Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Choosing Femininity Sometimes

Power. Powerful. 

Word choice has shifting value.  A word reserved for worthy ideas preserves its strength.  A word used indiscriminately loses its potency.  Some words empower us to aspire to greater versions of ourselves.  Some tear us down.  If we want to change the lens through which we see our world, we must wrestle with the influence of our language.

I am a woman.  I am strong. I am powerful. 

It may surprise you find out that these words, recited before an exam, an interview, or within a context of pressure may actually serve to negatively impact performance.  For example, studies have shown a correlation with diminished math performance when girls consider their femininity prior to an exam.  In a moment of pressure, accessing language fraught with complicated underlying messages suggesting that women aren’t good at math or competition may serve to subconsciously reinforce gender-based insecurities and diminish performance.

There is a time to apply gender-neutral language.

Ultimately, powerful women want an androgynous career field.  We aspire to neutrality in handling the daily demands of our job.  It shouldn’t matter if we are male or female if we are together to complete a task.  We achieve together because we are talented. We do not want achievement because we are women or in spite of being a woman.  So, in handling our work, our self-talk avoids the topic of gender.  We rely on mastery language, aggressively speaking and acting knowingly on our topic of expertise. 

There is a time to celebrate gender-specific language accentuating our femininity.

The femininity of power must be widely displayed for the next generation.  Millions of young girls are subconsciously developing impressions and perspectives of how the world works.  They are internalizing social rules, not by hearing them, but by watching them role-played.  Girls who see only men in specific roles of power, fail to imagine a female alternative.  Of course, thankfully, there have always been renegades, adventurers who pioneered early fields like law, medicine, architecture, philosophy, government, and business.  But, to explode myths of the male monopoly of specific career skills, we want power accessible to the population of women at large. Women must reach out to their society’s budding successors to debunk the very complicated underlying messages that interfere with the use of gender language as an asset to performance.

Parade the femininity of our power to our girls.  Convince them that the world is theirs.  Refrain from focusing on femininity to complete our acts of power.

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