Monday, April 12, 2010

Free To Be… Whatever

Last week Isis and Zuska both addressed the perception that women should be women, even at work in male-dominated fields. I wonder if a male scientist has ever been chided for failing to nurture someone? Of course, it would be labeled a failure of mentorship; dudes would never be accused of “nurturing,” even in a professional sense. Photoxpress_18691050Do random strangers ever ask my husband to smile because he would be so cute? He is adorable when he smiles, but I don’t see that happening more than once… even though I hear that request several times a year, even though I am closing in on half a century of life.

About the same time, my daily update from Pink, an e-zine for women in business, addressed balance. Not in the usual, “home vs. office” way, but in a more “personal style” way:

“Research shows that women who behave in too masculine a way are respected but not very well liked by their colleagues, while women who are too feminine are well liked but not well respected,” says Robin Ely, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t. Women must choose between respect and likeability.

The Pink post goes on to discuss books, videos, and other blogs with advice on finding the right balance of our “feminine” and “masculine” sides. We are encouraged, as we climb the power ladder, to allow our femininity (those nurturing instincts and decorative capabilities) to reemerge and become more valued in the workplace.

What if we don’t want to do that?

I will never be mistaken for a guy. I shave my legs. I wear makeup. I love heels. I usually smell good. I read fashion magazines! But I am not a touchy-feely-kumbaya kind of person. A number of times in my professional life I have been expected to take on this role; it is not who I am. I did not do well.

We need to move beyond stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else. Every person is a unique blend of personality traits and talents. We should value each person for who they are, not who we expect them to be. That is the world I want for my children.

Now that sounded touchy-feely-kumbaya. Maybe I do have it in me. After all, I am a woman.

Image courtesy of PhotoXpress.

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