THE BLOG

On Female Charisma and Cultural Character Assassination

05/06/2015 10:44 BST | Updated 04/06/2016 10:59 BST

While charisma is welcomed in men, even championed, it is only tolerated in women. I say this as a woman who has long felt the need to quell the full force of her personality so as not to offend others simply by being overtly vivacious, and who, as a child, was told I was charismatic by a teacher aiming, kindly, to elucidate me of my faults.

Always attracted by ripe female personalities - Ruby Wax, say, or Jo Brand, or even the rather more mumsy Victoria Wood, female charisma takes an inordinate amount of chaputz to pull off, and rarely goes hand in hand with what might delicately be described as 'conventional female attractiveness'. These rare conspicuous, comedic females are always the exception rather than the rule, the token gesture on a comedy show, as likely as not to say something controversial about periods as draw out a belly laugh. It is a shame. We women could do with laughing at ourselves a little more frequently, and learning, a little more, to appreciate the unique.

But charisma is something that requires a degree of power or privilege to carry off. In bosses, it is to be expected, and there is a tacit tension of social support that enables this acceptance, while in the mere worker, it might be seen as a foible, to be tolerated only should they also do the job well and perhaps make people laugh along with them.

You need to feel safe to be charismatic, as it involves stepping outside of social norms and drawing attention to oneself, something that is drummed into females from childhood as unacceptable. It creates, bland, featureless plastic dolls of women, as we extricate our personalities in favour of our looks, while in boys, eccentricities and foibles are accepted in toddlerhood as simply boyishness. It is ironic that they have their personalities enabled and cosseted by doting women, many of whom themselves were long since wiped clean as a computer disk, ready to have whatever society says is normal downloaded onto their DNA, to be considered normal, "good" mothers.

I would describe myself as a good mother, though "normal" might be pushing it. I am camp. I love a bit of theatre, and drawn to loud colours, which I like to dress myself in. I have an opinion and I'm not afraid to use it. But only amongst friends, and even this gets me into trouble sometimes. At work I am a much more muted, grey and blue version of what I would describe the 'real me', a limp wristed would-be drag queen full of double entendre and ruby red lips. And even here, I am enabled to be more fully myself than at previous places of employment, where I became drone-like in fitting into a workplace culture that would not accept personality from those lower down the ladder.

I tone down my looks too, lest they land me in strife. My hair, platinum as a child attracts too much attention, along with a decent set of knockers and a face full of makeup. So I soften it with ashy lowlights, wear crop tops, and go makeup free. It makes me look younger, which in itself lends itself to being patronised, but it's preferable from being ostracised for being considered a social threat or preyed upon for my body.

And I sense myself repeating the process of charisma deconstruction with my daughter. Unlike her brother, whose loopy oddities, and tangential randomness has long been diagnosed and accepted as just the way he is, I sense myself crafting my daughter with purpose to the standard model of femaleness. Oh yes, I tolerate her boyish desire to wear trousers and kick a football, but I find myself insisting much more carefully about how she should be, lest she be perceived as showing off, or drawing attention to herself with crazy talk or lying with her bum in the air. What I want for her is normality, for all I've fought to prevent myself the same fate. But is it so bad to wish it for one's daughter when allowing myself charisma is such a hard won privilege for myself? Perhaps: it has to be earned, and I have full confidence that she can negotiate her own personality on her own terms as and when she rightly rebels from my seemingly necessary gender based character assassination. In fact, perhaps, by digging my own heels in and therefore gently persuading her to kick back against my 'right-thinking' maternal concern for her social wellbeing, I'm passively ensuring she does.