Being Feminine Does Not Equal a Bad Feminist

1 / 07 / 2016

By Esther Davies-Brown

This past week I have had a turnaround about my construction of feminism. In 2014 I graduated from Monash University with a major in Gender Studies, learning about the gender binary and polarising constructions of femininity and masculinity. For a long time I have struggled with the idea of balancing my femininity with my feminism. Still questioning and always learning, it is only in the past few weeks that I have accepted that my feminine qualities do not necessarily have to be negative qualities. Being feminine does not make me a bad feminist.

In March of 2014 I became the store manager of an International retail store on Chapel street in Prahran. A few months away from my twenty first birthday, I was nervous to take on such a big role with no experience other than standing behind a cash register at different Melbourne fashion labels for the previous four years. I was suddenly in charge of twenty-five employees (at least twenty of whom were older than me), finances, scheduling, the store’s performance and making sure that the store didn’t burn down. I held this role for two years, with my time as manager coming to a close at the end of this month. I still feel privileged to have been given this role, to be given the opportunity to grow as a leader at such a young age. In my final weeks as store manager, with the struggle between my femininity and feminism in mind, I have been reflecting on my leadership qualities as a woman in the workplace, and how femininity has impacted on my management style.

I am a serial apologiser. I often find myself saying “sorry” without even registering that I am saying it, it’s almost become as natural as “thank you” in my vocabulary. Women over-apologizing is a hot topic in the media, with the word “sorry” often being linked to femininity. Constantly apologizing is not a trait of mine that I like. I kick myself at the end of the day for how much I have apologized for my behaviour. Despite the fact I am not sorry all the time, being a proud feminist, and being a graduate in Gender Studies – I still can’t shake saying sorry. This is something that frustrates me as a manager, as I tend to undermine myself time and time again when apologizing for behaviour instead of being confident and assertive in my decisions.

In my professional and personal life, I would describe myself as a “pleaser”. I aim to please my family, partner, friends, employees, managers, everyone. I view this as feminine: being the carer, the nurturer. This quality is something that has carried over to my management style. In a workplace made up of 20-30 year olds, I became friendly with all the staff and attempted to create an open and relaxed workplace. When staff had an issue, my door was always open. I don’t know how my time as manager would’ve been different had I adopted a more conventional or ‘masculine’ approach. But I believe there were moments when being a carer and nurturer was imperative to my employees’ happiness and welfare.

Another prime example of my femininity in the workplace is the way in which I reprimanded staff. Despite attempting to create a friendly work environment, there were still times when I had to discipline staff. If a staff member forgot to arrive to a scheduled shift or overcharged a customer they would be brought into the office and issued a warning. Because of the dynamic that I had already created with most staff, when I did have to reprimand it was always taken in good spirit with the staff tending to say they were sorry that they had disappointed me if anything. I remained calm when issuing warnings, and was kind, letting the staff member know that they needed to improve. In this aspect of my job, I found that my feminine qualities once again were strong and positive leadership skills.

Overall, I believe that my success as a manager over the past two years was helped by my femininity. For better or for worse on some occasions, my feminine qualities helped me to lead in a position of power in the workplace. In a world where women are constantly challenged to fit a mold of masculine and feminine, I am only beginning to understand that i should not be ashamed of my femininity, and can use it as a strength in work and everyday life.

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