of my book, The embracing your power. I want every woman to have access to her wholeness. All that is in us to discover it, to acknowledge it to study, and understand it. And then to embrace it.

You know, I often say own it own who you are and what you believe on your values. I believe that is where our power lies that authentic path to leadership. And dare I say again, a more purposeful and fulfilling life.

You know, Lesser shares a quote from author and another Jungian psychoanalyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés. And she says, "The door to the doors to the world of the wild self are few, but precious. You have a deep scar, that's a door. If you have an old old story,  that is the door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door."

You know, our scars hold within them the stories of our childhoods, as well as the stories of the ages. And sometimes these stories keep us from living that deeper, fuller, more sane life. That's our work to do to explore those scars and choose how they inform our inner-vism stories. And to make a conscious, intentional choice if I want to hold on to those stories, or write new ones. What an important choice to make and what a powerful decision to make.

Lesser shares her own stories about how she chooses to show up as a powerful woman. And she also offers a part three to her book that's entitled, "Brave New Ending: A Toolbox for Inner Strength." So we're not just going to lament the old stories. We're not just going to think about how power can be defined more broadly, including the stories of women. But we have a toolbox that can help us get there. And I'm going to merely tell you in this podcast is I'm going to tease you because I could never do justice to her wonderful work.

So I do hope that you'll read her book. Listen to it on audiobook, whatever. Because it really is a great insightful book. When I think about having read the stories, many that are referenced here in high school and college to now see them as an adult woman as a 69 year old adult woman, you see them through a very different lens.

So I'll leave you with one last quote from Brene Brown that Lesser Elizabeth Lesser includes in her book and that is, "When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending."

That's where our power lies, just in that very statement that we can choose to write a brave new ending. And I'll go even one step further. When we share our stories, you know, once we own them, we write our new endings, and we share them with others, we can help others to acknowledge, understand, and embrace their stories too. We see that we're not alone, and you know, that's a much more powerful and reassuring place to be.

So I hope you've enjoyed this podcast. It has been a little bit different, but I feel like I'm just talking to my listeners out here. So I hope you've enjoyed and learned something from this and I hope it prompts you to go out and get the book "Cassandra Speaks."

If you've listened to my earlier podcasts, you can see why I wanted to share my thoughts about this book. If I think about it, this book is a companion to my book, and I also am happy that I can support another woman, an author, and feminist who shares my values of helping women better understand who we are and honoring and value and respecting who we are. And living a life that encourages and enables others to do the same. And, you know, this idea of valuing, encouraging, and supporting each other as women.

So thank you very much for joining me today and I hope you will subscribe to this podcast. The name of it is "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership with Marsha Clark." And as with all our podcasts, you can subscribe on iTunes, Google, Spotify, and whatever other place you might listen to. So please feel free.

You know, I always encourage my listeners to contact me with your thoughts, your impressions, your questions. You can reach me at my website at We're also on social media and you can reach out to me there as well. So I hope you'll join us next week. And as always, here's to women, supporting women!

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