Since Spring 2010 , when I accepted an intensive training mission with Capgemini Consulting, involving weekly business travels to Paris and abroad, I have been questioning Masculinity and Femininity.
My husband has been most of the time in charge of the groceries shopping, cooking, serving, nurturing with love and attention, supervising homeworks and finding the missing sock too! He has been there to kiss the children goodnight and congratulate them on their achievements too. He has been there to listen , comfort and receive hugs & tears on his manly Gap shirt. There were times when I was away too long and it was tough. He felt I was too focused on my career and not paying enough attention to him and the children. “Le monde à l’envers! “The world upside down! We argued and discussed. We eventually found a way to manage and take shifts, so that he could also travel for work, “rest” and rely on me!
Do I feel lucky? Yes, of course I do. But most of the time, I have also felt guilty. Even writing this, a little voice inside my head is saying ” You are their mom. You and only you SHOULD be doing this. Or at least, a nanny or an au Pair.”
It reminds me that the first Au Pair I hired was a 20 year old Canadian Male. That was when I was 27, living in Aix-en-Provence and chose him because he was so good with playing with the children, especially my 2 year old son. He was cool, positive and playful and my ex-husband was away most of the time while I was studying. It seemed a very natural balance.
Back to now, twenty years later. My partner is 100% supportive. He enjoys cooking and does it with art and heart. He is also passionate about sciences and loves sharing and teaching. He works full time as a Deputy Director in the biotechnology industry. He’s patient and kind and knows when to use humour to get the teenagers’ attention.
Does it make him less “manly”? No, it is much the opposite, as far as I am concerned. He’s very clear on what he can bring to our home, when I’m not there, what needs to be done and what he wants to handle. It makes him all the more attractive .He is caring for what we care above all, our family. That makes him brave, strong, powerful and sexy!
Then, why do I also feel guilty?
Deep inside of me, thousand of years of Patriarchy engraved the belief that a woman’s role is to feed her children and take care of her home, her nest, while her man hunts in the wild. I’ve been looking at representations of masculinity and femininity. I’m not the only one to be “propagandized” by this stereotype.
“Does accepting my femininity mean I like wearing nice shoes and getting my nails done? I do like this. Does it mean I like to nurture others? To be honnest, I don’t…I like to challenge people more than to nurture them.”
When a man nurtures his children, does it make him feminine?
Marcia Reynolds defines femininity as
“a mindset that anyone, including men, can cultivate and cherish. The ability to value and include everyone who desires to contribute to a common goal.”
If so, a man is masculine when he includes his feminine side. He is human. He is a man expressing his full humanity.
Then, What is Masculinity?
Harvard Business School Professor Robin Ely has written a remarquable working paper, “Unmasking Manly Men: The Organizational Reconstruction of Male Identity”. She states,
” We define masculine identity as the sense a man makes of himself as a man, which develops in the course of his interactions with others. Such interactions are shaped by culturally available ideologies about what it means to be a man. Hence, men’s masculine identity (like women’s feminine identity) is a profoundly social and cultural phenomenon.”
Her conclusions are inspiring, both for women and men in the workplace.
“The reconstruction of masculine identity involves a transformation of the process of identity construction from one anchored in efforts to prove something about oneself to one anchored in the real demands of their work. Questions about which traits are better – masculine or feminine- become moot when identity construction processes are no longer defensive.”
When individuals grow strong in self-confidence and self-esteem, then they can accept the inclusion of both masculine and feminine traits in working to achieve a mission. They no longer need to prove themselves along gender lines.
This research has implications about the relative merits of “masculine” versus “feminine” traits.
“Leadership scholars have begun to question heroic models of leadership, favoring a more relational approach often associated with femininity. Our findings suggest that such debates may focus on the wrong question because how people enact their gender identities- defensively versus generatively-may be more consequential than what traits they display.”
What if they were not really such a thing as “masculine” and “feminine”?
“The differences between two women are quite likely to be bigger than the generalized differences between males and females as groups for every purpose except reproduction, just as the individual differences between two members of the same race or etnicity are probably greater than the differences between two races.”
What needs to be done if we want to move beyond gender stereotypes?
- Let go of guilt
- Build a strong confidence in ourselves and trust in the others
- Let go of defensiveness
- Foster cooperation
- Accept to share our power outside AND inside our home too
- Accept to share the rewards and the love too, not only the chores!
- Enjoy the process of self-discovery with curiosity and enthusiasm
- Cherish and celebrate the new parts of each-other’s self in the discovery
What if men could do what women do at home?
What Gloria Steinem tells us is to reassess our assumptions about men. Women have been into men’s territory and have proven they could do a man’s job. There is definitely a lot to be done so that they have equal rights, equal payments, equal responsabilities. Still, “women rising in power in the world” is now acknowledged to be contributing to world health, education, environment and economy.
What are we waiting to give men a vital and powerful place at home as well, as a caretaker, as an educator, as a nurturer, as a link builder?
“We have not demonstrated that men can do what women do. Therefore children are still mostly raised by women, and women in industrialized countries end up having two jobs: one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that, children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women.”
I kept the Big Think provocative tittle for the end and I love it.
We need to eroticize equality.
Let go of dominance/submission patterns and welcome the excitement of cooperation with joy and freedom!
What are YOU doing to allow men in your life to be more loving and nurturing at home? How do you foster cooperation within your couple? What works? What’s more difficult? How do you cope with guilt? How do you cope with tough choices and their consequences?