Whenever I am involved in a discussion about feminism and women’s rights, there is often a comment from the floor that more women in leadership positions would be good for everyone because women are more caring and kinder than men.
I am usually expected to wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment but I never do. In fact, this view of women makes me deeply uncomfortable. Firstly, I think it is sexist. Women do not have a monopoly over kindness or niceness, just as men do not have a monopoly over energy and assertiveness.
Secondly, it creates an impossible and unfair standard for women who do achieve positions of power. Not only do they have to fight longer and harder than men to get there in the first place (see Hillary Clinton), once there they face harsh judgment if they are not constantly nice. Woe betide them if they make any difficult or unpopular decisions.
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This double standard is tough on women seeking power but it is how this attitude negatively affects us common, garden-variety females that interests me the most. And – make no mistake – this deceptively flattering idea that we are naturally noble and self-sacrificing is crippling to us, particularly financially.
A common criticism of women is that we are not confident or assertive enough in the workplace, especially when it comes to seeking promotion or asking for a pay rise. This is often trotted out to excuse the stubborn 17% gender pay gap and lack of women in senior roles. However, while I don’t believe that women are intrinsically nicer than men, I don’t believe they are intrinsically whimpy either.
I think it is the centuries old expectation that women should put others first that makes asking for what we want particularly difficult. We are afraid that we won’t be liked if we ask for more and, generally, that fear is real. That’s why a successful woman is so often called a ball breaking bitch.