I think a major component of inequality between the sexes lies in the discord between desired male-female relations in professional settings vs. accepted behavior in our everyday world.
The problem is that so many of our accepted and common interactions between men and women, in everyday life, are inherently sexist (meaning different for men and women) yet we are blinded to them due to familiarity.
Here are a few examples of accepted differences between men and women within society:
- Women are told to be careful when they walk alone at night. This is not said to men. Even to small men.
- Chivalry is rewarded and encouraged in our society, and especially by women, even though it has at its base an assumption of inequality.
- Women get into clubs for free. Men don’t.
- Women create humans inside their bodies and are often in a vulnerable and emotional state while doing so.
- Testosterone is the dominance hormone, and men have much more of it in their systems than women.
- Humans have sex by having the male penetrate the female, usually with her in a subordinate position.
- It’s understood that it’s rude to ask a woman about her age, because she may be selfconcious about her beauty.
- In the news we hear constantly about protecting the “women and children”, with little regard for the men.
- Men are drafted into the military. Women are exempt.
- Women spend billions of dollars on cosmetics, fashion, and other beauty products, and being attractive is one of the primary ways many women judge themselves and other females.
- Most women spend their entire young lives thinking about and preparing for their weddings, where their men will be dressed much like a powerful businessman, and she will be dressed much like a princess.
The dissonance is created when both men and women are expected to forget these things are true once they arrive at work.
Is this not a very strange thing?
To be clear, it’s not about the behaviors themselves. There’s not anything wrong with women wanting to look attractive, or putting energy into a wedding where they’ll indulge childhood fantasies of princes and princesses.
The problem is the disconnect between this model of male/female relations and the one that exists in professional environments. At work it’s insulting to insinuate that a woman buying cosmetics on her break would need help lifting something. Or that she’d need to be walked to her car late at night. Or that she might be acting “feminine”—as if that’s a bad thing.
The fundamental issue seems to be that femininity itself is being simultaneously celebrated and chastised at the tangible border of regular life and work life.
For professional women on evenings and weekends, men are expected to notice their efforts at being made up and well dressed, open their doors, and generally appreciate their femaleness.
But during the work day, it’s borderline sexual misconduct just to acknowledge the very femininity that women work their whole lives to master and exude.
And that seems to be the problem. We’re simply unsure of what to do with femininity.
Part of the problem comes in the sensitive task of defining it.
Is it something for women to strive for? Or is it a seductive handcuff that we’ve convinced them to place on themselves every morning? Once you have that solved you’ll be much closer to the shape of it, and to avoid keeping you in suspense I will tell you the answer.
Both masculinity and femininity are primitive and backward.
- Femininity, despite what anyone may say, implies submissiveness and passivity at its very core. This is fundamentally non-equal, by definition.
- Masculinity, despite what anyone may say, implies dominance and control at its very core. This is fundamentally non-equal, by definition.
And yet both are beautiful. Both are natural. Both are human.
So the answer is not to encourage or discourage one or the other. The answer is to enjoy them the way you enjoy ice cream or boxing matches or painting your nails or parachuting.
Maybe you like this thing or that. Maybe it’s not great for you. Maybe it’s dangerous. Maybe it should only be done in small doses.
But maybe they not only add to our lives but in fact make them worth living.
The solution to the femininity “problem” at work is to simply say that there isn’t one. We just need to group femininity and masculinity together in the vestigial and enjoyable category, and check them at the office door.
At work we are rational beings. At work we are logical and effective and collaborative. Some masculine and feminine traits are appropriate for work. Some are not. And to whatever degree we can smuggle those in without their less desirable counterparts, we should allow that.
The one thing we cannot do is ignore the dual nature of most humans at work. They are both the logical robot using Excel as well as the pulsing animal full of masculine or feminine impulses and ideals.
And that’s ok.
We simply have to get better, at least in the United States, at not being passive aggressive with the truth about male/female relations. Europe seems to be far ahead of using this regard, maintaining both a more natural and healthy acknowledgement of gender differences while simultaneously encouraging greater equality.
I think the key to progress is knowing how, and when, to pivot appropriately.