Picture this: a strong woman who has all the traits to take on the world with her own prowess and seemingly infinite courage. She is the epitome of what an empowered woman should be: she can shatter the demarcated bounds of achievements, she can nonchalantly seize the attention of a room so that her voice is heard, and she can fight, and she does so effortlessly. Odds are that the first image you conjured up is the carbon copy of the ones we have all seen or read about in the media; the woman who rejects all that is deemed feminine and carries herself with the confidence of a man, whilst discarding all her “feminine-like” characteristics. But why do so many of us look up to and aspire to be women like these?
Growing up as someone who yearned to consistently improve themselves so that they may achieve some form of achievement, I am no stranger to the many books and posts about pursuing one’s success; ‘the key to success,’ ‘what makes a good leader,’ ‘the secret to achieving your goals.’ These are the many types of articles and videos that my senses were bombarded with and have wormed their way into the corner of my mind, as it has done for many of us. Although we may have our own ideas of what it takes to be a successful person, for the most part, we have probably retained certain conceptions that were widely proclaimed by this form of media.
The main similarity that the media has propagated are the characteristics that a person should possess in order to successfully achieve their goals. Assertion, decisiveness and risk-taking are traits that although many people have, are still considered as traditionally masculine traits. More specifically, they are perceived as the foundation for good leadership. In most books and movies that portray a female lead who is deemed as inspirational for youths, these traits are the most dominant. Although there are no traits that should be exclusively attributed to one gender or the other, the problem lies in the fact that only certain traits are considered empowering for successful people, and they are usually characteristics that are more aggressive or assertive which leaves other more traditionally feminine traits as “inferior” characteristics.
Some might argue that this is not something drastic, but it causes so many people to feel a sense of shame about parts of themselves that are not even shameful. There is a constant weight that people who exude femininity have to carry around, which shapes itself as a guilt of being. Feminine individuals seemingly do not fit the archetype of success because this idea is limited within the constraints of perceived masculinity. In truth, what these social constructs actually do is reinforce the perception that only one type of person is fit for a certain type of success and justifies our inclination to hinder the progress of others who do not carry these set of attributes.
The Case of Discarded Identity
So where does this leave the young people who are still determined to see their goals made into reality but appear to have a clear disparity between their self-identity and the identity of a “successful” person? Why, they discard their unwanted traits, of course. Many people have been made to repress or entirely reject their femininity due to the societal notion that these traits determine your weakness and rule you out of any pathways that lead to your reified dreams. This repression is more often exhibited in individuals who strive to pursue goals that are competitive or usually male-dominated. Although doing so may seem like the sole method of achieving one’s aspirations, it might result in psychological harm.
Rejecting a part of yourself is undoubtedly a harsh thing to do to oneself, but doing so for the sake of your academic and professional amelioration may make it almost justifiable. However, this only denies your core identity and misaligns yourself with your natural being. Such a situation can turn into self-doubt or the inherent need to overachieve in order to compensate for the weaknesses that you believe you secretly have: your feminine traits. Whilst many are able to set a journey towards the actualization of their goals by rejecting femininity, this can still further manifest into a phenomenon called imposter syndrome. Simply said, imposter syndrome can be described as the experience of feeling as though one is not competent enough to have such success as everything that they have achieved has been out of sheer luck. And so begins the cycle of putting in so much effort in hopes that you will not be uncovered as a fraud, or rather that your incompetencies will not be revealed. In other words, your feminine traits which are labelled as weaknesses are not exposed for all to see. Such perturbations stem from the systemic discrimination that feminine people have faced over the years which formulates itself into a great gape that separates oneself from their goals. Hence, more and more people feel like they have to prove themselves as worthy of their achievements as a way of overcoming this barrier.
Redefining Traits of Success
Perhaps the first step we can take is to acknowledge that the traits that a person has are not a prerequisite for guaranteed success. Many feel as though their inherent traits, especially if they are more traditionally feminine, are setting them up for imminent failure. However, it is this very thought process which disassembles a large portion of our own potential. Truthfully, why do we even require a framework for what a successful person should be? If we can accept that there are different definitions of success, why should we not also believe that different traits can contribute greatly to these different definitions? Instead of disempowering each other and ourselves, we should aim to strike a balance between “masculine” and “feminine” traits in order to continuously elevate our personal standards of aptitude.
As a last say: unearthing those feminine features of your personality will not cause you to fail. Instead, you should come to terms with who you actually are and embrace the person that you can be. In settings that seem to reject your femininity, find courage within that aspect of yourself to express yourself genuinely- and most importantly, to not reject yourself as others would you.
By Julia Rosalyn