I read a post from a male friend on facebook who was upset over Carly Fiorina quoting Margaret Thatcher during the Republican debate: “If you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”
He was angry at her for both saying it and thinking it. He thought she was being sexist against men. He was upset that none of the male Presidential candidates took issue with her. He assumed the reason they didn’t was out of fear of being labeled sexist.
I suggested to him that they didn’t respond because from a female perspective there was a lot of truth to what she was saying and they didn’t want to step into that hornet’s nest.
His comments reminded me once again how sensitive many men and women are about the subject of empowering women.
The reason why is simple. We grew up with values and norms that told us how to be good and successful people. They told us how we can fit into society and find our acceptance. So we all have perceptions about ourselves that we depend on to make us feel good about who we are. If those perceptions are challenged, questioned or even if someone expresses a different point of view, it can affect how we feel about ourselves. So we naturally become defensive and protect our perceptions about ourselves.
For many men the idea of empowering women still makes them feel very defensive. They believe that empowering women means disempowering men. This is why I love the concept that women hold up half the sky. It says we don’t need to take power from men because we have our own. But even with that there are men who grew up believing men hold up the entire sky and will still see themselves losing half the sky.
A former employer told me my website was “politically incorrect.” They were afraid I was offending men (potential clients) who didn’t perceive women as equal. But their perception was actually based upon their own perceptions of the potential clients. In reality the potential clients supported advancing women as evidenced by the women’s STEM and educational programs they generously funded.
Many women don’t like that I say men and women have some differences because they define equal as being the same. To them, for women to be equal to men, means we must be the same as men. They believe that if men and women have different traits, then female traits will be rated as inferior to male traits.
Some women say I bring back the stereotypes if I group career women and stay at home mothers together as women. Many people still perceive them as two very distinct types of women with very little in common.
Much of this sensitivity exists because our society still highly values traits we classify as male. We were taught to equate success with male traits. Therefore, we haven’t thought there was much value in exploring the traits we classify as female or understanding the characteristics unique to women so we can find their value.
Going back to my facebook friend, his perception comes through his pure male perspective. He never worked with a woman as his peer – he only understands women from the perspective of his personal relationships. Therefore he has no experience to draw on in order to understand the how women think and work in a business or government environment.
I suspect his real problem with Carly’s quote was that it threw off his perception that she was a man in a dress. For the first time he saw her as a woman with a female point of view. That made him very nervous. Then using the rest of his perceptions he evolved her into being “part of the sexist divisive liberal culture.” That allowed him to dismiss her and protect his comfort zone.
The reality is that he isn’t ready for a female President because he has no concept of what that would mean. He has no idea how a woman acting through a female perspective would be different from a man.
Margaret Thatcher, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton and many other women know men through society’s male perspective and through their own female perspective. It is from their female perspective they make statements like “If you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”
It can be shocking statement to men who haven’t heard women in a professional setting express themselves through their female perspective. But the truth is professional women make these comments all the time – amongst ourselves. Kudos to Margret Thatcher for openly expressing her female perspective.
Making men like my facebook friend comfortable with a female perspective requires exposure and experience. And we obviously still have a long way to go. Like my male peers through the years, he has to learn first-hand that a female peer doesn’t diminish him in any way. Women help men like him along when we openly express ourselves through our female perspective. That doesn’t make us sexist or divisive and we shouldn’t stop speaking just because someone throws out those labels. Their intent is to stop us from expressing ourselves so they can remain safely tucked in their comfort zone. But we are much stronger than that and we will continue to speak from our female perspective.
Empowered Women Express Their Perspective
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