Today, I’m going to be speaking with Dr. AJ of AJ Rao, LLC about something thought-provoking. We’re going to be talking about masculine and feminine traits, and the myriad of labels that are out there. I feel like those labels are really empowering for people who now have a way to articulate their human experience and be understood by the people who take the time to learn them. What’s something you’ve noticed regarding people’s perception of masculine and feminine traits?
People’s Perception of Masculine and Feminine Traits
Dr. AJ: It’s so interesting that you phrased it that way. Traits and energies don’t actually have gender. Over time, the stereotypes which have been created over the evolution of our society have led people to categorize certain traits as masculine and feminine, even if they have nothing to do with your gender expression.
By using those 2 labels, we actually end up falsely dichotomizing traits and energies that shouldn’t be dichotomized; they’re actually on a spectrum. That’s where a lot of our current leadership stereotypes come from. When a woman is being confident and assertive, she gets called the B-word. A man does the exact same thing, and he’s called a powerful leader.
Ruthie: I get that. You don’t get very far in the Army by being quiet and careful. You have to be bold. The one time somebody called me the B-word to my face was at basic training. That was the only time I could remember it, but I don’t doubt for one second that it got said behind my back.
The Problem With Assigning Gender to Traits
Dr. AJ: I was reading a very interesting article that pointed to the Inquisition and the Holy Wars. That’s apparently where women went from being more on an equal level with men, to becoming the symbols of status and property in Western society.
Our society has moved forward with this idea that women are the inferior or softer sex. But it really has nothing to do with gender. If you want to talk about strength, I want to see even one man be pregnant for one day.
Ruthie: And push one out.
Dr. AJ: I don’t even need you to do that! I just need you to go through one day of pregnancy. One day of your body stretching, of you creating life, receiving all of this energy and then channeling it out for the purpose of creation, literally going through crisis and trauma with a smile on your face, while you manage the rest of your household.
Ruthie: Right! Because your life does not stop at all. That’s the exact opposite of soft. These soft traits are a huge reason why women couldn’t be leaders of countries, CEOs, etc. Because we’re so “soft.”
Leadership Isn’t Inherently Masculine or Feminine
Dr. AJ: I actually have a little bit of a story to tell you. So I was researching for my program, and I came across this really well-known major site that talked about masculine and feminine traits. Their “feminine” had: empathy, nurturing, fluidity, softness, openness, devotion, compassion. The first trait of their “masculine” was leadership. Girl I went off.
Ruthie: Get out of here! No!
Dr. AJ: I emailed them and went off.
Ruthie: I think we need an open letter!
Dr. AJ: I’m in the process of doing that too! But I was just like, “I’m sorry, what are you telling me? That nurturing, collaboration, receptiveness and all of those are exclusively feminine traits?”
Let’s Call Them Essential Skills
Ruthie: That’s just leaning into your soft skills, which they say leaders need.
Dr. AJ: Right! And let’s not even call them soft skills. They’re essential skills
Ruthie: Your EQ skills.
Dr. AJ: Exactly. When you look at the data, you actually see that women who are leaders far outperform men exactly because of these “soft skills”, that are supposed to be “innate.” Whereas for men, it’s supposed to be out of their realm of understanding and they have to “train”. No, these are human traits.
Ruthie: This also does a disservice to men. Someone could say, “Oh, you’re not intuitive because you’re a man.”
Dr. AJ: Or that you don’t understand collaboration because you’re a man, and you’re going to turn everything into a competition. Some of my biggest role models in leadership have been men who leaned into that collaborative nature, consensus-building, understanding and realizing their own stereotypes, prejudices, and affinity biases. Men who consciously and conscientiously stepped out of those to say, “I’m going to keep my mouth shut. I want you to talk.”
Ruthie: It takes a lot of inner knowledge for something like that.
We’re a Blend of Both
Dr. AJ: The labels that we, as Western society, have put on these traits are misleading. We need to start realizing that. We also need to start realizing that we’re a balance of both of them. In fact, a neuroscientist out of Tel Aviv in Israel did 1400 brain scans.
What they found was that when you look at these traits, only 8% of the human population is purely masculine or purely feminine. The rest of the population is actually a mosaic. It’s a blend.
Ruthie: It’s definitely very harmful to your development. So I have 3 boys and 1 girl. Even before my daughter was born, we were very careful about saying certain things around the boys.
Start ‘Em Young
We never said x color is for boys and x color is for girls, or phrases like “You throw like a girl”. But kids have outside influences, and they pick up on things that you don’t even realize they pick up on. My oldest is Dwayne, and then there’s Cameron and Christopher.
So Dwayne told Cameron he was “throwing like a girl”, because he’d heard it in elementary school.
I said, “What does it mean to throw like a girl?”
And he’s like, “Oh, he just didn’t throw that well.”
And I told him, “Okay, but if you throw it right now, I would probably throw it better than you and I’m a…?”
He says, “Oh, you’re a girl.”
I said to him, “We’re all good at different things, and not being good at something doesn’t make it a girl thing. I could still beat you in a foot race! Am I running like a girl?”
Now that he’s a little older, it’s interesting to hear Cameron say something, and Dwayne will be like, “Oh no, that’s not a girl thing.”
Dr. AJ: He is the wise sage.
Ruthie: I know. Oh my goodness! When he says stuff like, “When I was younger.” You’re eight.
How Do You Help Clients Balance These Traits?
Ruthie: Let’s say you’re taking on a new client and this person has repressed certain traits because they were told that they were not appropriate traits for them to have. Is there a first step for someone who wants to embrace all of themselves after years of denying one or several aspects?
Dr. AJ: That’s a really, really deep question. Thank you for asking that. I’ll say 2 things about this. One is that, overall as a society, we have over-conditioned people to lean into the masculine. When women are asked about what it means to be an executive leader, 62% of African American women, 52% of Latino women and 53% of Asian women will say it’s conforming to white male leadership ideals.
Lack of Confidence is Learned in Many Women
KPMG came out with an amazing longitudinal study on this, where they studied over 3000 women. What they found out was that the real reason women lack confidence is because it’s literally indoctrinated out of them by the time they enter college. Because women are taught to be nice, agreeable, and submissive.
What I find in my practice is that women don’t actually have a problem leaning into these so-called masculine traits. Women don’t have a problem with their confidence. They don’t have a problem being assertive. It’s the labels that are put on them when they do so, even while they’re expected to.
The real problem is that men don’t have enough barriers. Men don’t have the same standards. While we expect women to do 250% to be seen 50%, white men especially can do 25% and be seen 100%.
When I take on a client who wants to balance their traits, the first thing I do is understand where they are right now. I find out what ways they think they’re holding themselves back, and in what ways they are actually holding themselves.
Then, it’s some really deep, intentional, strategic mindset work to break through those barriers. Every person has this within them. I’m not creating any of this stuff out of the ether because of magic. I’m just helping you Marie Kondo your mind.
Ruthie: That’s actually an excellent way to put it! We’ve got to shine a light on all this stuff, and what’s not serving you has got to go.
Dr. AJ: Keep what serves you. Unpack what doesn’t serve you, thank it for however it did show up in your life, and then just let it go.
Ruthie: Wow, that is an excellent way to end this episode. Mic drop.