Throughout history, men have upheld a system of hierarchy: they compete to attain power. Those who win become leaders. Although this dominant cultural norm has created its own set of evils, it’s also preserved a certain accepted order that more-or-less works in getting things done.
As differentiated from men, throughout most of history women have established a more egalitarian culture, founded on a standard of nurturing, which requires cooperation. While this is noble, there’s a downside that prevails when the concept of equality means insistence on uniformity.
As more women enter the work force, a family with a stay-at-home mom is no longer the norm. In fact, limitless options—ranging from motherhood to career—are open to women today. Because we’re the queens of empathy, we find it easy to understand that all life choices are valid. Or do we? Perhaps our understanding of women’s rights to make choices hasn’t caught up to the diverse choices we’re making in adapting to the demands of modern culture. Equally probable, those of us who are working outside the home may not be comfortable in our new capacity as competitors and we’re still feeling awkward in filling the role. But a greater demonstration of empathy and respect among women would be a welcome factor in promoting our advancement, whatever choices we make as individuals.
In truth, we can expedite women’s progress at an exponential rate when we increase our awareness of one basic fact: Our crucial need to support for one another goes beyond mere acceptance. It’s tantamount to respecting—even celebrating—one another’s differences, not just within our families and circle of friends, but in our community, and on a global level. But how do we demonstrate our active support of other women?
It starts on a personal level. Perhaps the most essential way we can show our respect toward another woman is to listen when she speaks, without interruption. Then, in responding —not reacting—to her, we refrain from criticism or condescending advice. If she asks our opinion we can offer our point of view. But we must avoid invalidating her, or minimizing her feelings, by saying things like, “You don’t understand.” We can withhold judgment and make consideration of another women’s life decisions a priority, since we all have a right to human dignity.
We can cultivate the art of conversation by encouraging other women to feel free to talk openly within agreeable surroundings. To accomplish this, we can develop the habit of asking open-ended questions, which allow our feminine friends to talk about their passions, goals, dreams, and ideas without fear of being rejected, denounced, or ridiculed; and we can make a diligent effort to offer genuine praise in response to their self-disclosure. Anything we say which suggests our superiority or overrides their concerns violates the ground rules of rapport between equals.
Of course, our words mean little if we don’t back them up with actions. In business, we can mentor other women, helping them realize their full potentials in their careers. In every aspect of life, we are at our most humane and ethical when we offer our time, our emotional support and our resources without strings attached.
When we become controlling with our feminine peers, our intentions aren’t always innocent. Instead they may be based on our proclivity to compare and contrast, the result of our conditioning to 1) compete or 2) enforce equalization among our species. When one of our female colleagues dares to be different—rather than mirror our image—we can react with alarm, since we don’t understand or appreciate her actions. We may even voice our objections to her independent stance based on our own feelings of in adequacy or fear of exclusion. We might even demand that she hang on tight to the sameness loop, where group approval is mandatory.
The widespread enforcement of sameness often reveals the enforcer as smug, complacent, and bigoted, rather than someone who’s enlightened concerning other women’s rights to liberty and honor. It can be based on ignorance, unfair moral judgment, or envy. As women, all our decisions are based on one basic choice: whether we want to support or inhibit our own advancement toward becoming our true selves. This choice is our own, and doesn’t require another’s permission, just as other women don’t require our approval to pursue life on their terms. However, we can empower one another when we demonstrate our respect for each other’s choices. When we honor our diversity, we free ourselves and others to be authentic individuals, each with something unique to contribute and unrestrained potential for happiness.
Competition in itself isn’t a dirty word. It doesn’t need to involve cutthroat tactics like backstabbing and fingerpointing. The most effective leaders understand this. Besides, we don’t need to compare ourselves with others on a routine basis, if we simply compete with ourselves. Supporting others—whether male or female—is the world class way to travel on our journey to success, since everybody wins!
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™