Not Just a Man’s World

Most of the world SEEMS to operate on the notion that women are secondary citizens to men. Will women follow these rules forever? One writer thinks NOT.

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Okay, so, recently I went to one of those “Women In Leadership” conferences in China. The attendees were about 90% Chinese and 10% expat. It was truly an amazing experience to spend time with all of these successful, powerful women.

But there was one thing I couldn’t help but notice while there. While most of the Western women there were very masculine in how they dressed and behaved, the Chinese participants were still quite feminine. Western women wore power suits (even if they had skirts), and Chinese women dressed in bright, colorful clothing. More surprisingly, many of the Chinese women acted stereotypically feminine: they giggled with each other, comparing hair or discussing make-up and clothing.

Most telling were the reactions of the Western women, including myself. The behind-the-back gossiping among our small group was almost non-stop: “Look at them, they’re acting like little school girls, not like professionals!” or “How would she expect to be taken seriously if she dresses like that?” Of course, we knew better. “Someone really needs to teach these women how to be more professional,” we proposed.

Why is it that when I go out to a bar, I have no problem with my female side, yet in a professional environment, I suddenly feel like I have to act like a man? Why do men get to define what is professional and then we women simply have to accept it and act like them?

I have to admit that I was initially a part of the discussion. I, myself, would never wear a flowery qipao to a business meeting and I’d generally model my behavior on what is expected of males in a professional environment. I don’t think men would be giggling, comparing hair styles or clothing. If I want to be taken seriously, then I shouldn’t either.

Later, I started meeting and talking with these Chinese women. Some of them were CEOs of their own businesses, making tens of millions of dollars a year; a few of them were on lists of the wealthiest people in China.

In short, they are the women to whom successful businessmen—with their tailored suits and professional conduct—come begging for opportunities.

One particular discussion struck me heavily.

I was talking with one Chinese executive, who specifically asked me why I dressed in such plain clothes. “You’re a beautiful woman. Why don’t you dress to show that?” she asked me. She questioned whether this was how I dressed all the time. I told her of course it wasn’t. Most of the time, I dressed and acted in a very feminine manner (at least you guys know the real me!).

As I spent more time observing these behaviors at the conference, there was a big shift in my own perspective. Instead of looking down on them as unprofessional, I actually came to feel some jealousy that they’ve been able to achieve high positions and power without feeling like they have to act like a man in order to do it. They’ve achieved power on their own terms, as women, and retained their femininity in doing so.

What’s all of this got to do with Dongguan’s favorite party girl?

Freedom! Liberation! Regardless of whether we are male or female, we should feel free to act natural, as ourselves.

Why is it that when I go out to a bar, I have no problem with my female side, yet in a professional environment, I suddenly feel like I have to act like a man? Why do men get to define what is professional and then we women simply have to accept it and act like them?

Beginning today, I’ve made a promise to myself: I’m going to bring more of the “real Lulu” into my professional life. I flaunt my femininity outside of work, so why should I be afraid of being seen as feminine at work, too?

Category Glitterbomb