Let it be known that I completely agree with that idea that a double-standard exists regarding aggressive/assertive women at work. You know: an assertive woman is labeled aggressive (and then the B word) but an assertive male isn’t. As an assertive woman who has been called the B word more than once, I completely resonate with the unfairness of that label.
Let me also point out, however, that the reverse is probably true. Men who are overly sensitive and emotional in a non-angry way probably tend to be labeled as soft. “Grow a pair”, “get a backbone”, and “girlie men” come to mind. Women are rarely criticized in this manner.
So it seems to me that the issue is when someone acts outside the expected behavior of their gender. It’s not so much a female stereotype issue but rather expectations about gender roles in general.
I spent most of my life trying to conform to the expectations of others, and I can tell you that it’s neither healthy nor fun. I do not recommend that we change who we are for the purpose of making others feel at ease. Nor do I recommend that we force our style upon others, constantly challenging them to accept us on our own terms.
Aristotle once said that wisdom means finding the optimum balance. Admittedly, part of my assertive self was more about my belief that I must be assertive in a man’s world. However, at work that belief came at the expense of my feminine, soft side. I’ve since learned that I can be both feminine and assertive and that combination tends to make me more effective and accessible to others. Not that I’ve found the right balance yet given the feedback I still sometimes get…
So during our discussions about improving gender role expectations, perhaps those of us who sometimes go too far can find the yang to our yin and find a more effective balance. Who knows? Maybe bringing both our yin and yang to the table will help us move the agenda forward in a way that respects others and our authenticity alike.