Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Megan Fox in Transformers: all beautiful, successful, but cold and ruthless women. In popular media, there is a tendency to characterize powerful women as masculine and aggressive, lacking stereotypically feminine tenderness and empathy. Does this hold true in real life?
Perhaps. During Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, she was criticized for becoming emotional – a stereotypically feminine trait – during one of her speeches. Often there is an incentive for powerful women to assimilate to the behavior of their more competitive male counterparts in order to ‘prove their worth’. Ultimately, however, sacrificing ‘typical’ feminine qualities can be detrimental both to the woman and to the enterprise she is working in.
Having asked a series of women with successful careers whether they had had to act ‘manly’ in order to move up the professional ladder, I was surprised to discover that many had done just the opposite. They had used ‘femininity’ to their advantage, not through submissiveness or obsequiousness but by capitalizing on their increased capacity for empathy, susceptibility to emotions, and advanced communication and team
They had used ‘femininity’ to their advantage by capitalising on their increased capacity for empathy, communication and team building skills. Aggressive, curt women tended to be derided and were disliked both by their female and male colleagues. In a recent study conducted by a journalist regarding female and male relations in the workplace, it was found that men valued women who used their feminine qualities more than those who tried to act like men. The men surveyed emphasized the fact that they admired these women’s confidence, independence and intelligence.
Preserving one’s femininity in the workplace can reduce the pressure on working women, and may also be highly beneficial to companies and enterprises they work in. Studies on the differences between male and female brains have shown that women’s left and right hemispheres are more active while men’s frontal and back areas show more activity. This results in women being more cautious and more concerned with building relationships, whereas men will be more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior and think of their own personal gain.
Female and male brains are surprisingly complementary – if women and men collaborated properly, a Limitless corporate brain could be created (Limitless is a movie in which Bradley Cooper makes use of a pill that allows him to employ 100% of his brain).
It may be argued that women’s typically ‘feminine’ qualities are but the product of years of oppression and that their perceived lack of ag- gression is the result of centuries of societally-induced submission. Though this may well be the case, becoming ‘manlier’ or more bellicose may not necessarily lead to increased respect in the workplace.
Women must assert their emotional advantage, their superior capacity for understanding and empathy which serves as a boon to any enterprise in which teamwork is involved (that is, all of them). The common misconcep- tion that one must be a ‘man’ to succeed (and by ‘man’ I don’t just mean male, but the very image of masculinity as depicted in the media: rugged, reckless, and hostile) must quickly be done away with, for the sake of both women in the workplace and the men whom they interact with.