Do we really have to prove women are equal by portraying them as male?
When I opened the first page of the Opzij, a Dutch feminist magazine, I was surprised. I hadn’t read it for a while and was curious in what direction this magazine, or maybe better said ‘women’s movement’ had developed. Their in-depth articles were more interesting to me than the millions of ads of ‘pictures perfect’ in the Cosmopolitan. But after the first pages, it struck me how they portrayed the people in it. What was it?
Feminine role models…where are you?
The women were shown as pioneers who seemed to have a lot of success by being tough, confident, strong and perseverant. The way it was done struck me as well – lists with top 100 most powerful women and filled with analytical facts. It made me wonder. Why couldn’t I find an article that spoke about their tenderness, compassion or creativity as well, just to name a few traits that are usually called feminine?
To prove that women are equal do we really have to portray them like they are male? Why do we tend to show women in extremes, either ‘girlish’ in the glossies or keeping up with men’s standards as a 'mini-me-man' in this case? Why is it so challenging to portray them as real females, who aren’t afraid to loose success in case they show their vulnerability? Why not show them without the tough mask to hide their tender side?
This might be a well-thought strategy of the feministic magazine Opzij. It may be the same strategy as women in corporate cultures - fit in with the mainstream first and act as tough as your colleagues. I think it’s time to go one step further than Jean d’Arc who had to act like a man to be part of the game. I think it’s time to allow everyone, not only women, to bring all of their qualities to the table instead of showing only parts which already fit in.
The world is ready for new real female role models who share every side of themselves!
Meet Jessica, the Founder of the Superwoman Project
I asked Jessica Williams what it means to be a superwoman. She is the founder of the Superwoman Project and on a mission to put more women in positions of power. By using this title of superwomen, does she mean that we all must strive to be the female version of the strong, muscular hero Superman like I saw in the earlier mentioned magazine?
Jessica: “No, on the contrary. Women don’t need to act like a man to get ahead, they can act like a woman. To me, that involves tapping into your intuition, creativity or curiosity. That also means that you express your sense of collaboration, generosity towards others and compassion and kindness.” If there would only be one thing Jessica’s message is about, it is about giving women permission that they can be a woman and use their gifts, all of their gifts and not only the ones that are accepted in our corporate world. “Even the men are craving for more things like generosity, compassion and other female characteristics in the corporate environments.”
If you would think a superwoman doesn’t struggle with daily challenges, you’re wrong. But she is able to see the crap that also happens in her life and tries to see it as things that give you something to push against, as Jessica puts it.
So a superwoman is herself. She honors her innate feminine powers, instead of changing herself into a ‘perfect glossy lady’ or ‘an untouchable touch cookie’.
The "You win, I lose" mentality is about to be over
Jessica recognizes a shift in our economy, politics and our work. We shift towards a more feminine society, or at least a healthier balance: “Our society was built on action, pushing through, competitiveness, aggressiveness, all male characteristics. It is a system created a long time ago by men for men. This competitiveness was born out of scarcity: the ‘You win, I lose’ mentality. Luckily we already observe the sense of collaboration, connection and compassion within the younger generations: the ‘I have to give a little, you have to give a little’ mentality”.
It just doesn’t make sense to keep recreating corporate environments that are more suitable for unemotional robots than humans. It might take longer than we want, but this is not something we want to disrupt by using the same force and power. Jessica is all about uniting and helping each other to show our kind-heartedness and compassion in this defensive system, instead of pulling each other down like crabs in a crab basket.
Step #1: Start with shifting things in your inner world
“We, future Superwomen, have to shift things in our inner world before we can shift things in the outer world”, Jessica repeats. Otherwise, we are too attached to the stories we tell ourselves and stay in our comfort zone too afraid to tap into our intuition and wisdom.
We have to detach ourselves to all the belief systems that are planted in our minds in our childhood and by society. “They all tell us it has to be a certain way. My father, on the one hand, said ‘you can be whatever you want’, and on the other hand he said, don’t bite your fingernails, sit up, otherwise guys won’t like you. It is confusing. You can be whatever you want, but a man must love you.”
We are so used to fitting in the male-dominated system, that we have to figure out what and who we are without that system. What is our true nature? Jessica: “Figuring that out is so hard when there are a lot of other things going on. Sometimes it is the last thing we do. Myself included.”
But if we don’t figure that out before we enter the stage, our fears and insecurities will encourage us to adjust ourselves before we notice it and try to keep up. If we don’t become aware of our tendencies to fit it in, our innate feminine powers are buried and our full potential is buried with it.
Step #2: Living in the tension
“I am fed up with waiting until I am ready for it’, I heard Dutch performer Elfie Tromp saying in a recent interview. She enters the stage and sings for audiences while she knows it’s not perfect yet. I hope we, Superwomen, dare to live in that tension. I hope we find ease with the uneasiness and insecurities that come along with being ourselves in an environment that doesn’t invite you to be you. Let’s be ourselves in order to shift the balance. Let’s hope that our daughters don’t have to lower their tone of voice to have an impact. Let’s hope our daughters and sons don’t have to hide everything that makes them human in order to fit in.
Let’s make vulnerability part of our pallet.
‘The best leaders are in doubt, and despite the doubt, he/she carries on’, says Rollo May in his book The Courage to Create.
I am so glad that women like Jessica are creating role models as a compass for others. She is not only creating this image of a Superwoman with her Superwoman project, she is also living it herself and doesn't think ‘she is perfect, her life is easier than mine’. Her life wasn’t without windfall. She worked through a tough childhood, a divorce and changed challenging jobs. But to sustain living in the tension she constantly reconnects with herself through yoga, mindfulness, walking in nature, reading and is constantly inspired by a teacher herself.
To face leaps in our career and rest of our lives, it takes radical self-care. To sustain and calm the doubts that come with it, we have to honor, coach and nourish ourselves like we are top-athletes. It is like top sport to be able to resist the easy way of fitting in an image that isn’t ours.
Female role models…both a cupcake and a lion and so much more?!
Jessica’s boyfriend likes to call her a cupcake from the outside, sweet and vulnerable, and with a heart of a lion on the inside. I like his metaphor for Jessica, a true female role model. This combination shows her tenderness as well as her power. It shows her kind-heartedness as well as her strength.
So, Opzij and Cosmopolitan, I wish we meet more role models showing more diverse sides in your magazines. Wouldn’t it be time to take the next step in Feminism? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we show the world that women deserve a place at the table sharing their whole value? Instead of just their male competitiveness or merely their beauty and sensuality?
If we really want to influence the world, I hope we do not have to change ourselves and get caught in the fitting-in trap. I hope we can influence current systems by unleashing our power as well as by sharing our vulnerabilities and tenderness.