Retaining Your Femininity in a Chauvinistic Environment

Happy International Women’s Day! I guess it is a good opportunity to discuss how to retain our feminity in a chauvinistic environment.

Truth be told, we live in a very chauvinistic environment. This is true for women generally and particularly true for Nigerian women. Chauvinism for most of us has become a daily experience that has seemingly blended so perfectly into our day to day interactions that many times, we even fail to identify or recognize it for what it is. We many times calmly shrug it off and sadly we have even in some cases come to expect it. When it is lacking, we feel extremely accomplished and exceptionally validated.

Can anyone on this platform identify with this?

Interestingly, chauvinism is not only experienced at the workplace, contrary to what some of us might assume. It stares us in the face everywhere! It starts from the home when the girl child is forced to sweat it out in the kitchen while the boy child is sweating it out with the play station…oops! I need to confess that I am partly guilty of this too. Do I have a partner in crime out here?

Has a danfo driver ever told you while you are behind the wheels and in a condescending manner too that you should go employ a driver and stop driving by force? That is even nicely put. Most times you hear with a hiss, “no wonder, she is a woman”

Chauvinism lurks in almost all the corners of our daily interactions. The schools, the churches or religious organizations. In the corporate world, it sits confidently, attempting to reign supreme. Lol. We shall however dethrone it!

How to achieve this lofty objective is embedded in the very theme of our discourse: retaining our feminism in the face of chauvinism.

Let us quickly examine by definition the two key words.
Femininity is a possession of a set of attributes, behaviours and roles generally associated with girls and women. It is perceived as a social construct which is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors.

Chauvinism on the other hand is a strong belief in the superiority of own gender or kind. A male chauvinist is therefore a man who believes that women are naturally less important, intelligent or able than men and as such does not treat men and women equally.

Many times we get into a work environment and unconsciously begin to prove that what a man can do, a woman can do even better. We strive not to be despised by virtue of our gender and try to beat the men at their game. We play the politics, we are visible, aggressive and committed. We work doubly harder than the guys because we just have this very important point to prove. I am equally good! I am up to the task! I have what it takes! We do all these by trying hard to think and act like the guys. What we forget often times is (in the words of Renee Weisman “women can thrive in a man’s world without having to change who they are” how very true this is!

I once in the very early years of my career worked with a law firm that had its office on the 17th floor of a high rise building on the Marina, right in the heart of Lagos. As far back as then (1993), power outages were common and the generator servicing the building malfunctioned often. As often as this occurred, I would climb to the 17th floor either to resume work or to return to my duty post after a court appearance. My sense of responsibility never permitted me to while away time elsewhere while hoping that the generator gets fixed and the rickety lifts used to ferry us upstairs and downstairs come to the rescue. By the time I got pregnant with my first child, I stopped, regardless of the fact that my male colleague continued. I chose to retain my femininity. I can hear someone sniggering and saying I should have continued.

If I ever thought my performance scores reduced by that decision, I became otherwise convinced when a senior lawyer next door who only employed men (even his secretary was a male) upon my request that a female youth corper friend of mine be allowed to observe her service year with his law firm agreed but on the condition that she works hard and as responsibly as I did.

We need to be mindful of the fact that while results matter, men and women get to the answers differently. You are therefore not expected to inject masculinity into your solutions. I once suggested to Management while heading the Marketing Department of a non-financial institution that as part of the drive to entrench customer loyalty and retain market share, we should deviate from the regular hampers delivered at festive seasons to occasional random delivery of very rich hampers of sanitary/toiletries/cleaning detergents/washing detergents etc. feminine as it appeared , the result was phenomenal as the ladies in the lives of these key officers personally called in some instances to tell us they considered the hampers more valuable than the regulars and they all applauded the THOUGHT VALUE that went into the particular items. Needless to say, we gained an inroad into the establishment of a more cordial relationship nicely cemented by the support being constantly drummed up for our organization even from the home front. A feminine approach delivered the needed results. Let us dare to acknowledge and celebrate with pride our femininity. Can we be realistic and post comments on how easy or difficult this can be in the workplace?

