My PLEN Internship: Squashing Sexism and My Inherent Fear of Setting Goals

I’m an intern at PLEN for the 2018 Spring semester. Last semester, I found myself scavenging for an internship that would offer me the ability to work in an office setting while following an organizational mission that would make a difference. I was looking for something that would further my professional skills while also allowing me to work on an issue that I was passionate about. I had interned at the Human Rights Campaign in the past and absolutely loved all of the different skills I had acquired there and all of the opportunities I had been granted. I knew it would be difficult, but not impossible, to find another organization whose mission would mean as much to me as HRC’s did. Luckily, on a whim, I stumbled upon PLEN. After one quick look around the PLEN website, I found myself taken with the organization and their goals. An organization that actively worked to educate women my age on how to assume leadership roles and gain experience in various fields of public policy? Count me in!

While my parents always encouraged me to pursue my own dreams and told me that I was capable of anything I set my heart on, society often told a different story. I grew up on multiple military bases as a kid due to my father’s service. The narrative that I often was told on these bases by my peers or their parents was that women were capable, but only to a degree. There was only so much women could do, leave the harder stuff to the men. At the age of nine, I found myself looking at my dad’s coworkers and noticing an evident lack of women in leadership roles. This is not the best example because the military, of course, has a complex patriarchal history and is not representative of many fields. But despite my disinterest in a military occupation, I was still shown as a young girl that I could be held back in some way due to my gender, no matter what my parents told me. The narrative of succeeding seemed faux.

Furthermore, the complexities of my identities played a crucial and detrimental role in my perception of own self worth. I am physically disabled and queer, and with society’s acknowledgement of those identities, the premise of assuming a leadership role in any field seemed further out of reach. The concept of succeeding was so realistic for my male classmates yet so very foreign to me. There was a distinguishable gap when it came to my understanding of expectations and capabilities. Thankfully, I developed a support system for myself and read up on feminist theory. A movement dedicated to the progression of women and women’s rights taught me that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. I’ve grown from a little hesitant girl into a strong, capable woman who recognizes that society is the problem, not me.

I’m now a Junior at GWU, double majoring in Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Ten years ago I never would have thought that my twenty year old self would be in the heart of DC learning alongside women who strive to be exactly what our patriarchal society fears. I’ve been able to boost my own confidence and educate myself on issues that are of importance to me.

This past week, one of my homework assignments was to read the book The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions by Christopher Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg. The book’s central point revolved around an idea that women are less likely to participate in public discussion, especially in discussion related to politics. There is a substantial gender gap when it comes to public opinion. The authors’ theory behind this gender gap appeals to an idea that women lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. From a young age, girls are socialized to be quiet, passive, and static in their words and in their actions. Boys, on the other hand, are taught that their masculinity is synonymous with assertiveness, achievement, and success. While reading, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated. Why as a society do we put so much pressure on women to be complacent and submissive to men? Why do we tell women that they are obligated to fail in order for men to succeed? Agitated beyond belief, I finished the book, set my alarm and found myself grateful that I would be waking up in the morning to go to an internship with an organization that is actively trying to better women’s ability to succeed.

My supervisor asked me on my first day at PLEN if I had any goals that I wanted to achieve throughout the semester with the organization. I have never been great at setting goals for myself so her question automatically made me nervous. But then I thought more about it and found myself realizing that my hesitance to set goals comes from an ingrained fear of failure and a fear of not living up to expectations. The fear of failure, funnily enough, comes from society constantly telling me that success is out of my hands. I find it absolutely imperative that I squash that fear in this blog post so here are five goals that I have for my semester with PLEN:

  1. Meet some really cool women doing some really cool things and recognize that I too am a cool woman doing a cool thing; networking is key.
  2. Research as much as I can about the different ways that women can get involved with different realms of public policy.
  3. Realize that by advocating for myself and my future career, I am not being egotistical, but that I am instead being persistent and motivated.
  4. Gain interpersonal skills and solidify my ability to work efficiently in an office.
  5. Really master Salesforce, the database that PLEN uses for all of our technical needs, and also, update my LinkedIn.

I’m really looking forward to everything I know that I can accomplish throughout the duration of my internship. I can’t wait for the seminars I’ll get to attend and the array of fantastic women that I’ll get to meet. I’m working with an organization that I wholeheartedly believe in and I can’t wait to see all the good that will be achieved throughout this semester.

Hi! My name is Olivia Eggers and I am the Spring 2018 intern for PLEN. I am a Junior at the George Washington University, double majoring in Political Science and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies. I will be graduating in 2019.

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