Behind Women in Power

Women have come a long way. Or have they? The famous Virginia Slims ad campaign created by the Leo Burnett Agency claimed so in July of 1968 with the launch of their legacy “You’ve come a long way” tagline. The ads captured the progress of the women’s movement and often portrayed successful women working happily in their careers.  Just 48 years prior to the ad launch, the U.S. Constitution was ratified with the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Today, 48 years later, a woman is running for President of the United States. Progress is being achieved. Albeit slowly—and with a few costs.

It’s not difficult to step back and notice that as women’s careers escalated so did thedivorce rate. Research shows that there is higher divorce rate among children of divorce, setting up a reinforcing cycle. Yet I don’t believe women are to blame for this. Women want and deserve equal treatment, respect, and safety. Women are not chattel, yet they’ve been treated like property for centuries. Today’s young women may not realize the sacrifices made by the generations of women before them to attain safe and equal treatment. More important, today’s young women—and men—may not realize that progress must still continue.

While I have specialized in gender dynamics and even give talks on ‘resolving the gender pay gap’ and ‘understanding the hidden differences in the way men and women work,’ I was still taken aback when a yogi, Rolf Gates, vulnerably disclosed in his book, “Meditations from the Mat” that he has to work on letting go of an “irrational fear of ‘women’s lib.’” He described that he struggles with seeing life as a zero-sum game (if you win, I lose), so his fear of being powerless heightens when he witnesses that women are outnumbering men in law school. That deadly competition between the sexes is real—and sadly many men are unaware that they have unconscious fears about women’s power. The conscious people, like Gates, work hard to find it, own it and release it.

Part of the difficulty is that men are more wired to be hierarchical and see things in win-lose scenarios. It goes back to those innate hunter skills that allow a man to singularly focus on the killing their prey—and to beat the other hunters to it first. Women, on the other hand, are more hard-wired to be more multi-tasking and collaborative and seek win-win solutions. It’s part of the mothering need to solve multiple children’s issues while also cooking meals, cleaning, and keeping an ear out for danger. The wonderful thing in our evolution and growth is that gender norms are changing a bit and with increasing role-reversals, a bigger bridge between the sexes is built. Even so, the greater majority of men and women reveal pretty entrenched male-female neurological patterning.

So what does this mean for the women’s movement and society overall? First, it illuminates the need for men to take Gate’s lead and uncover their own fears and biasesabout women. It is also important for women to understand male fears so they aren’t caught off-guard by subtle forms of sabotage. Some ways men unconsciously and/or consciously sabotage women is through sexualizing, dismissing, controlling, teasing, criticizing, interrupting, psychopathologizing, humiliating, abusing—and measuring women against a male standard.