The new Wonder Woman film has feminists talking. Some feel that as the first female directed superhero film with a female protagonist, Wonder Woman is a game changer – an empowering symbol and rallying point for all women and girls. Others feel just as strongly that while clothed in the language and symbolism of female empowerment, Wonder Woman requires the woman to win her battles on masculine terms, in an (almost entirely) male environment, while wearing an outfit that threatens to eclipse her personality through an overemphasis on her sexuality.
For many women, this same confusion reigns in the workplace. Is a woman empowered when she succeeds in traditional masculine terms? What are we really looking for when we seek equality in the workplace, and how can we know we have achieved it?
Are there “female” professional behaviors?
Many women feel most threatened at work when their professional behavior is interpreted as stereo-typically female. If she cuts her subordinates some slack, she runs the risk of being defined as “soft”; if she prefers collaborative to independent work, she may be judged as too focused on process as opposed to results.
And yet the fear of such judgments can paralyze a good professional, and skew her behavior towards more stereo-typically masculine behaviors, at the expense of her professional success. The truth is that in a complex professional reality, the wisest management and professional decisions are motivated by a diverse range of considerations.
The same manager may choose a more “soft” or “tough” approach, depending on a broad range of factors. This is true, or ought to be true, of both male and female professionals. Yet for many women, the real fear of being oversimplified and misunderstood can motivate behaviors that are not always the wisest choice.
Both men and women will encourage better professional behaviors if they are able to rise above classic behavior stereotypes to make decisions based on all the relevant factors. But for a woman in the workforce, this kind of behavior requires tremendous strength of character and confidence, as she is often taking the risk of being typecast in gender terms.
A salute to the Wonder Women around us
Being a woman in today’s workforce is a tremendous challenge, emotionally and professionally. Sometimes women feel that they have broken that glass ceiling and are appreciated for their professional contribution, which includes their unique gender perspective but is much broader and more complex; at other times the same woman may feel discouraged by both external gender based stereotypes and her own surrender to such expectations, either by attempting to fit in to masculine stereotypes or submitting to being pigeonholed in a feminine role.
So whether you feel Wonder Woman expresses all that is glorious about the feminist revolution, or entrenches us further in damaging stereotypes, one thing is clear: the women who face these challenges everyday in their professional lives deserve our respect and appreciation.