WE encourage men to get in touch with their feminine side, but we don’t like it the other way around — when women get in touch with their masculine side.
Traits we accept in men — ruthlessness, ambition, single-mindedness — we disapprove of in women, which may explain the unequal distribution of power between the sexes, despite gender equality legislation.
So what do we think of women who have made it in arenas of masculinity? Do we admire them, scorn them, fear them? Rebekah Brooks emerged as one of the three bad ‘guys’ in the Hackergate scandal, along with Papa Murdoch and Baby Murdoch. Does this make Brooks (who incidentally adopted her husband’s name) an example of female ‘masculinity,’ a lone woman at the top of the cut-throat world of tabloid media? Her achievements are exceptional.
In 2000, at the News of the World (NOTW), she became the youngest ever editor, male or female, of a British national newspaper, before moving to the Sun in 2003. Until her resignation, she was chief executive of News International. Apart from Geraldine Kennedy at the Irish Times, women editors — Anna Wintour comes to mind, as does Tina Brown — are at the harmless magazine end of things.
So what made Brooks succeed? Did she ape men, with chest-beating and psychopathic behaviour? Apparently not. All we know about Brooks is two things: huge ambition and huge charm. Apart from those furious NOTW employees, people seemed to like her.
Even a natural ‘enemy’ like Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Mirror, has praised her people skills: “She encourages you to feel that you’re on her team, you’re on her side. She’d say ‘What should I do about this? How would I handle that?’ And, of course, once you’ve given that kind of advice, you are much less likely to be critical,” he said.
Another natural ‘enemy,’ John Prescott, whose wife Pauline suffered at the hands of the NOTW when they discovered she had given a baby up for adoption, has described her as “reasonable and professional”. Perhaps the only time Brooks ever demonstrated overtly ‘masculine’ behaviour was when she thumped her first husband, Ross Kemp, after a night out (interestingly, she never called herself Rebekah Kemp) and was arrested for assault.
One argument is that when women succeed in a masculine environment, they betray their femininity by harnessing their masculine ‘side’, thereby propping up patriarchy. Research suggests that if women want to get ahead, they must employ characteristics considered ‘male’ — because that’s where all the power is.
“Masculinity in this society invariably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege,” writes Judith Halberstam in her book Female Masculinity. “It often refers symbolically to the power of the state and uneven distribution of wealth.”
According to research from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, it is the ability to mix assertiveness, aggression and confidence with a knowledge of when to turn on the charm that is the successful combination (and which seems to describe Brooks perfectly). According to the research, the most successful women “were able to be chameleons, to fit into their environment by assessing social situations and adapting their actions accordingly.”
By being able to “simultaneously present themselves as self-confident and dominant while tempering these qualities with displays of communal characteristics” they fly ahead.
Along with enormous intellect, this could also describe Hillary Clinton, although, unlike Brooks, she has steered clear of controversy. But what about the most patriarchal woman, Margaret Thatcher? Remember those Spitting Image puppets of her using the men’s urinal as her cabinet members quaked around her in terror? Although slapstick, it defined the former PM’s stance on gender — she gave over-compensation a bad name.
Thatcher perceived herself as deeply feminine. “The woman’s mission is not to enhance the masculine spirit, but to express the feminine,” she said. “Hers is not to preserve a man-made world, but to create a human world by the infusion of the feminine element into all of its activities.”
So where were all the women in her government?
Thatcher not only propped up the patriarchy, she became it — she was the only PM since the war not to appoint a single female cabinet minister.
When she said things like “in politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman,” the only woman she was referring to was herself.
IN JON Ronson’s latest book The Psychopath Test, he says that 4% of the population are psychopaths — that is, utterly unable to feel empathy. This means that many psychopaths either end up in jail or secure mental institutions, or running countries and giant business empires.
“Being powerful is like being a lady,” Thatcher once said. “If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” She also said that she “owed nothing to Women’s Lib.” Hmmm. It would be interesting to see how she would have scored on the scientific rating used to denote psychopathy. We’ll never know.
Queen Elizabeth II, whose mutual antipathy with Thatcher was well-known, is the female head of a patrilineal institution. She is popular, with her nice hats and overt femininity, yet all around her are subjugated men. Both her consort and her son are less important or respected than her (just as Denis and Mark Thatcher were always figures of mild derision), and she shows no sign of stepping down so that Charles can step up. Also, despite the nice hats, many decades ago she put her job before her children, leaving her babies at home as she went on extended royal tours; but was this masculinised behaviour, or the aristocratic norm of the time? Perhaps both. Although, given that she was born into it, she definitely wasn’t doing her job for the money.
Money is what often motivates, as well as power. In a study of 5,603 men and women entitled Does It Pay To Be Nice, from the Institute for Employment Research in Nuremberg, the answer was a resounding ‘no’. Alpha females earn on average £40,000 more during their working lives than women colleagues deemed ‘passive’ or ‘neurotic’, or, heaven forfend, ‘nice’.
“Personality traits can have the same impact on earnings as intelligence,” says the study’s author Guido Heineck. “Being nice does not pay for women, whereas working hard does. This is probably, in part, because agreeable people are too passive in conflict situations and are poorer wage negotiators. Traditionally, women are more passive and likeable at work. This shows that to be successful in the workplace, women have to adapt to more alpha male-like behaviour.”
So to the ultimate alpha female, Madonna, the woman Professor Camille Paglia once referred to as “the future of feminism.” Even her body has become masculinised — to get on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2008, her upper body muscle had to be airbrushed out.
But unlike Thatcher, Brooks and the Queen, who would all doubtless be horrified to be identified as anything other than entirely feminine, Madonna has always played around with gender, cross-dressing and dragging-up as well as projecting a predatory female sexuality.
Such is her penchant for playing around with masculine imagery that an academic paper has been written on her subversion of what constitutes femininity — Re-inventing the Phallus: Madonna and Female Masculinity, written by two researchers from the Universities of Durham and Liverpool.
The only time she has ever projected a ‘softened’ and more feminised image was around the birth of her first child, which coincided with her discovery of spirituality, at the time of her Ray Of Light album.
But despite Madonna’s masculinisation, unlike Brooks, Thatcher and the Queen, she is set apart by her devotion to one aspect of womanhood which is impossible to masculinise — being a mother. Brooks has no kids, the Queen and Thatcher were coolly hands off, but Madonna — man-eating, world-ruling Madonna — is a very soppy, engaged, nurturing mum.
What is most striking about this female masculinity thing is the double standard — it’s encouraged for men to be assertive, aggressive, ambitious, but when women do it, it’s awful, unnatural, horrid.
But how do we change the dominant model, rather than apeing it?
OTHER notable women who’ve succeeded in a man’s world include rapper Missy Elliot, the only female rapper with six platinum albums, chef Angela Hartnett who started her career with Gordon Ramsay and has reached the top of her profession with Michelin-star rating and an MBE, indomitable sporting executive Karren Brady who famously was appointed managing director of Birmingham City Football Club at 22 years of age and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s prime minister and the world’s first openly gay leader.