On being a feminine leader

Yes, that’s right. I said “feminine leader,” not “female leader.”

Why is it that people expect leaders of either gender to think/look/act as though they are men?

 

Photo Credit: anicaps le forum via Compfight cc

Someone once sent me a Facebook picture saying, “I’m tired of Christian women leaders looking like men. This is how I would like a woman leader to appear.” The picture was of a very beautiful, very feminine lawyer. But there was such strength, courage and determination in her face. My response to it was, “Yes! A woman can be feminine and strong. She can be the kind of woman that men open the doors for, but yet be a leader in her own right. God has female (feminine) leaders and warriors.”

We tend to stereotype the genders–men are strategic, logical, strong. Women are relational, intuitive, creative. Many of us know people who don’t fit the stereotypes. (I, myself, think logically and strategically–I’m not sure if that’s by nature or because of my medical training). But we assume that men will carry one type of role and women another because of these characteristics.

Many assume that better leadership is more masculine. So women leaders, whether in business or on the Christian conference platform often dress like men and perform like men.

I think this is sad. Women can be feminine leaders. They can look attractive, be creative and intuitive, and still be strong leaders.

What do you think?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://withthekids.wordpress.com/ April Karli

    First of all, I wonder what “Christian women leaders who look like men” the person was talking about? I just can’t think of any off the top of my head who look like men. Not in the evangelical world, anyway…there aren’t that many Christian woman leaders out there, honestly.

    Second, I think there is a gender bias that women have to figure out in the workplace as well as in the church. For example, confidence is a positive trait in a man, but considered “overbearing” in a woman. Yet, if a woman isn’t confident, she’s viewed as incompetent. I find men, esp in the church, try to rescue me or fix my problems rather than coach me through them. They call me “dear” as if I’m their daughter. I doubt a man would receive the same treatment. But if I make myself more “masculine” that’s a bad thing, too. It’s a double-edged sword.

    I resonated with this article from earlier this year: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/women-work-and-the-art-of-gender-judo/2014/01/24/29e209b2-82b2-11e3-8099-9181471f7aaf_story.html

    • felicitydale

      April, that is an excellent article that you mention. And I identify with the dilemma. As we transition to the place where women are regarded equal to men in the work of the Kingdom, I think we’ll see this kind of discussion more and more.

  • unkleE

    In the New Testament, leaders are supposed to be servants. Jesus taught it quite clearly (“If you want to be great you must be the servant of all” Matt 20:26, see also Matt 23:11), and he exemplified it.

    This unstated but implicit model of a strong ‘presidential’ leader we see in so many churches is quite contrary to Jesus, and also to the NT doctrine of ‘the priesthood of all believers’.

    We also need to remember that we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit in making decisions.

    So those supposedly male attributes of strength, logic and decisiveness may be quote contrary to Jesus-style leadership, if they are exercised wrongly. Whether a leader is male or female, they need to be prayerful, dependent on the Spirit, walking the talk, part of a team where the different gifts (both strength and gentleness, intuition and logic) are recognised and exercised, and humble.

    Bring it on!

    • felicitydale

      Amen!!! I strongly agree

  • Mandy

    Nooooo!!!!!! Please NO!!! Stop already with this “feminine” and “masculine” nonsense, because that’s what it is. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. There is no such thing. God created male and female. “Feminine” and “masculine” are human constructs that have no bearing on any individual’s identity. They are a collection of traits that someone somewhere in some culture has decided should apply to all women or all men, and they constrict and restrain individuals from being simply who they are. I’m really shocked to see such a notion on this blog. Holding doors, dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, what rubbish. Any given woman -or man- ought to be able to be who she (or he) is without having to fulfill any cultural mandate. If a woman has traits considered to be “masculine,” ok, what of it? And if a man has traits considered by society to be “feminine” fine. Let them alone. Let people be who they are, period, without trying to force anyone into any box.

    • felicitydale

      I agree with most of what you say. I’ve often been told that I think like a man, and I’m very happy with that. What this post was trying to debunk (obviously with limited success) was the notion that women need to somehow lead with more typically male characteristics. Think of the kind of things that are said–even within church. For example, strong leadership in a man is considered a good thing, Strong women are accused of being rebellious, of usurping authority, of having a Jezebel spirit. That is nonsense! The characteristics more commonly associated with women need to be valued in leadership too–creativity and relationships. And I agree, if a man leads in a more sensitive way, this should be valued as well.

      However, Paul adapted to his culture. He became all things to all men that he might by all means save some. There are things in our culture that our spiritually neutral, and I, for one, appreciate it when my husband opens the door for me. I don’t regard it as a slap in the face to my leadership. It’s chivalry.

      • Mandy

        There are no “male” characteristics. That’s just saying “masculine” in another way. There are only HUMAN characteristics, any of which may apply to either/or men/women. Reactions to those characteristics may be unequal, but that doesn’t make the characteristics themselves gendered.

        Also I hate chivalry. If a man wouldn’t open a door for another man, then I don’t want him doing it for me. And I should (and do) feel quite capable of opening a door for a man. Kindness and consideration should be toward all people, not just unidirectional from men to women. The whole notion of “chivalry” itself is discriminatory toward women, being rooted in past ideas of female helplessness. For example, my ex husband used to make a big show of walking on the outside of the sidewalk, some ‘chivalrous’ behavior he’d been taught to do. However, when I’d walk behind him in the woods, he never thought to hold back a branch from slapping me in the face, or reaching back a hand to help me up/down if I was having trouble. He was ‘chivalrous’ but he wasn’t thoughtful. Guess that’s partly why he’s an ex.

        That’s the whole problem with stereotypes, whether traits or prescribed behaviors.They simply don’t hold water, and are artificially restrictive. By all means enjoy it if your husband is thoughtful toward you. But I would hope it is because he really is being thoughtful, and not just mindlessly performing an action because he (and you) have been taught it’s somehow “masculine.”

        • felicitydale

          I guess I don’t have a problem with men and women being different. I studied medicine (I’m a physician by background) and not only are we anatomically different, nearly every body system is different. We obviously have a different endocrine system (hormones), but other systems are different too. For example, our skeleton is different. Our musculature is different. When I studied diseases, I had to learn the different rates that diseases occur in men and women.

          Are there differences between men and women? Yes. I have no problem with those differences. What I do have a problem with is when those differences are used to create a hierarchy, or when they’re used to prevent women from doing and being everything God has commanded them. Or when they produce stereotypes that people are expected to conform to.

          Paul conformed to the culture of his time in order to save others. While I don’t feel a need to have a door opened for me, I don’t see it as demeaning when a man does that for me. I appreciate it. But I’d as willingly hold open the door for him.

        • felicitydale

          I guess I don’t have a problem with men and women being different. I studied medicine (I’m a physician by background) and not only are we anatomically different, nearly every body system is different. We obviously have a different endocrine system (hormones), but other systems are different too. For example, our skeleton is different. Our musculature is different. When I studied diseases, I had to learn the different rates that diseases occur in men and women.

          Are there differences between men and women? Yes. I have no problem with those differences. What I do have a problem with is when those differences are used to create a hierarchy, or when they’re used to prevent women from doing and being everything God has commanded them. Or when they produce stereotypes that people are expected to conform to.

          Paul conformed to the culture of his time in order to save others. While I don’t feel a need to have a door opened for me, I don’t see it as demeaning when a man does that for me. I appreciate it. But I’d as willingly hold open the door for him.