I have received a number of disapproving comments regarding my post on Fear Behind Women in Power where I referenced Hillary Clinton. The post was not intended to take a political stance as much as it was to discuss the gender inequality that still exists in the world and the U.S. I regret bringing up politics as this is a place of healing where I would hope my political views become invisible to readers. For that, I am deeply saddened my post stirred up such animosity for some readers.
The differences in gender and how it is viewed in positions of power fascinates me and I have spent my life trying to understand it. Of course, it’s personal as my first career was in a male dominated field—engineering—and it was in the military. I was the first woman assigned in my field to my base and the reception of my arrival was not as warm or respectful as my male counterparts received. I worked hard to prove myself and to bring strength, intelligence, and tenacity to my work—and to prove to the men that I was a capable woman that could bring as many talents to the job as any man could. I left the military and held leadership positions in businesses and corporations where I fought the same fight. I learned many things through these experiences and this school of hard knocks was validated through years of studies and research in graduate schools for psychology where I sought more answers to how people work together and how culture and gender influence effectiveness in business, innovation, working relationships, career choices, marriage, parenting, and child development. My continued research in the field as a psychotherapist and consultant to companies and families has further illuminated progress and gaps in the gender divide.
So, what’s my point?
While women have progressed, divisions still exist. Moreover, we do have reams of research from multiple fields that point to women’s and men’s strengths and differences (one study here). Of course men and women do not fall into easily measureable separate baskets. Gender tends to fall on a continuum, so the male-female differences are not always easy to see from the outside.
With that stated, typical male “wiring” has revealed that men will be more focused on one task at a time and appear to have this skill honed with neurological pathways that limit their peripheral vision, color perception, and sound spectrum among other things. These limitations are designed to help shut out extraneous data to improve the kind of focus that would be needed, on say, taking off and spending days in isolation to hunt a buffalo for the family.
Women, on the other hand, tend to be more relationally-oriented and multi-taskers and have neurological pathways that allow for wider peripheral vision along with the ability to see more colors and hear more sounds on the sound spectrum. This is believed to help women be able to care for children while cooking and carrying on a conversations with needed friends.
These are overly simplified and basic examples that have been viewed as differences in men and women. Stating these differences is in no way meant to de-legitimize women or more “female” wired humans. It is meant to shed light on people’s respective differences—and strengths—while giving people permission to be their authentic selves.
It is my belief, experience, and observation from research studies and working with hundreds of people worldwide that embracing who we are and shining our authentic light, however we are “wired”, will result in our bringing the best to our jobs, our partnerships, and our families. Conversely, when the world recognizes—and appreciates—our differences, we have better success (along with more peace, more creativity, more abundance, and more love).
I have watched some women dim their light and try to fit in business by overly relying on male strengths. One women executive shared she would rather take a bullet than let a man in business ever see her cry and others agreed. They said they didn’t feel safe being vulnerable in front of men and felt doing anything that resembled being feminine would destroy their career—crying be cited as the worst. Some women imploded after accidentally crying and left their job, leaving in their wake a tarnished reputation for having had a “breakdown”.
Leaving does not have to be an option and crying is not a sin, nor something to be dismissed as feminine and akin to having a breakdown. This is the kind of inequality I’m talking about that still persists. Women have long been denied power (i.e. the right to have an opinion on business affairs, the right to vote, the right to have education, etc.) because their feminine strengths were viewed as weaknesses. Their ability to be empathic and emotionally intelligent have been dismissed as emotional, manipulative and/or hysterical. Women who multi-tasked were viewed as ineffective and scattered. Their spirituality and intuition was dismissed as irrational. Their ability to relate and connect with others was cast as being too talkative.
Fortunately there has been a sea change. Women are comfortable being more “feminine” in the workplace and even bringing their babies to work at daycare. More men and women are sharing in familial tasks at work and home, reinforcing evolving business cultures. Culturally, we are recognizing and honoring some of our inherent differences and strengths.
My hope is that we continue to progress. After I published my Fear Behind Women in Power post, the news media was filled with a recording by the newly elected president that suggested women like being groped. He and others later dismissed it as locker room talk. I am not sure if this is progress. On the one hand, something that might have stayed behind closed doors is out in public and can get addressed. On the other hand, there seems to have been an acceptance and a de-sensitization to the alarming sexual assault talk.
Women in society have often held the place as mothers, teachers and wives, ever reminding us to use manners, think about others, take care children, remember the bigger picture, eat your vegetables, be kind, love, pray, find your joy. Whoever you are and whatever you believe, be your most authentic self. Keep shining your light. Women may not be fully seen or treated with equal respect (yet), however, the worst thing that could be done is to disavow one’s feminine parts in order to get along with the masses.
For me, I will cry when moved, chat it up with those that want to connect, give hugs, love and comfort to those around me, and I will keep writing for Psychology Today in the hope it touches some of you and provides comfort and healing.