Why Everyone Can Benefit From Embracing Their 'Feminine' Qualities
With so many important conversations going on around feminism, women's empowerment, equal rights, and paving a way forward for all human beings to be and feel fully expressed, what about the other f-word? Femininity.
What's the first thing you feel when you hear the word "femininity"? Or "sensitivity"? Or "vulnerability"? My guess is it might give you pause.
Why? Because we've spent millennia perceiving traditionally feminine qualities as weaknesses. In work environments typically led by men and governed by a traditionally masculine power dynamic, we've been conditioned to "toughen up" and operate "like a man" to thrive in a man's world at work. Many of us have been told to "stop being so sensitive" or "you're too emotional." We've used all of our might to hold back tears during a stressful conversation at work or with a loved one. We've trained ourselves to take on more traditionally masculine behaviors: to be tougher, more assertive, and more direct because those qualities are valued and will help us "get ahead."
Femininity is complex. There are many qualities that are coded as "feminine" and considered weak, and we're constantly getting messages about the various ways traditionally "feminine" qualities are problematic, sometimes in ways that actually contradict each other: Don't be too controlling, BUT don't be too agreeable. Don't be too bossy, BUT don't be a pushover. Be nurturing and loving, BUT don't be so motherly. Sometimes it may feel like we can't win.
But when we look more closely at some of these "feminine" qualities—ranging from emotionality and sensitivity to being seductive, loving fully, embracing glamour—we realize that not only are these qualities meaningful and valuable in our lives, but they're powerful.
First of all, let us be clear that there is not just one definition of femininity.
Each one of us, regardless of our gender identity, has a balance of "femininity" and "masculinity" and historically considered "masculine" and "feminine" qualities. And that's a good thing!
We know traditionally "feminine" and "masculine" traits aren't specific to a gender; all of us have some mix of them both. These qualities coexist in a single person and work hand in hand. It's all about striking the most authentic balance and not consciously or unconsciously holding meaningful parts of ourselves back for fear that they won't be accepted. Our masculine qualities are important and valuable, without question. And they don't need to be at the expense of our feminine qualities.
The problem with suppressing our "feminine" qualities.
In The Feminine Revolution, my writing partner Catherine Connors and I did a deep dive into 21 of these historically feminine qualities. We explored first why they've been labeled "feminine" in the first place and then why they've been perceived as weak. And then we make the clear case that those same feminine qualities are, in fact, our superpowers.
I'll start with a personal example: I've always been sensitive. When I was young, my mom was telling me I was too sensitive. This was reinforced in the workplace, and I would be told in performance reviews not to take things personally and not to be so sensitive.
So what did I do? I built up an armor. I "toughened up." I modified my behavior so those parts of me weren't front and center. I made these changes because I thought that was what was required for me to be successful and rise to the top. I simultaneously developed my assertiveness, my directness, and my toughness in the workplace. Maybe I was even bringing "bossy" Amy into my dating life (I don't recommend this!).
My sensitivity seemed further and further away. Only years later as I was feeling out of balance did I realize that because of this armor, I wasn't showing up fully either in work or in my personal relationships.
In truth, my sensitivity was and always will be a huge part of me. And actually a wonderful part of me. My sensitivity is one of the reasons I am a great leader, an intuitive businessperson, and a strong client manager. When I'm in a meeting, I can sense what someone is really saying (or not saying)—I can pick up real information with my senses and understand where someone is coming from and what they mean. I can walk into the office and sense if something is a bit off with one of my employees. And then I can act on it. I can sense if a problem is brewing with a client and proactively address it. My sensitivity is one of my greatest assets—the first step was recognizing it that way.
What if we leaned into our powerful "feminine" qualities in ways that make us stronger, more confident, and ultimately more authentic?
That's what this is about: authenticity. How can we ever show up in a fully authentic way if we're holding parts of ourselves back?
Let's be honest…this is a practice! It's not perfect. Every day I'm tested with new challenges. Sometimes I rise to the occasion, and sometimes I walk away thinking, "Hmm…I got really worked up in that meeting." The difference is, I recognize the good parts of the fact that I was emotional in addition to the potential downside, which means I can walk away learning something and not living in doubt. I can move on. I know I showed up in an authentic way, and in many ways, that becomes the priority.
So let's begin the exploration: Are there parts of your personality that you hold back because you believe they are weak? Or because you think they might be perceived as weak? What if you started to introduce these qualities in subtle, nuanced ways? What if you started to recognize these parts of you as your superpowers and gave them the freedom and recognition they deserve?
How can we even have a conversation about redefining power and creating space for women to lead—in the workplace, in politics, in society more broadly—if we are consciously or unconsciously categorizing femininity as weak? Only when we start to acknowledge the power in femininity can we open up real opportunities for a more balanced approach to leadership and power. And we need that now more than ever.