My eldest daughter and I were lucky enough to be able to crew for the incredible Joanna Martin at her recent One Woman Conference. Jo is a woman with a clear purpose, having created her new company One of Many which aims to help women become the shift they wish to see in the world. Her conference is a space to help them to begin that journey, learning more about their feminine, or ‘soft’ power and how to use it.
It was a transformative weekend for many of the women who attended the event and I felt very privileged to be a small part of creating the environment which allowed that to happen.
I also found it very thought provoking for me personally as it got me thinking about ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ power.
I confess, I’m not very comfortable with all women environments – in many respects I prefer the company of men and always have done. And certainly at University and in my chosen career there weren’t many other female foresters – I learned to become ‘one of the lads’.
In my village where we live just now there’s a tendency to segregation; the girls have a night out, the lads have a night out, and it’s rare that it feels a truly ‘mixed’ evening. At one point I understood it as a childcare practicality, but these days I realise culturally it runs deeper than that – and in honesty frustrates the hell out of me!
I’m making big generalisations here but on a night out with the girls the conversation often ends up around common shared experience -a kind of mutual reassurance and outpouring of emotional frustration or joy, for example kids, schools, partners and experiences that evoke emotions (books, films etc).
A night with the lads may touch on some of this but only in small doses, and there’s much more in the head space – ideas, opinions, stories about things that push boundaries, banter.
I’ve learned I need both to meet my social needs; too much of either can leave me feeling frustrated or incomplete, but with too much all female company I find I can end up feeling burdened, stifled and without perspective. This is my issue however, not the fault of my girlfriends!
I do have a few very close, and very valued girl friends – but there are men in my life I count as equally close and valued, and whose company I enjoy. Most of all my husband, whom I have always counted as my best friend – there’s no-one I’d rather have a night out with than him!
For many women, I understand that it may take an all-female environment for them to feel safe and empowered enough to step into who they truly are, but I know that’s not true for me. Quite the contrary – I think this goes back to quite early social experiences, which made me feel safer and more accepted for who I am in the company of men.
This is my own, very individual experience, rather than some spurious universal ‘truth’ (I realise others may well have a very different experience), but over the years the individuals who’ve hurt me most, emotionally and physically, and who I’ve often witnessed hurting others – sometimes with real ‘witchhunt’ fury have all, bar one, been women.
With maturity and the perspective that hindsight can bring I understand the insecurity and vulnerability which led them to behave in that way, but I realise now it has led me to form some unconscious beliefs and assumptions about the differences between men and women.
So, by the end of the One Woman Conference weekend, rich as it was, I was really craving the company and perspective of men – I wanted more yang as well as yin!
However, what the whole experience has led me to have more clarity about is that yes, there are differences between men and women – just as I’m different to the woman next door, or my husband is different to David Cameron (thank goodness).
But there are also huge similarities – we are all human being with strengths, vulnerabilities, insecurities.
The key is being able to embrace and accept who we really are rather than conforming to a ‘norm’, or how someone else believes we should be, to know that we’re good enough and to know how to play to our strengths, focussing on what we have rather than what we don’t have.
So now I’m having a good hard look at my own generalisations, assumptions and previously unconscious beliefs about the differences between men and women and trying instead just to see the individuals before me for the human beings they are.