Updated: Aug 31, 2021
I've always had trouble with the word 'feminine'. And just to be fair, I have trouble with the word 'masculine' too.
There is too much weight attached to these words.
Where masculine is linked to being logical, hard, results-oriented, physical, violent even. Brave, independent, strong. Feminine traits then are vulnerable, emotional, caring, humble, collaborative.
They're political, these labels. Loaded. Stereotyped. I don't find them very helpful.
And I will tell you why.
We associate 'feminine' with female
Remember our list of so-called 'feminine' traits above? Ask any 4 year old and they will identify traits like 'caring' and 'emotional' with women. Whilst 'strong' and 'independent' automatically get attributed to men.
As if it is only women who have emotions. As if it is only men who can be strong.
There is no black and white
The consequence however in making a distinction between feminine and masculine powers is that we semi-automatically classify certain traits and skills. We stick them in boxes. Put a sticker on them. Label them. It goes left. Or right. In the cupboard under the stairs or it gets pride of place.
Whilst the truth of the matter is that everyone has these qualities. Everyone has strength. Everyone can be independent. Everyone is caring, nurturing. Everyone has emotions.
Like so many things in life there is no black and white.
In other words, feminine and masculine is a sliding scale. One that we slide from left to right on on a daily basis. Hour by hour. Using those qualities that are most useful in certain situations.
We score certain traits higher than others
Another disadvantage is that society has taken to using this classification feminine/female and masculine/male so that certain traits are deemed less valuable than others. Caring is deemed less valuable than being competitive. Soft is valued lower than hard.
Which is why IT jobs are paying better than jobs in care (whilst they are by no means harder - pun intended).
Which is why we all value 'logical' decisions, but don't rate vulnerability, or decisions made, based on emotions.
Women and men alike have bought into this artificial divide
Women have participated fully in the workplace for the last six decades. Over the course of history that is not a long time.
However, women have participated in a workplace that is male dominated and designed for men. And have learned to adapt to a workplace that values so-called 'masculine' qualities higher than feminine ones.
Women have adapted. Bought into it. Developed themselves. Learnt how to use these qualities to the max. With a certain level of success.
But often - very often - it feels as if we're out of kilter. As if part of our brain has expanded whilst another has stayed the same. We've grown. But have - in the process - neglected an important part of us.
Embracing both feminine and masculine powers
Before I dive into this I want to refer back to a TV programme I saw a few years ago. It was a BBC documentary on gender equality. Over the period of a number of weeks (months?) they worked in a primary school. They decided to make the class gender neutral.
No more pink toys. No boy's toys, or girls's toys. The teacher didn't call the girls 'love' or the boys 'mate'. Male nurses, and female bricklayers were brought in.
They worked with the parents too. No gender-based toys at home. No pink. No frills. No padded bras (!) or T-shirts with references to being 'pretty' (girls) or 'naughty' (boys).
What happened? Where the 7-year old girls used to be shy and saw themselves as weak, they became stronger and more confident. The boys, some of whom were having anger issues and were not able to express their emotions, became more self-aware and no longer regarded cooking and clearing up as 'girl's work'.
It was a documentary. It'd be interesting to see what has become of these boys and girls.
However, it just shows that a lot of this stuff is cultural. That we're influenced by our surroundings. What is going on around us.
Which is in our control to change!
We - as individuals - can choose how to be. What to embrace. If that means that - instead of feeling lopsided by overuse of our 'logical' brain - we want to develop our 'feminine' qualities (by now I'd like to think that you've also ditched the word 'feminine' - I certainly have!) then that's what we should take responsibility for!
Using your 'feminine' powers
I believe that - what we currently call - feminine powers are just as valuable as the traditionally masculine qualities.
I believe we make decisions with our gut much more often than we'd like to admit. Without caring and nurturing we wouldn't be able to function, let alone flourish. If we did not listen to others nothing ever would get done.
Trouble is that we have been so busy training the logical side of our brain, that we have taken no time to nurture the right side of our brain. Where our caring, nurturing, creative, emotional self lives.
Where our desires and ideas come from.
We no longer trust it. We no longer hear it.
And THAT'S where I think we need to bring our attention to. To not just rely on our logic and analytical brain. But instead to rely on our own inner voice. To recognise that there is value in listening to your emotions and looking after yourself and others. To lean into our emotions and learn to trust ourselves again.
Feminine power in the workplace
Finally this. For decades now women have made strides into the workplace. But the workplace has not changed sufficiently. It is still male-dominated. It still has an over-emphasis on 'masculine' qualities like competitiveness, logic and assertiveness.
However, there is a real business incentive to value the 'softer' qualities - like listening, receiving feedback, looking after each other and our clients and dealing with people's emotions:
Change management identifies and plans for resistance. So that business initiatives take into account how people go through change. Because projects are only useful if people's behaviour changes and changes 'stick'. A real business incentive if ever there was one.
Sales are most successful if you listen to the customer and understand their needs. Creating a win-win (and repeat business).
Customer service is a lot easier if business processes take into account feedback (and emotions) from customers.
We all have an interest in looking at our whole spectrum of powers (soft/hard, feminine/masculine, left brain/right brain) in a different way.
If we stopped classifying traits and trying to stick them in boxes. If we acknowledged that the world has changed and that the workplace should change with it. And if we all embraced all our traits and qualities with equal enthusiasm.
I reckon we would be happier, more fulfilled, more confident, and the world would be a better place.
Right, well, that's me off my soap box.
What do you think? Feminine and masculine, useful, or not?
Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful career transitions into work they love! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.
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