Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Women on Top: Navigating New Gender Roles from the Boardroom to the Bedrooms

The ongoing debate of changing gender roles came up while on a Tahoe ski trip with my girlfriend Mazz.  As progressive women, we had braved the blizzard and the icy roads successfully. To congratulate ourselves we stopped in a German lodge to warm ourselves by the fire and drink spiced alcoholic beverages.  Unfortunately, our nightcap pit stop resulted in our car getting stuck in a snowdrift.  Not knowing how to get the car unstuck, Mazz wanted to call our male friends for help.  I thought aloud, “If I can punch a boxing bag for an hour then I can probably push the car out myself.”  Thus while Mazz manned the wheel, I heaved the car out of the snow and onto the road.  When I got back in the car, muscles strained, she looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You do realize that you have a penis right now, don’t you?”

I deftly checked.  I was still a girl, but now confused.  Can’t women be strong and still feminine?  Or are we completely taking over men’s roles, reducing them to a status of a playground toy as we conquer the world?

“The End of Men” is explored in a Ted Talk by Hanna Rosin. According to the talk, American women have finally exceeded men in the number of college degrees, managerial titles and earning potential.  Estrogen, once a word for the ‘weaker’ sex, now indicates the ‘successful’ sex.  As first world countries morph to prize brains over brawn, women are not just on equal footing, they may be a step ahead.

I shared this with an ex-colleague and her response was, “Finally, we are the same as men.”

This comment troubled me.   Just because I can push a car out of a ditch doesn’t mean I have the desire to be the same as my male counterparts.   I belong to the ‘Equal, But Different,’ feminist camp and hope that high paychecks or defined biceps doesn’t instantly change my genitalia.

In fact, as women move up corporate ladders, I hope that it is in high heels and bright lipstick.  Boardrooms are best balanced with both male and female thought processes and dress codes.  If we want to be powerful as women, it won’t be by mimicking men wearing androgynous pantsuits; it will be by reveling in our feminine strength.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with my line of thinking.  When I first started working as a management consultant an advisor warned me against looking too girly in corporate settings.

“You are going to have a hard time being taking seriously,” he said.  “You are a leggy blond and leggy blonds don’t do data analysis.  Maybe you should put on some pants,” he remarked pointing to my skirt.

Another woman told me to dye my hair black.  “People need to see you as non-sexual.”  I could wear a burlap bag, I suppose, but that would go against everything I believed in.

Women should be able to rise to the top as strong, smart, AND sexy.  Private equity chief Lynn Tilton is a superb example of someone who has.   She runs an $8 billion dollar business and dresses in leather jumpsuits and 5 inch stilettos.  In The Wall Street Journal she was quoted as saying, “I am all woman….Sometimes it makes men uncomfortable, sure. But in business and in life, I have to remain faithful to my inner truth.”

Counter to Rosin’s talk, I hope that that strong, sexy women like Tilton will give men a run for their money, encouraging them to be smarter and even more masculine.  Perhaps it is not the “End of Men” but the “Betterment of Men?”

A friend of mine, Sue, is a successful entrepreneur and athlete.  She used to play collegiate sports and now manages financial spreadsheets.  However, even though she can palm a basketball and perform revenue projections, she still wants to feel girly in relationships.  Unlike the non-sporty type, she just has a slightly higher bar.  And by that I mean a pull up bar.   The metal rod is prominently featured in the entryway of her house.  “My boyfriend needs to be able to do twice as many as me! I do not want to have the bigger muscles…” Her boyfriend also needs to be successful as well; strong women need strong men to back them.  Sue told me, “He gives great advice and knows what I am going through because he went through it himself.”  In romantic relationships each sex wants to be challenged and supported regardless if they are bringing home the bacon or cooking it that night.

Women, stay women, and wear leather if you like.  And men, it’s time to man up.  We may be on top right now, but the game is always more interesting when we keep rotating positions.

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