Fast track to femininity: Why competing with men has left women out of touch with their feminine side
Fast track to femininity: Why competing with men has left women out of touch with their feminine side
By ANNA PASTERNAK FOR MAILONLINE
Recently, the media has been awash with articles suggesting that career women are to relationships what garlic is to a vampire - the kiss of death. We're unable to sustain meaningful unions, apparently, because men are intimidated by our intellect, threatened by our higher earning potential and turned off by our controlling, capable, yet powerful personalities.
While this has been my personal experience - I was left by the father of my daughter (now nearly five) three years ago when I was the higher earner - I think that the issue goes far deeper.
It is more psychological than sociological.
The problem, I believe, is not so much with career women per se, but that women are increasingly out of balance with themselves and, therefore, with men. I know I am. In the past three years of being single, I have been on a handful of dates. Two years ago I went to dinner with a doctor who told me that I 'wasn't in touch with my femininity' as I 'didn't flirt or wear much make-up'.
His diagnosis also included the undeniable fact that I was in 'acute need of affection'.
The last straw came four months ago when I had dinner with a successful, high-profile entrepreneur who literally screamed at me that I was 'so in control it was scary' - although he did backtrack when I dropped my head towards my plate and started sobbing. As well as being hurt, I was shocked and outraged. What, I thought, had become of modern man's chivalry?
But later, I grudgingly reasoned, maybe he had a point - what had become of my femininity?
The difficulty for many of today's career women is that in order to compete with men, we've morphed into them. We've worked ourselves half to death in order to conquer the career ladder, yet in the process we've trampled our core femininity into the ground.
These days, as a single parent and sole breadwinner, I often feel more masculine than feminine.
Working full-time, making every decision, paying every bill, driving myself everywhere, booking tickets for holidays, lugging the Christmas tree in - it's all completely de-feminising.My friend Sophie, 46, who runs her own design company and is a single mother to two boys aged nine and 11, agrees. She has been single for six years, since her husband left her for another woman. Blonde, attractive and kind, she hasn't been on a date since he walked out.
'I have absolutely no idea how to be a woman any more,' she says. 'Because I run my business, my home and make all the decisions about the boys, I feel totally unfeminine. 'I'm terrified of dating as I have no idea how to behave. 'I would love a partner but I feel unattractive, untrusting, unsexy and completely alone.'
That, of course, is the crux for many of us.
We honestly believed that if we worked hard, we could have it all and more. Yet so many of us have ended up lonely, exhausted and broken-hearted, with far less of what we bargained for.
According to a Mintel report, 39 per cent of the adult population is single - that is 19 million people - and this is expected to rise to 41 per cent by 2011. Clearly, men and women are increasingly out of sync, and the key could be in learning to re-balance ourselves as women and reclaim our essential softness.
So I embarked on a psychological make-over to see if I could fast-track my femininity.
First, consultant stylist Kira Jolliffe, who runs a company called Wardrobe Woman, appraised my closet. Once she got over the shock of how few clothes I have, she immediately sussed that I 'compartmentalise' my wardrobe. I live in jeans and shirts to write and do the school run, wear nicer tops to work meetings and have a couple of dresses for going out. But as I rarely go out, the more elegant clothes hardly get worn.
She was correct in saying that I 'try to bring out my femininity for the occasion, as opposed to being feminine whatever the occasion'. My homework was to mix up my wardrobe, ditch my beloved chunky loafers and not save smarter clothes for some mythical special occasion.
'Femininity is about an internal experience with your self and clothes are about the external appearance,' she explained. 'But your clothes can be a tool to remind you of it; a way of tapping into the essence of who you are. 'This has nothing to do with showing cleavage, for example, as there is nothing less sexy than enforced femininity. Femininity is all about being relaxed with yourself.'
The problem for the career woman, according to Jolliffe, is that in the corporate world, women often use dress as an armour. They over-do their hair and make-up and then it becomes difficult to drop the armour, both sartorially and emotionally, for a date. 'But to equate femininity with florals and chiffon is childish and simplistic,' she cautioned. 'To suddenly wear floaty tops in the office smacks of trying too hard. 'WAGs, for example, are the antithesis of femininity because they reek of desperation. Artifice is the least sexy thing. Femininity is about authenticity.' After a week of trying to up my feminine ante by wearing nicer shoes and adding jewellery or a pretty top, I understand why Jolliffe insisted: 'If it feels false, don't do it.'
