feminine shadow

The Feminine Shadow – Part 1, The Inquiry

The Feminine Shadow is the part of ourselves that operates in the world, but is outside of our own self-awareness.  For many years, I observed in myself and other women what I once considered to be anomalies in the work place.  I suspect that while this is likely to be a sensitive topic, that other women may relate to this inquiry.

I have spent my work life in the business world.  For most of those years, I was in Wall Street firms and held VP positions in Learning & Organizational Development.  But my viewpoint is also informed by my birth family.  I was the oldest of four children and the only girl.  Like many first children, I was given responsibilities for looking after my younger siblings.  I was also my mother’s partner – a woman who could be kind and loving in one moment and be harsh and not speak to me for days in the next and then start talking to me again like nothing happened.  There were few other women in my childhood.  I had a very influential grandmother and while I didn’t have sisters, I cherished my girlfriends.

When I entered the workplace, I very quickly found myself in a leadership position.  In my twenties, I was an operations manager in a Wall Street firm with several direct reports and a wide range of operational and financial responsibilities.  I had been telling boys (my brothers) what to do my whole life so entering the workplace and having male direct reports and mostly male colleagues was not something new to me.  But what I thought had been just an odd family dynamic of male-female and female-female relationships was showing up in the workplace.  Over the years I’ve had many observations about these male-female and female-female relationships.

Here are +/- top 10 observations:

  1. I noticed that women leaders seemed to have fewer work relationships that translated into outside of work friendships than their male counterparts. I always found this to be curious when compared to male leaders who were able to be business-like and impersonal at work and buddies outside of work.
  2. I noticed that there was the proverbial “Boys Club” at work but there didn’t seem to be a “club” where women bonded and supported one another in this informal way.
  3. I noticed that women seemed to be more interested in winning the approval of their male colleagues than they were of female colleagues.
  4. I noticed that women leaders often had a bad reputation for being difficult to work for whereas people seemed to get less passionate and critical in their feelings towards their male bosses.
  5. I noticed that when women did bond with one another, it was often around helping roles like planning parties or office events.
  6. I have seen men act like bears yelling at people and it being accepted by other men and women; but if a woman would lose her temper there would be all sorts of reactions and name-calling.
  7. I noticed that women around the board room table would often “wait their turn” to speak while their male counterparts talked over one another. And, that if a woman did jump in and talk over the others, she was often criticized.
  8. I noticed that qualities like compassion, collaboration, and empowering others seems to draw women into fields like teaching and medicine but these qualities rarely showed up with women in the business world. Instead you would hear things like “don’t take it personal” – as if being yelled at, demeaned, or humiliated wasn’t personal.
  9. I have noticed that some of my female bosses felt more like a meddling mother-in-law than an empowering, trusting leader.
  10. I have noticed that while men can yell and be loud – that women can be very pointed, even cruel, in their use of language when they’re frustrated or angry.

Don’t me wrong.  I think women are AWESOME!!!  And men too! In fact, the world of work has treated well.

What I’m observing is something that seems to be being passed down through the generations.  Attitudes that go unquestioned.  Something that so deeply underpins our reality that it really isn’t questioned but rather reduced to “gender issues in the workplace”.  And the wonderfully unique and complementary qualities, attributes of women continue to go largely undervalued.  In both men and women.

For years, I have observed, wondered, been in the mix of, felt beaten up or betrayed, been confused – all these and more when it comes to understanding why women leaders are not fully showing up like as their feminine selves in the business world, with all of their wonderful feminine qualities and attributes in addition to their business skills.

Over time, the dynamics of my birth family have begun to seem less strange and more reflective of something larger in our culture.  These questions and observations laid dormant within me for a long time and I was also afraid to speak about them as they evoke such strong reactions by men and women.

But, I recently had a little ah-ha moment into this inquiry which is pointing me in a new direction.  Do you remember the Julie Andrews movie “Victor Victoria”?  It was the story of a man, pretending to be a woman – pretending to be a man.  And for the first time I asked myself –  are we (am I?) trying to show up as women the way we think men want us to be women?  Is there some part of being a woman that we women think is unacceptable?  Do we think we have to hide or hold back on these “unacceptable female ways”?

Think about how many books and classes are offered today on “being authentic”.  What does that even mean?  What are we as women holding back or repressing that we’re being inauthentic to ourselves?  What are the qualities that make us uniquely feminine?  In my next article I will share what I’ve learned about the unique feminine qualities and how they are being repressed into the feminine shadow.

Learn more and join Terri for her upcoming Free Webinar “When I Doubt Myself {and Other Women}”. Click here to register.


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