Society constantly reinforces what we value, and a quick stroll around the block can give you a hint of what’s important in our society and who’s on top:
You need to man up.
Stop being a p*ssy!
I wish he’d grow a pair. (Hint: they’re not referring to breasts)
We never attribute feminine traits to a man as a compliment, but only as an insult. Many women attribute their success at work to a disassociation with their femininity.
I think more like a guy.
Society associates femininity with weakness, passivity, or an overly emotional demeanor. Is it any wonder that there are women who compete with other women, disassociate from their sisters, and fail to champion one another?
When a woman is promoted it takes more than double the time for the next woman to advance, and the woman who went before her will rarely champion her because she believes it will be perceived as bias.
We’ve inherited a flawed system. And while we didn’t start the fire, we are responsible for fixing it, for both ourselves and girls everywhere. An attitude of “hell, I had to endure worse” or “that’s just the way it is” is no longer acceptable. So what can each of us do to ensure that we are the last generation to endure a culture of silence and Stockholm syndrome?
Listen up: nothing changes by looking at what is. Things change when we look at what’s possible.
Here’s where to start:
1) Defining the Feminine
For too long, feminine traits have been deemed inferior. We over-sexualize femininity.
Femininity is associated with being weak, meek, passivity, and victimhood. It is typically seen as intuitive, abstract, soft, allowing, creative, collaborative, and calm. Those traits don’t sound like attributes rewarded in the workplace but here’s how they add value:
Creativity is the birthplace of innovation. Without innovation and a new, abstract approach to problem-solving, we create more of the same. Want to go out of business quickly? Stop innovating.
Currently, masculine traits are over-valued and interfering with the humanity of why we work in the first place.
Collaboration is key to making all team members feel valued, and allowing all ideas to reach the light of day. The same four guys talk at every meeting, because of the leader who seeks opinions from only those who think like him. If you want a fresh, new approach that sends more new products to market, hence increasing company profits, the feminine trait of collaboration, meaning allowing all voices to be heard, wins.
Good leaders are in many ways like good parents. They intuitively understand how team members need to be challenged and nurtured. They are calm with those who need support, understand the strengths of each, and allow individuals to rise to the occasion.
Yes, masculine traits that are usually seen as analytical, aggressive, competitive are important, too. Together, the masculine and feminine create balance. Currently, masculine traits are over-valued and interfering with the humanity of why we work in the first place.
2) Scarcity is a Myth
Ah, the fear of not enough: I’m not smart enough, good enough, likable enough, educated enough, experienced enough. The tightrope, as it’s called: a form of gender bias that allows men to be both likable and competent, but forces women into one mold or the other. If you’re competent, you’ll fall into the bitchy, brash, pushy, aggressive, ambitious (as though it’s a bad thing) camp, and if you’re likable you’ll be soft, shy, not confident, inexperienced, can you make me coffee and photocopies? camp.
In our efforts to attempt to be seen for all our strengths, we’re either pushed aside, reprimanded for not being enough of one trait, and too much of something else or worse off reminded that a woman should not be heard but seen.
The recently passed Nobel Prize awards indicated the woeful underrepresentation of women among the list of Nobel winners since the awards began over a century ago—and especially so in science. The Nobel Prizes, named after Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, are awarded in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace, and economic sciences.
Though there is only one prize awarded in each category, the honor can go to a maximum of three individuals but of all 972 Nobel recipients, but only 58 women have won the prize.
Another indication of the slow progress of gender equality.
By shifting our motto to “if you can’t join them, beat them,” we create our own opportunities rather than waiting for someone to recognize us. It’s easy for the stats to get you down, but here is the truth: this is a transformative time for women. We’re not only starting businesses at record rates but yielding a higher return on investment. Start-ups with at least one female founder are 63% more likely to succeed. And that allows us to bring our sisters along to succeed, too.
In the end, it’s important to understand that complex issues such as oppression call for a multi-faceted approach. Such an approach will require us all to shift our thinking, try something new, be willing to fail, and also pick ourselves up and pivot when we do. But if we can make it to the other side of the awkward conversations, and learn to be comfortable in the discomfort, then we have a chance to implement change.
Kabuku Chileshe Kabwela is an embodiment of multiple skills, talents, and interests that seamlessly merge to create her life, work, and career. She is a Zambian based trained communication and PR specialist with an ability to string words together in the art of creative direction and storytelling.
Her hobbies include: writing, travelling, thrilling adventure, crafting and music.