When I was young, my mother told me it was more important to be smart than feminine. Being feminine meant I was weak. If I were to take care of myself in a world I couldn't trust with men I couldn't depend on, I needed to be smart, strong and independent. I assumed this was the opposite of being feminine.
It took me many adult years to allow myself to appreciate clothes that flattered my body and wearing pretty pink nail polish while being smart, strong and independent in the business world. I still don't know how to cook, I disturb my nest by moving about every three years, and my male partner does the grocery shopping. Am I still fighting off my femininity?
I don't think so. I think we are in the process of redefining what it means to be a woman in today's world. As women become more self-reliant and self-sufficient, they have more choices. They are free to discover their passion and contribute in ways that feel meaningful for them. I think this is what my mother really wanted for me because she never got to live out her dreams. She just didn't know we could blend feeling beautiful with feeling accomplished.
So we don't have to give Barbie some muscle to go along with her brains. I believe we are past the stage where a woman has to be a man to be successful. Unfortunately, it's not clear yet who a woman should be at work, even when she is being "authentic." Maybe we should encourage young women, and men, to be who they want to be without defining masculinity and femininity and judging people by their gender.
If acceptance and inclusion are feminine qualities, I guess I have strong feminine tendencies after all. And so does my strong, body-building male partner.
I just returned from teaching leadership and coaching skills classes for two weeks in China. I loved the beautiful, young women in my classes. Their clothes were exquisitely feminine as were their smiles, embraces and dancing eyes. To my surprise, when they handed me their business cards, they held titles of Director, Regional Vice President, and Managing Partner.
China may be lagging in development as a country, but their glass ceiling if full of open windows of opportunity. Young educated women have equal opportunity to advance. The decisions are based on competency, not gender. Femininity is accepted in female business leaders in China as long as they are smart, focused and willing to learn.
I wondered if I would have enjoyed being a woman more when I was younger if I didn't think it would get in the way of my success.
At this stage in my life, I'm inclined to say that being feminine means I am okay with who I am, no matter what type of girl I am, what clothes I like to wear, or how I relate to the concept of family in my personal life. I enjoy my feminine side when it shows up and my masculine side when it emerges. And I accept others for who they choose to be.
No one should define femininity for me. And I should not define it for them. I accept others for the choices they make as long as they aren't blocking mine.
I think it is good that women are rising in power around the world. As women gain in economic and political power, there are corresponding gains in world health and education. Companies who promote their top talent women do financially better than those who don't.
Does being successful in the world take away from being feminine? I believe the opposite is true; that the more there are smart, strong, independent females successful in the world the more we can all openly express our true selves.
My desire is that we look each other in the eyes and with a lovely sense of curiosity, seek to know the person standing in front of us. Who is the person beyond the labels? What strengths, gifts, talents and perspectives does he or she bring to this moment? When we truly honor each other as humans, we are feminine in the sense of creating community and masculine in the sense of acknowledging the individual. I believe this is the balance we should seek to achieve.
What does femininity mean to you?
Marcia Reynolds, PsyD is the author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. She is also a Master Certified Coach and teaches classes and coaches executives around the world. Read more at http://www.outsmartyourbrain.com.