“Once upon a time, there were three kinds of human beings: male, descended from the sun; female, descended from the earth; and androgynous, with both male and female elements, descended from the moon. Each human being was completely round, with four arms and four legs, two identical faces on opposite sides of a head with four ears, and all else to match. They walked both forwards and backwards and ran by turning cartwheels on their eight limbs, moving in circles like their parents the planets (…) As they were powerful and unruly and threatening to scale the heavens, the gods met to discuss how they would deal with these circular attackers. Several suggested all-out slaughter. But Zeus said that humanity simply needed to be humbled, not destroyed. The gods decided to sever the humans in two. After the division in the two parts, each of the part was desiring its other half and started throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow again into one (..)”
(Aristophanes’ encomium in Plato’s Symposion 385–370 BC)
Fairy tales and myths often reveal forgotten truths. The scale of human cooperation between men and women is an evolutionary puzzle designed by norms, social stereotypes and cultural standards. It is said that society carries the individual as a river carries a boat. This is a pleasant comparison, but not exact. An individual does not float with the river but is the turbulently flowing river itself. In other words, the events of life do not come about by themselves; but created by ourselves. It is all a matter of perception.
In search of the origin of the terms ‘man and woman’, man obviously is the root, but the problem is that the word Man used to mean “person” or “someone”, and was gender neutral. People used “man” rather than “human” more than 300 years ago, to say “every person”. You could call anybody a man as long as they were human. Man is derived from Old English “mann”, or the earlier Proto-Indo-European word “mon” (or “man”). Old English word for woman, on the other hand, was “wif” or “wīfmann”. “Wif” obviously turned into modern “wife” and “wīfmann” became the modern word “woman”. In addition, the term ‘gender’, or gender psychology, according to the American Psychological Association, reflects the attitudes, feelings, and behaviours that a given culture associates with biological sex. The term “gender identity” is often conflated with sexual identity, but “gender” refers to whether a person is typically masculine and/or feminine as defined by their local culture.
Consequently, it seems we perform certain roles within a social, business or family group that can generate public opinion, and has the power to sharpen and polish the mind and shape the character and will. Through the group a person rises to the level of a personality. But what comes next is how we manage this vast group influence and allow the shadow of our gender define the quality of our being.
People -by nature- force their thinking and boundaries on men and women. They will tell you how to dress, how to behave, who you can meet and where you can go. Complacency and compromise with such perceptions is a bad counsellor and can lead to bad situations. We should not live in the shadows of people’s judgement. We should make our own choices in the light of our own wisdom. Our goal should be to develop social and work-life policies that enable people, regardless of their gender, to develop and put into practice their precious gender values and skills and not promote a life founded on a gender identity.
The trend for women in business is growing. Wrong! It is not a trend, it is an evolution. I’d prefer the word revolution. People nowadays know what’s possible and have started to realise how crucial it is to be part of a world where diversity and gender identity aren’t obstacles but the natural way of operating. Therefore, people increasingly invest valuable time on their mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing and search for ways to cultivate their interpersonal skills aiming to their self improvement and self development. Because it is no longer about being a strong woman or a strong man; it’s about being a person strong and resilient enough to challenge life. And if we want to speak about equality, a gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can simply be themselves and evolve to better selves. Gender presentation should reflect the person that you are; not vice versa. When you lose control of your personality, you lose an important aspect of your identity and existence.
It has been said that men and women are so opposed to each other and it seems as if they come from different planets – a claim that continues to entertain, but at the same time irritates. A typical example is John Gray’s original mega-selling book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’, first published in the early 1990s, sold millions, spawning numerous parodies with his deliberate exaggeration for a comic effect. If men and women at times seem to be from different planets, it may be because there are large differences in their personalities. But such enormous differences and divergences from the ‘gender standards’ are to be found both among men and among women. Food for thought! Surprisingly enough, recent studies show that about 18 percent of women share similar personalities with men, and 18 percent of men share similar personalities with women. The source of all life and knowledge is in both man and woman, and the source of all living is in the interchange and the meeting and mingling of these two.
One big advantage women and men offer the business world is that they have different sets of life and work experiences and thus different perspectives. This leads to different opinions, different preferences, and different strategies. In turn, this diversity allows decision-making to become more multi-dimensional and therefore more comprehensive. Examples that might remind your reactions:
- Have you ever noticed that men and women typically share and present differently in meetings? Women often will include more details in their decision making, and they will verbalize those details during meetings or in conversations.
- Women are far more likely than men to read facial expressions of people around them, take the emotional temperature of the room, and be sensitive to vibrations.
- Men are exceptionally good at focusing, getting rid of extraneous data, and pushing full steam ahead. Women are incredibly good at holistic thinking, contextualizing ideas, drawing new connections and identifying new factors.
- Men tend to be more dominant (forceful and aggressive) and emotionally stable, while women tend to be more sensitive, warm (attentive to others) and apprehensive.
- Women with their larger hippocampus, the part of the brain where we store memories, they can recall every single word of an argument from 5 years ago!
- Men take a more fact-based approach to their environment, often scanning for threats and challenges. They define and clarify the problem and begin by eliminating and isolating issues. This is why women want to talk out problems and men want to dive right into solving them.
Neither of these approaches is right or wrong, but they are different. Different is good! This is the main reason why we should pursue to have both men and women on teams, to leverage each other’s strengths and excel. Interpersonal relations, friendships, business collaborations, love affairs are nothing but the “pursuit of wholeness’. Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. No marriage or family is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose, respecting and relying upon each other’s strengths. An organisation can hardly succeed without women participating side by side with men embracing their own uniqueness and precede as though the limits of their ‘gender abilities’ do not exist.
A diverse society is an innovative society. Men and women inevitably have different experiences and backgrounds, which shape their approach to business and life in general. Challenging each other and collaborating with people who think differently can breed creativity and promote the innovative ideas that can push our world forward to a more pleasant and joyful life path.
You are more than a gender chosen by human nature; you are a personality, a priceless privilege that offers you the freedom to create, to shape and to develop day by day, minute by minute a precious self not a shadow self.