Feminine, Feminist, and Things Between

Sheryl Sandberg Time cover

Few weeks ago, a renowned multinational company visited Lancaster University for a talk show. They ran a session titled „Women in Business and Technology“, which was delivered by a female staff of IT division in the company. Out of curiosity, I attended the talkshow in the hope of getting more insight about this interesting topic.

The presenter opened her speech with a ‘TED talk’ video from Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and  former Vice President of Google. Sandberg is a well-known example of succesful female leader in male-dominated technology business, and yes, her TED talk was truly inspiring. There were some thought-provoking, self-reflecting bits in her speech that will make professional career women feel like, “me too!”

According to Sandberg, the biggest obstacle in women’s career advancement is actually their ownselves, not society. It is their own perception, their personal attitude, that pull them back from ‘climbing to the top’. Well I won’t talk much about Sandberg’s idea here (you can read her fenomenal book: “Lean In”), instead I want to highlight Sandberg’s portrayal as a woman that can “have both”: succesful family and career.

Sandberg, in my opinion, doesn’t respresent an image of ‘dominant-masculine woman’ one might associate when talking about female leaders. The way she talked and behaved (in her speech and interviews) look surprisingly feminine. I don’t know her daily routine as Facebook big boss of course, but looking into fact that she’s happily married with two children and still manage to reach the top of corporate ladder—that was incredibly outstanding achievement.

Sheryl Sandberg Time cover
Sheryl Sandberg Time cover

I have always admired those highly-achieved women who never forget their womanly nature. For me they are truly feminists: proponents of feminism that doesn’t neglect their femininity. These two terms, eventhough they are derived from the same root, seem to have been contrastly associated in the past decades.

Feminism initially emerged as an effort to bring women into equality with men. However, on its way it turned out to be something that try to change women into the exact-same creature as men. This so-called ‘third-wave feminism’, for instance, has been gone too far by trying to re-define gender role and promote queer theory. Perhaps this is what Soekarno, Indonesian founding father, stated as ‘excessive feminism’. Here is the quote from his book about women and feminism, Sarinah (1963).

“Lagipula, tidakkah kita melihat ekses (kelewat batasan) pergerakan feminisme di Eropa itu, yang mau menyamaratakan saja perempuan dengan laki-laki, dengan tak mengingati lagi, bahwa kodrat perempuan memang tidak sama dengan kodrat laki-laki? Maksud feminisme yang mula-mula baik, yakni persamaan hak antara perempuan dan laki-laki, maksud baik itu dilewati batasannya dengan mencari persamaan segala hal dengan kaum laki-laki: persamaan tingkah laku, persamaan cara hidup, persamaan bentuk pakaian, dan lain sebagainya. Kodrat perempuan diperkosa, dipaksa, disuruh menjadi sama dengan kodrat laki-laki.”

“Moreover, didn’t we see an excess in European feminist movement—that wanted to generalise women with men, without ever considering that women’s nature is indeed different with men’s? The initial decent purpose of feminism, which is equality of right between men and women, was being excessed by trying to emulate men: in behaviour, way of life, dressing, and so on. Women’s inherent nature is raped, forced, and demanded to be exactly the same with men.” (Soekarno, 1963)

In line with Soekarno’s argument, actually this wave of ‘excessive feminism’ is somewhat counterproductive. I mean, if to be a feminist you have to abandon all those femininity—then isn’t it the same with acknowledging that masculinity is way more superior? That femininity equals weakness? That to be regarded as ‘capable’ human being you must embrace manly behaviours?

Radical feminists act as if they feel so ashamed to be born as a woman, that they want to get rid all those feminine features and achieve full gender neutrality. Sorry, radical feminists. I’m not ashamed of being a woman. I’m proud that I have this tiny curvy figure, that I have privilege from God to give birth to a human’s soul, that I have this extra emotion and empathy, that I’m a complete female creature with all its plus and minus.

During two terms study in Lancaster University I have met many amazing professional-business women through various seminars, projects and interviews. Among them are female manager of top beverage company in UK, a mother and daughter who started their own online business, a pair of sisters that owned their woodcraft company—they are all great women entrepreneurs and I’m pretty sure they never feel the need of eliminating their femininity to reach those achievements.

Well, I know somehow it’s easier to be said than to be done. Gender bias in professional environment does still exist, especially in third-world countries like Indonesia. When I worked in electronic company and participated in trade shows, somehow the clients tend to be more convinced by my male colleague eventhough I knew and explained the product better (probably because it’s an electronic product that tend to be ’male-stuff’).

Even in developed countries, ‘glass-ceiling’ phenomenon still can be found. However, as Sandberg said, we should keep leaning in. And again, that doesn’t necessarily mean neglecting all of our feminine responsibility. We can, still, be a dedicated female leader in any area we choose without losing that ‘woman touch’.

You do not need to compromise your femininity in order to be a feminist. To be a strong and independent woman you don’t need to look or act manly, throw cursing words, smoke or drink, avoid cooking for your family, refuse to have a baby—even you don’t have to be a career-working woman if you don’t want to. Embrace your femininity. Celebrate it. For it is a precious gift from God. For it is a quality you don’t need to feel ashamed of. For being equal doesn’t necessarily mean to be exactly the same.

God created everything in pair. Day and night. Hot and cold. Land and sea. Yin and yang. Masculinity and femininity. They are different, yet they are equal, and they complement each other. Isn’t that beautiful?

I am proud that I’m a woman, that I’m different from man, and that it doesn’t make me any less than man.

Lancaster, 27 March 2015.

Originally written for PPI UK column ‘Dare to Dream, care to Share’. Article can be seen here: http://ppiuk.org/feminine-feminist-and-things-between/

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