Men’s Guide to Ultimate Power – Strategy #5

Here is the 5th strategy of 50 strategies from my upcoming book. I am looking for beta readers so email me if you want to read the whole thing!  I welcome any feedback!

“Men’s Guide to Ultimate Power -50 Strategies to Hold Women Back (Or Not)”

Strategy 5. Expect women to walk the tightrope of double binds

“To get ahead, women must not simply demonstrate they are qualified; they must be better qualified and willing to work harder than men. It is much like being guilty until proven innocent. Men, on the other hand, are automatically assumed to be competent until proven otherwise – and sometimes not even then.” (Solovic, 2001 p 6)

A few years ago I won a big legal case and was walking back to my office with my client, the owner of a  manufacturing business. He told me how great it was to work with me. He told me that I did great legal work, that I really listened and that I was both direct and considerate in my approach. I was deeply flattered since it was my aim to balance the harsh adversarial climate with compassionate approach. But then he said something that I will never forget. He said, “The whole process was amazing.  You were amazing. I just wish you had pounded your fist of the table a few times, to show them who’s boss.” Although I laughed at the time, the words stuck with me, even to this day.

Almost every professional woman has faced the assertive/aggressive double bind. We tell women that pounding fists and being aggressive is effective, yet we have trained them all their lives to never show any sort of hostile emotion. We ask women to be more cut throat but abhor the slightest violence perpetrated by females. We are told to be tough but not too tough, out spoken but not too opinionated.   We tell women to play hard ball but not so hard to “burn bridges.”

Women struggle with these types of expectations day in and day out. These are just a few of the tightropes or “double binds” that professional women face. They force us into no-win or catch 22 situations.

As most women know, if they act too much like a man, they will be rejected for being  aggressive or pushy yet if they do not act assertive enough they will been seen as spineless or simply invisible. If they act too much like a woman they will be ignored but if they do not act feminine enough, they will be called a bitch. This double bind comes in many forms. For example, women must be:

  • Outspoken but not too loud
  • Tough but not a ball breaker
  • The boss but not bossy
  • Career oriented but not ambitious
  • Powerful but not more powerful than a man
  • Individual but also inclusive
  • A leader, but preferably from behind
  • Ambitious but not a braggart
  • Nice but not too touchy-feely
  • Attractive but not too sexy
  • Friendly but not “chatty Cathy”

In simple terms these double binds tell women that they should act as masculine as possible without going over the fine line that makes them look like a man (e.g. strong and powerful) and at the same time act feminine but not so far as to be seen as a woman (e.g. weak and ineffectual).

If you look closer, you may notice that many of the “double binds” involve males telling females to do things “their way” based on their own male-based personal experience. In doing so they not only put women in an impossible position but they also suggest a single narrow way of doing things and assume women want to do things that way.

First, the double binds assume that the masculine way is the ideal way and actually works. It suggests that women who show masculine characteristics are most effective and efficient.  Yet most people know that things like aggression can work on occasion, but not all the time.

Secondly, these double binds assume that women actually want to play this way and desire to be more masculine. This, I seriously doubt.

Thirdly, they assume that women have the ability be more masculine and can do so in an instant. They assume that we have both the knowledge and skills to act in a masculine manner. Yet as most people know, only a few women are truly effective at this (think Margaret Thatcher). As well girls are shunned for using their masculine strengths, like a loud voice or physical strength.  Beginning in early childhood girls learn what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl. “Sugar and spice and everything nice.”  Males on the other hand not only learn early how to be aggressive and competitive but are encouraged to be so. In fact most men are proficient at the masculine skills and love to use them.

And here is the real catch. There is no one “right” way for a woman to behave. Every single situation commands that the woman become a chameleon. She will be perceived as direct in one situation but pushy in another and so on.  The tightrope is different for every single situation and so the amount of effort and skill required becomes overwhelming and absurd. To adhere to these double binds would make anyone completely neurotic. There is no winning, even if you do it perfectly it’s often not worth the amount of effort you had to spend doing it!

But the real cost of the double binds comes at the loss of the feminine. In an attempt to be more masculine, women forget that there is a feminine approach that might be more effective or efficient. They sacrifice their true feminine strengths and abilities like sensitivity and intuition, which are actually very powerful.  And the irony is that women somehow believe that acting masculine will give them access to the masculine world of power, status and influence but, as noted in other parts of this book, this rarely happens. Sadly most professional women have been acting our whole lives trying to be something we are not and may never be.

The bottom line. In addition to crushing standards of perfection and beauty, women also face many  “double binds” or no-win expectations. Women are told to be assertive but not aggressive, the boss but not bossy, pretty but not sexy.  We are told to be tough, but not too tough; direct but not too direct; powerful but not too powerful. We ask women to be feminine, but not too feminine.

Not only is this profoundly confusing but to walk this fine line is a full time job and ultimately impossible. In effect women are told: Do not act like a (weak) woman and do not act like a (strong) man. It’s like expecting women to walk a tight rope while running and at the same time balancing a tray glasses. Not only that, but women are told to reject the very strengths they have perfected over their lives and their feminine intelligences.

What to do. First we must notice the torturous double-binds we place on professional women and question them. Why do we expect women to be assertive but not aggressive?  This is not as simple as it sounds because these double binds are rooted in the basic assumption that the male-based way is the best and only way to be successful. And sadly we sees the feminine as weak or bad. So we must both question the masculine and elevate the feminine at the same time, so we can tap the best of both. We must stop making women continually feel bad about themselves for not being able to walk this ridiculous tightrope every day. Eventfully we will honor both masculine and feminine approaches.

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