My mission is to increase gender diversity at the top of the business world. My method is to enhance understanding and appreciation of difference. To do that, I establish a common understanding of the terms “masculine” and “feminine” and talk about the mix of those traits in all of us. And I take it a step further by using prototypes for each. Max (who could be Maxine or Maxwell) is the masculine prototype. Fran (who could be Francis or Frances) is the prototype for the feminine.
In response to a recent blog, a comment suggested that my use of the terms “masculine” and “feminine” reinforces stereotypes. I define concepts and do not see this as stereotyping. But, if it is, it is done with a purpose. “Masculine” and “feminine” each describes a distinct set of behaviors and perspectives. Both men and women operate in both of these categories. I am using these concepts to educate, and ultimately, to avoid stereotyping people.
A few people have suggested that I not use the terms “masculine” and “feminine.” Lots of experts write and talk about differences in style or perspective and create categories with all sorts of names. I could call the two categories related to my mission “A” and “Z.” But I do not think that would accomplish what I want to accomplish, to have people reflect on the strengths of commonly understood masculine and feminine parts of themselves and others.
I define “masculine” and “feminine” by how men and women, in general, tend to think and act. If we could graph how the typical man and typical woman think and behave, we would get two overlapping bell curves. They overlap a lot because men and women are more alike than different. The centers of the bell curves are where the typical man and typical woman, respectively, show up — the prototypes Max and Fran. Both men and women operate in the areas of the centers of both bell curves. But more women than men operate in the middle part of one bell curve, demonstrating those qualities we commonly call “feminine” (which is why I name it that). More men than women show up around the center of the other bell curve. So I call these traits, that both men and women have, “masculine.” I use “masculine” and “feminine” as short hand. And to step even further away from the association with physical gender. I use Max and Fran, either of whom may be male or female.
If I used “A” and “Z” instead of “feminine” and “masculine,” I would be celebrating the fact that both men and women have both “A” and “Z” traits. I would be working to debunk stereotypes that women do “A” and men do “Z.” I would be bringing consciousness to the fact that there is more “Z” in the workplace and that people (men and women) who are more “A-like” may not feel or be valued – that a preference for “Z” can create unintentional barriers for “A-like” folks. I would be working to increase appreciation of the whole continuum of behaviors (from “A to Z”) and to demonstrate how organizations will get better results if they have a mix of both “A” and “Z” strengths.
Does using “A” and “Z” eliminate stereotypes or simply create a new one?
People know what “masculine” and “feminine” mean and associate certain behaviors and perspectives with the two terms. I use them not to stereotype but to establish common understanding, celebrate differences, and avoid stereotyping. I want men and women to value the masculine and feminine parts of themselves and others. Inventing new and arbitrary labels would sidestep and miss the point.
What do you think?