Monday, March 11, 2013

Roll Away Your Stone

Apparently women are accommodating, nurturing, modest, subtle and considerate. How awful. We're taught to value the happiness of loved ones over material things and we ensure everyone in a room has what he or she needs before taking care of ourselves. Really disgraceful. Thanks, 21st century philosophy, for opening my eyes to these atrocities and wagging a finger at me for lacking self-interest. From now on we will all be bossy and narcissistic to make the world a better place. No more "really, it was nothing…" and "I'm fine with whatever you want." The days of softening critical feedback by also highlighting a strength are in the past. From here on out, it's every [wo]man for himself as we step on one another in the race to the top.

March is Women's History Month. I've yet to hear anyone talk about the struggles that women have overcome in recent years (we American women only got the vote in 1920) or, perhaps more importantly, the struggles that women continue to face all over the world. Women were only granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabia in 2011 (it didn't make front page news). The next major election there is not until 2015. So in that very wealthy country with which the United States regularly conducts business, roughly half of the population has been disenfranchised until now. And even that is a success story compared with the horrors that women continue to face throughout the third world.

But by no means should we discount the tremendous strides women have taken toward gender equality in the past several centuries. In fact, given my own nationality and education, I'm more privileged than most in that regard and have only very rarely been made to feel inferior to a male counterpart because of my gender. But in this country, where we're much closer to equality than elsewhere, the dialogue has shifted so drastically that we may be missing the mark. Rather than continuing to pressure those in power (be it the government or men in our society generally) for suffrage or anti-discrimination laws, we've turned on ourselves. The laws no longer distinguish between men and women (for the most part), so we can't yell at the government. Starting salaries (note: starting) don't differ drastically between men and women, so we can't yell at our employers. But somehow men still seem to hold most of the powerful positions in society…

… so it must be our fault. For guys, the pressure is off. They no longer need to actively ensure everyone is being treated equally because the laws say we are. Doesn't matter that typically female qualities aren't valued in society and typically male qualities are. The 21st century solution to achieving equality for women is making women act like men.

Be assertive.  Be direct.  Look after yourself first.  Don't let emotions come into play.  Be overt about your accomplishments. Know that you deserve things (whether earned or not).

The list goes on and on. Obviously not all men reflect these qualities; I'm oversimplifying because we are taught that certain qualities typify either men or women, but not both. These commands are specific instructions that are repeatedly given to women. And there's merit in some of it.  If half of the population doesn't appreciate or even recognize subtlety, then one could justifiably argue that being more obvious and direct will clearly convey a message to a greater number of people. Sure. But rather than encouraging women to abandon our natural state, why not encourage men to embrace it? Has anyone yet launched a training course that praises a woman's ability to express her feelings? I've yet to hear anyone stand in front of a room and say, "To all you managers, here's the thing. Men are terrible at talking through how they feel. If only they'd just cry when they need to and tell us why they're upset, then you'd know where they stand. But since they won't, you're going to have to go to great lengths to gauge their emotional state while they're sulking or storming off, so here are a few tricks of the trade…" And while there are several best sellers about "nice girls" getting stepped on, no one has recommended a book to me with a name like "Reading Between the Lines: How Women Skillfully Say Things Without Saying Them."

These assets are overlooked and under-appreciated (whether possessed by a man or a woman). And until the dialogue shifts to the innate and distinct value that female qualities bring to the table, rather than the ways in which women can learn to exhibit typically male qualities, we will not live in a truly equal society.