I spent the first day staggering around in a little skirt and heels, feeling ridiculous considering my life in the country. 'Sexiness is about getting the balance between the feminine and masculine with panache and confidence,' she had said. 'It's about being soignee, not overdone. It's about being vulnerable and empathetic without being a victim. 'But you need to be realistic about your sexual identity because being sexy isn't necessarily being feminine. 'My advice to career women is to get into the habit of rubbing really expensive body cream in after a bath. 'It's amazing how being at one with your body puts you more instinctively in touch with your physical self-esteem.'
The most valuable lesson I've gained has been to wear the clothes I enjoy, instead of saving them for best. Interestingly, I've had more comments on my appearance lately. I'm beginning to see that femininity is like a flower. Water it by paying attention and it will blossom.
Next, I went to see renowned cosmetic surgeon Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh.
Responsible for some of the most beautiful faces in the world, including Cindy Crawford, he is nicknamed the Botox King. He had just returned from Russia, where he took part in a documentary on the subject of women and femininity. 'Russian women don't have that hardness of women in England and America,' he said. 'They get their men because they are extremely feminine and they listen to their men, yet they are not regressive. They have managed to hold on to an old-fashioned prettiness. 'In contrast, most of the women I see in Europe have become warriors. They are feisty and aggressive. 'They see relationships as business transactions, and they treat dating the same way they climb the corporate ladder, which makes them look and seem hard.'
So can he help feminise a woman?
'My job is to make a woman look attractive to a man, but I cannot change her character. 'I can soften her looks, but I can't get a woman in touch with her soft side.'
But how do we do that?
'I think that it is difficult to be a woman today,' he adds. 'Our society is quite harsh, and if you want to enjoy the materialism, then you lose your soul. 'If women can stay away from their corporate brains, then they can tune into this softness and core values.'
Interestingly, Dr Sebagh says that his happiest clients are in their 50s and 60s. 'They are in touch with what matters in their life. They want men for companionship, not some lifestyle choice. 'They have souls and are far more authentic.
'Ironically, I believe that the credit crunch will force more women towards that authenticity because they will no longer be able to pretend that they are rich or successful. 'How can you find yourself if you are fake and pretending to be someone that you are not?' Some may consider Dr Sebagh's helping hand towards the appearance of softness fake in itself. However, when he administered Botox to me, the results were fantastic. Far from looking taut or frozen, I looked like me, only less worn and haggard. I look fresher - and because I look softer, I feel softer.
However, as both Kira Jolliffe and Dr Sebagh concur, the appearance of femininity is meaningless without the inner experience of it. Psychologist Jeff Allen, founder of Psychology of Vision, who coaches for relationship and business success, said: 'Independent women look like they are tough and have their acts together, which is appealing, but really they are well-defended because they don't want to get hurt or be vulnerable. 'But to be feminine, at some level you have got to be open. 'Being open allows connection, intuition and compassion-these are the feminine gifts.'
So how do we open ourselves up to our feminine energy, especially if we also want to survive career-wise in a male-dominated world?
'The feminine principle is about allowing things to unfold and happen, not always interfering. 'Career women think that they have to be in control to make it happen, but if they stop and tap into some kind of emotional intelligence and empathy, it makes them better problem-solvers.'
According to Allen, you cannot have true success or a successful relationship without the balance of masculine and feminine: 'The reason career women feel lonely within themselves and often have a deep sense of failure is because they are not connected to their hearts. 'I'm not saying career women should chuck it all away, but if they connect to things that really matter to them, if they start to appreciate little beautiful things every day - literally stop and smell the roses - then what they will have to offer will be really quite profound.'
Allen also says we must stop competing with men, especially in relationships, as competition is totally destructive.
Researching this article, I feel that I have undergone a subtle yet seismic change. I can see that being feminine is about allowing oneself to yield more and control less. Two nights ago, I went to dinner with a male friend, and for the first time in years I looked more feminine, acted more femininely and, crucially, felt more feminine. Not in a simpering way, but with a profound realization that being able to show vulnerability isn't a female weakness but a sign of a woman's strength.
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