As a woman holding down a full time job and trying to navigate my way through a career and the world of work I am the first person to champion the idea of equal rights and equal opportunities for all regardless of gender. Regardless of any of the characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010 (and more) for that matter. However the subject of gender is one I’ve been chewing over recently. It was a RSA talk I saw that has given me the impetus to finally put pen to paper (or should I say finger to key) and write a blog.
As a (ahem) successful modern woman my views on this subject might come as a surprise and I hope this article draws out some interesting commentary regardless of whether or not your own thoughts agree with mine. That’s because confabulation leads to a development of one’s own ideas, and as mine are far from complete I’m hoping that you will help!
Anyone familiar with the suffragette movement knows that they were kicking about campaigning for women’s rights long before the turn of the last century and that in the UK all women over the age of 21 were afforded the right to vote in 1928. However it wasn’t until closer to the middle of last century that we began to see the first fruits of the feminist movement in terms of women’s behaviour. By this I mean we start to see women moving into men’s roles or at least an inkling of it. Case in point, Katherine Hepburn’s penchant for men’s tailored clothing (including, heaven forbid, trousers) which she popularised for a short while. Famously headstrong, she was called words such as ‘dominant’ and ‘fierce’ or other adjectives usually reserved for men and not attributed to a member of the ‘fairer sex’. A pioneer ahead of her time she was sowing the seeds of future change.
A couple more decades and the blurring of gender roles which is slowly occurring resurfaces in the sixties through tell-tale signs such as women adopting the short cropped hair styles of men for the first time. By the eighties the fully fledged and unapologetic persona of the feminist aggressively fighting to obtain and hold her position in a man’s world has become well known (if still derided) but over the ensuing two decades becomes more and more common-place and accepted.
To all these women, from the Victorian suffragettes to the shoulder-padded career women of the eighties, I salute you! Because without your efforts I wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of being able to say what I am about to say. It’s not what you think though, because I am not about to say it’s time for us women to get back in the kitchen! (I hope too many men weren’t disappointed by that!) I wouldn’t waste my time building an argument for something quite as predictable.
I referred earlier to a very interesting talk, the highlights of which are in the video above. It’s called ‘The End of Men: And the Rise of Women’ and delivered by a lady called Hanna Rosin, author of a book of the same title. At first sight the title appeared to me very misandristic (a word meaning the opposite to misogynous in case you were wondering) however I didn’t actually find this to be the case (I admit I haven’t read her book or studied her work in detail.) Hanna was merely making the point that on a societal level we are actually at a tipping point. Whether one is misandristic or not, the fact of the matter is that there are more women obtaining PhDs than men and many other factors which indicate that the glass ceiling will shortly dissolve for good (hurrah!). She also highlights men’s retreat from industries where women are taking over (such as pharmaceuticals) and the difficulty men are having in adjusting to a culture where their wives may end up the bread winners and they the stay at home ‘house-husband’, without feeling emasculated.
Because of this I quite feel for men today. (The collective in-take of breath from feminists all across the country is audible.) No I haven’t forgotten about the centuries of inequality and all the women who have fought to get us where we are today. It’s just that (out of necessity) women have had to take on the characteristics of men to stand out, win out and hold their ground in a man’s competitive world. If we continue to do this though, I believe that both genders will suffer as a result.
Where did this thought come from? Well I can tell you it’s not scientific in the slightest, but more a few circumstantial observations about male and female behaviour on my part. My own little brand of pop-psychology if you will. It all started one day when I began pondering the different psychological strengths that, broadly speaking, can be attributed to each gender. As with any attempt at human understanding, there will be plenty of exceptions to the rule, and my theory is no different.
Broadly speaking however, I believe that women have an unparalleled sensitivity and emotional intuition. We jest about these attributes in today’s culture, and men bemoan this hyper-sensitivity but what a skill to have in the workforce, as a leader or manager, to be naturally emotionally aware? Men are often found lacking in this department, possessing a more brutish focus on the end game without regard to people’s feelings or relationship management. But being able to manage relationships, being in tune with our own and others emotions and our impact on them is the stuff of which Emotional Intelligence is made. And it is well acknowledged that Emotional Intelligence is more important to success in life, in careers and as leaders, than IQ alone.
Men on the other hand have a natural strength in their desire for competitive achievement. This ensures they are level headed, logical and driven. Men are less inclined to be side tracked by relational issues and this is a phenomenal strength in itself.
These are not the only strengths I believe possessed by each gender – I just haven’t had enough time to give it more thought as of yet. Interestingly I also believe that these two strengths can become polarised. By which I mean, women’s sensitivity and men’s competitive drive can have negative inversions. For example, women have a unique ability to engage in emotional games (commonly referred to as b****iness) while where men’s competitiveness inverts we begin to see an inclination towards physical violence, a characteristic much more common in men than women. That in itself could be the topic of its own blog though, and right now I want to focus on the positive strengths of each gender.
What we need to be doing in the work force is playing to the strengths of each gender. Women should be able to come to the table as women. Equal with men. And men can come to the table as men. If we recognise our strengths complement each other, rather than needing to compete against each other, the outcome is a lot more harmonious and productive. Men can defer to women comfortably for certain situations and women can do the same. On an equal footing. I think we will find no clash of interests should we approach the subject of equality from this angle. Ultimately what I’m saying is us women have had the Equality fight and won it. But in doing so have we forgot, to whatever degree, that we are women? Do we need to continue to step on men’s toes or can we stand next to them?
I don’t think it’s possible to reduce this subject down to stereotypes, and might I add that anyone who believes I’m saying that women are saps and men are chest beating cave dwellers are clearly missing the point. I’m trying to move away from the view that these broad characteristics are negative and focus on them as powerful strengths. If we do I think we have the key to unlock the riddle of the male and female power struggle. Men don’t have to feel emasculated and women don’t have to feel they are second fiddle.
So, maybe those ancient Chinese, with their Yin and Yang, didn’t have it so wrong after all. Maybe we can all take a leaf out of their book in our modern working world full of laws, legislation and other mazes surrounding Equality.