I do get curious when women are so often seen belittling or mocking other women displaying characteristics that are usually applauded in men. Characteristics that are instead seen as a negative and undesirable in women, especially in the workplace and media. These two articles by Stylist Magazine highlight this perfectly.
It discusses female talent on TV displaying self-assurance and confidence being vilified on social media and in the press, which is in stark contrast to their male peers.
Rak-su [The boyband who won this years X-Factor] had wonderful stage presence, and made a point of penning and performing their own ridiculously catchy songs – which marked a change in the show’s approach this year. The quartet also shared finalist Grace [Davies] confidence and unwavering belief in her own abilities. However, while Rak-Su’s self-assurance was deemed acceptable by viewers, the same cannot be said for their fellow finalist.
Adjectives which have seemingly become synonymous with Grace Davies. ‘Cocky’, ‘unlikeable’ and ‘smug’ Kayleigh Dray Stylist Magazine
So let’s experiment. Here are some more examples of common behavioural traits that are often seen as a positive in men and the opposite negative connotation in women:
(M) Assertive v’s (F) Bitchy
(M) Confident v’s (F) Arrogant / A diva
(M) Leadership v’s (F) Bossy
(M) Self Assured v’s (F) Smug / A bitch
Why is that?
I think this reeks of misogyny.
I talk about this in the some of the masterclasses I host – no matter how much laws change, if mindsets don’t also change, we become paralysed in our thinking and in turn our behaviour and we never really evolve.
Historically women have always been seen as less than their male counterparts. In some industries, cultures and societal norms, sadly, we still are. Women were not allowed to vote, not allowed to work, had to be polite and lady-like, well-mannered, seen and not heard, subservient. (It’s a good job I wasn’t born then). Fast forward several decades later in the western world we have equal rights to work and vote (not there yet with pay), but I wonder if some of these engrained traditionalist views about behaviours, stereotypes and roles are seeping in here. And this study by Stanford University paper, backs up some of my thinking.
To be successful, you must be assertive and confident, but if you are aggressive as a woman you are sometimes punished for behaving in ways that are contrary to the feminine stereotype.
The study compared employees with traits associated with men, such as; “aggressive, assertive, and confident” – alongside female behavioural traits such as “acting like a lady” and discovered that women generally can’t move beyond the “traditional” behavioural role without ruffling a few feathers or experiencing some kind of negative backlash.
Yet on the flip-side, women are slammed for not being assertive enough. We are consistently encouraged to be more confident, to be more vocal, to be more visible, but when we are, this is a great example that there are very real negative implications associated with confidence on women and I wonder if this holds other women back from stepping into their true selves and power through fear of being vilified, disliked or perhaps seeing confidence as a negative trait themselves?
As mentioned above, there have been a number of articles discussing this issue specifically with singer and current Strictly come Dancing Contestant; Alexandra Burke - someone who was adorned in the public eye when she won the X-Factor in 2005 (arguably when her confidence was much lower) and over the years has morphed into some form of hate. Take a peek here and here - some also believe that the reason her talent and her presence is so unlikeable, is not only because she is a successful female who is self assured, but a successful female who is self assured and also black
So why do we see this continuously happening?
I think envy is also at play here which is more prevalent in women than in men. But ultimately it comes down to two words: Self worth.
If you find yourself feeling negatively triggered by people you haven’t met, feeling envious of other people’s talents or successes, more often than not it is more about you and the relationship you have with the association of these behavioural traits, then it is about them. Get curious about why. Why do you perceive that they, or in this instance – someone who is a complete stranger, is triggering such a powerful response in you.
If we are complicit in gender stereotyping in our thinking, by shaming women in roles on TV, those achieving success, those in positions of power, at work, in politics, in the boardroom, and even in parenting. If we find that we are shaming them for displaying traits that we celebrate, or often find attractive in men, we are perpetuating a narrative that is holding us ALL back from thriving.
The only way we improve this, is to look inwards, look at our own self-worth. If our self-worth is rooted we will not feel threatened or irritated by other people’s self-assurance, success or talent, their confidence or talent will not diminish our own and if we become better aware of gender stereotyping, where it is coming from and its firm role in misogyny, perhaps it might change the way we think about women and ultimately ourselves.
A version of this article was first seen on novareid.com