Girl Power

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

             It’s no secret that in the past fifty years, the women’s movement has made enormous strides.  Not only are women more prominent in number and status in the professional world, they outnumber boys in most colleges and universities across the country, so much so that some admissions offices work conscientiously to appeal to the male sex.  This would have seemed absurd in the 1950s when males were perceived as bread winners and the traditional life trajectory of a female focused on family and not career and education. 

            No longer are women dependent on men in order to live a prosperous life.  Another revolutionary change is the fact that women no longer require a male sexual partner in order to have kids.  Modern women can choose the adoption route or with new technologies and advancements, they can have a child essentially on their own.  These advancements may have been intended especially for homosexual women or women who can’t naturally conceive, but professional heterosexual women without husbands now have the option of fulfilling that gender role when they want and on their own terms.  This new crop of highly educated women is not only changing traditional perceptions of the feminine sex, they are transforming the economic and social spheres of gender and culture. 

             Still with all the advancements made, there are still boundaries caused by gender that exist in the professional world.  Most major companies are still led by men and only a handful of female CEOs and CFOs head major corporations and the ones that do exist are usually childless.  Psychologists Fanny M. Cheung and Diane F. Halpern recently studied these women as well as powerful men to gage how leadership is defined by gender and why our society still prefers men in leadership roles.  In their article, “Women at the Top,” Cheung and Halpern also set out to discover a new model of leadership.  They discovered the way in which female leaders differ from men in the way they navigate their professional and personal roles when they have families.  Basically, they were asking the age-old question, can women truly have it all?  The results were different across cultures, but in the United States they found that professional women who have the support of their spouses are able to integrate their professional and personal spheres whereas male leaders keep those spheres separate.  Women leaders navigate their genders, not by adopting masculine values, but by embracing their feminine values and making them compatible for the work place.  One way women do this is by adopting transformational leadership skills, which are preferred by women and are successful in this economic climate.  Cheung and Halpern noted, “The definition of transformational leadership is more congruent with the interpersonal characteristics associated with women leaders than with the aggressive and hierarchical characteristics associated with male leaders” (Cheung and Halpern, 2010, 7).  No longer are women required to “think like a man.”  It’s the men who need to start thinking like women, unless they want to truly lose their professional footing.  Cheung and Halpern suggested, “Femininity and leadership are no longer considered incompatible. Virtually all of the women we interviewed believed that their style of leadership as women was better suited for the contemporary workplace”(Cheung and Halpern, 2010, 6).

            The transformational leadership model studied by Cheung and Halpern was also noted in two recent articles in The Atlantic.  The first, “The End of Men” written by Hanna Rosin links transformational leadership to the changing economy and the changing landscape of the job market as one that favors women and feminine qualities.  Part of the reason for the feminine upturn is that during economic slumps, the market loses a lot of manual labor jobs that favor men, but a bigger part is that women are using their higher education to get ahead and navigate new opportunities that encourage focus, verbal ability, and self-control, which tend to me more traditionally feminine qualities. A program at Columbia Business School teaches this method of leadership that focuses on motivation rather than command. Jamie Ladge said, “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” (Rosin 2010).

            Rosin’s article, as well as Kate Bolick’s 2011 article, “All the Single Ladies” both discussed what this female advancement means for marriage.  Both acknowledged that the further women continue to climb the professional ladder, the less likely they are to get married, because the dating pool of men available to them don’t meet their expectations or the men available are too intimidated by their female partner’s successes.  Also, women aren’t burdened by relying on men anymore and the more women dominate the sexes, the more they set their own standard and terms, setting into motion a more matriarchal society.  Psychologists Fanny M. Cheung and Diane F. Halpern also concluded that society does not allow for successful women to have families.  Cheung and Halpern stated, “The presence of children signals stability and responsibility for men, who are assumed to be better workers because of their roles as breadwinners. The identical situation for women has the opposite effect” (Cheung and Halpern, 2010, 6).  Since this is a relatively new societal shift, the consequences of moving away from the nuclear family and “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle is yet undetermined, but there is no questioning that the traditional order is over. 

 

Bolick, Kate. 2011.  All the Single Ladies. Atlantic Magazine, Nov. 2011.

Cheung F, Halpern D. Women at the top: Powerful leaders define success as work + family in a culture of gender.

American Psychologist. April 2010:65(3):182-193. Available from: PsycARTICLES, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 26, 2013.

Rosin, Hanna. 2010.  The End of Men. Atlantic Magazine, July/Aug 2010.