Fearing Femininity

Women workplaceAs I come up to the end of my degree, and ideas are swarming around my head as to what I would like to do for the future, I cannot help but feel this under-tow of pervasive worry that when entering the workplace, I will be entering a pre-coded masculine environment. First off, to be clear, I do not associate masculine traits exclusively with males and vice versa with femininity and females; the problem that I am getting at is the valorisation of hyper-masculinity, placing it as the absolute ideal for progression in the workplace, which in turn ignores and undervalues feminine and other forms of skill and leadership.

It appears to be generally acknowledged and accepted that masculine traits such as dominance, assertiveness, egotism and aggression are valued in leaders and generally successful people, whereas feminine traits such as receptivity, empathy and sensitivity are ruled out as strengths. Surely, if one group of traits is seen as naturally superior and as an imperative for success, only a minute amount of people, male or female, will have inherited these traits to full end of the spectrum and will be in power. This means that the majority of workers who are somewhere along the scale of both femininity and masculinity will have to adapt and fit themselves superficially to a hyper-masculine orientated environment for their whole working career. Is it damaging to have to do so? Shouldn’t the workforce be more open to different ways of achieving success?

The idea of the “double-bind” encapsulates the way that a worker has to personally adapt to fit masculine norms in the workplace. A “double-bind” stands for the contradiction that if a woman behaves in a feminine way in workplace, she may be liked but not respected or seen as a leader in the workplace – and if she behaves in a masculine way she will be seen as arrogant and ‘bossy’ and disliked for it. Either way, if a woman puts on a feminine or masculine persona, she will be castigated. The fact that she submits herself to either stereotype reveals the accepted artificiality involved in the way people act in the office.

The problem is not only its artificiality, it is also the idea that having a hyper-masculine structured environment, paves the way to those who are naturally masculine having a strong sense of entitlement in their presumed superiority, perhaps without true merit or value underneath **COUGH** Donald Trump… Entitlement is a dangerous thing, as it leads to exploitation and disrespect to those working below them. Those who feel entitled without merit will want constant reassurance of their superiority, and that is where those that work beneath them risk having to do things they shouldn’t to adhere to those above them. An example of a female having to submit to masculine norms in the workplace is Hilary Clinton’s action of dropping her maiden name from ‘Hilary Rodham Clinton’ to just ‘Clinton’ for the electorate vote, providing evidence that women have to fit themselves to patriarchal traditions in order to maintain respect and prestige.

Although, here, we have acknowledged that feminine and masculine traits are not exclusive to gender; it is widely presumed that these traits are confined to biological gender and this results in unfair pre-judgement of one’s ability and value. The presumption, for example, that a female is feminine will have a large effect on the way in which people accept her into the workforce and expectations of her output; the same for males. Therefore, presumption of character can be seen as a controlling and manipulative force, as females associated with the more “negative” feminine traits will have to work a lot harder to prove their worth and value. A good example of this kind of stereotyping was the Daily Mail’s article headline “Never mind Brexit, Who won Legs-it!” with a picture of prime minster Theresa May and Nicholas Sturgeon behind it. This kind of belittlement reduces female power down to asserted notions of femininity. It is this kind of behaviour which makes me question whether, as a female, I will be reduced to someone else’s feminine ideals when entering the workforce.

So, what to do? First, we should acknowledge that it is a norm, but not a truth and is therefore changeable.  Secondly, those who identify as being feminine, should be allowed to embrace it, in turn empowering femininity and redefining it in its capability for strength and new value in the work environment. As Mary Beard says in Women and Power: ‘You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure’; we want to take that notion and apply it to the broader notion of femininity which encompasses all different types of people, calling for freedom of opportunity and respect when making your way through the career ladder.

-Regina Buffey


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