A friend recently related to me a story of how a female colleague of hers, a brilliant and articulate public figure, had been completely overshadowed by the forceful persuasion techniques and aggressive stance of her male interlocuters on a televised debate. She expressed disappointment in this as the seeming evidence of men’s greater power over women and how far we had yet to go in the equality of men and women.
I suggested to my friend that perhaps what we most needed was a redefinition of what ‘women’s leadership’ meant. And, perhaps, to also understand the difference between ‘power’ and ‘influence’ – the authority, perhaps commanded by something akin to the ‘still, small voice’, to be a force for change in the face of violence and aggression.
In the light of the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, much has been made of the debate as to whether Baroness Thatcher was a shining example of the barriers that women could break to achieve political success, or if she was a traitor to her sex in espousing values that traditionally go against the grain of what women most value. The jury is still out for me on that one. But I do believe that what we most need is a better understanding of what it means to bring the feminine into leadership and to elevate the conversation to one that is not simply about the promotion of more women in the political and economic sphere, as important as that is. Whilst it is important and necessary work to focus on the material aspects of gender equality, I feel somehow that the conversation needs to go further on a more nuanced understanding of what it means to truly empower both women – and men.
To me, this is as much a call for liberation of the feminine qualities of compassion, collaboration, creativity, nurturing, beauty and empowerment, as it is also about the expression of masculine qualities of justice, order, discipline, integrity and trustworthiness. We know that none of these qualities are the exclusive preserve of men or women and, thus, it is important to focus on how we might find their expression in the highest vision possible of what men and women, expressing BOTH, are able to bring to the world.
Pioneering spiritual thinker of the 19th century, Mary Baker Eddy, herself a woman who broke many boundaries in her professional achievements, had this to say:
‘Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness’
To me, she was getting away from the specifics of male and female and moving towards a higher vision that underlined the imperative of both feminine and masculine qualities to be expressed to bring our world to its complete state of perfection.
In my own experiences as a modern women, I have often experienced a struggle in understanding the practical implications of what this means. We are all familiar with the debates that rage around us: as career women are we neglecting our wifely and maternal instincts? Have those of us who have chosen to be full-time mothers let the side down for our feminist sisters? Should a man hold a door open for a woman to pass through? Is this a sign of politeness and respect for a woman? Or an insinuation that she is somehow ‘the weaker sex?’ Are our corporations, social structures and working lives at odds with the way we – as men and women – with relationships, families and personal goals, wish to live our lives? And what kind of leadership is necessary to solve the huge problems our world faces? As with most debates, real life continues on in the midst, often leaving us confused as to how to be a meaningful, practical, force for change in the everyday.
So, I would invite women to consider themselves as custodians – not owners – of that idea of ‘feminine leadership’ and that, whilst continuing to work on the practical implications of women’s role in society, we must first and foremost lead by taking THOUGHT in new directions about the qualities that make up a truly harmonious model of feminine and masculine leadership. We must ask ourselves if, in all this, we are truly finding the feminine in leadership, irrespective of whether we are a man or woman. And, by extension, by modeling that higher model of feminine leadership we are thus calling into being a higher model of masculine leadership too. What we should be aiming for is the opportunity for each individual, irrespective of gender, to be able to bring forth in themselves the full expression of masculine and feminine qualities in both the professional and personal spheres, enabling everyone to live up to their highest potential.
It is my deep belief that when we change our thought of what it is we are really trying to achieve, the necessary changes that hinder the advancement of both women and men to truly progress in society, will naturally and inevitably come into being.