In closing, I want us to quickly touch on how we can consciously and deliberately retain our femininity:

  1. Leading but learning to delegate is a good way. That way work life balance will not be compromised. Learn the art of delegation. Remember you are not expected to abdicate in the process.
  2. Whatever your assignment is, learnt not to dis countenance the importance of your network. Deploy it all towards the achievement of your set objectives. Remember we are more relational. Don’t waste that wide network. It is an edge we have over the men. Put it to good use sis!
  3. Asking for what you want. Don’t sit in your little corner acting the victim. Get up and ask! The ladies in an organization I once worked for requested an additional toilet from management. We were in the minority but we still felt we were not given our fair share of allocation. Ask and it may just be given.
  4. Stepping up to difficult issues which is usually very difficult for us to do, given the fact that we are by nature nurturing. I remember insisting a staff who ignored a deadline must still deliver the assignment before closing for the day. We both had to stay back at work till midnight! Not wanting to drive that late, I put her in the same cab I called and first took her home before heading to my residence. That was my feminism coming to the fore.
  5. Balancing work and home and getting results yet not trying to be superhuman. I recently fixed an early morning Saturday meeting with two teams made up of seven men. The meeting held at my office and try as hard as I did, I was not able to be there on the dot of the agreed time. I breezed in late, apologized for my tardiness and sweetly reminded them I am the only one in the room in need of a few minutes to apply make-up. I told them That accounted for the few extra minutes spent awaiting my arrival. They took it well and out disappeared the trace of irritation I was feeling against me for not getting in before the almighty MEN!
  6. We need to build a community of like-minded women. Instead of competing unnecessarily, we should cooperate and complement more. We must do away with the notion that we can progress at the expense of another sister. Let us stop the War Against Women By Women. I was once denied a much deserved promotion to a managerial level on account of the fact that I was pregnant! Pregnant almost six years after the last one! Missing the promotion was not the painful part. It was the fact that it was a female CEO that took and announced the decision and sited my pregnancy as the reason.
  7. Finally, having a healthy self-esteem makes it easier for women to collaborate. This means everyone knows who she is and where she is going to. She understands the fact that her pathway is not yours to travel and can confidently light your candle with hers knowing that the brighter the light shines, the faster the demons of chauvinism lurking in the little dark corners will be exposed and the quicker they lose their grips.

I choose to retain my feminity. What about you??

Bisi Adebayo
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Bisi Adebayo

I am Bisi Adebayo, a dynamic woman of many parts. I am a lawyer with over 27 years’ work experience spanning maritime practice, commercial law and general practice. I have had a decade long foray into the Financial Services Industry and at various times oversaw the legal, marketing, credit and treasury (assets trading and intermediation) functions of the organization I worked for, a testament to my versatility.

8 thoughts on “Retaining Your Femininity in a Chauvinistic Environment

  • March 8, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    You didn’t add the condescending famous word they love to use to address every female’asawo’ (excuse my french ). What about chauvinist as husbands in the home front

  • March 8, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Very well said. As a woman in management amongst many many, I find that I have to always ‘fight’ my way through. There’s a certain way men look at you as though they are superior and you’re so fragile! If I had a nickel for everytime someone said my husband must have set up my business for me… could only have come about by the influence of a man and not my hardwork, countless sleepless nights, prayers etc…sigh#

  • March 9, 2016 at 12:29 am

    I absolutely love and enjoy this post…inspiring, motivating yet very real. Thank you ma for being the needed voice to coach, teach and build women to love their uniqueness. I celebrate you ma

  • March 9, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Well done, my friend!!. Nicely written post. I have found though that different cultures have different ways of looking at and handling the issue. It is everywhere to be sure but chauvinism is more subtle in some cultures than others. In European countries and the US, women have fought for and obtained the right to make it quite illegal for example, to be denied a promotion just because you are pregnant or a woman.

    This is why some of these women came up with the other extreme of “women’s lib”. Independence at all costs. It is not all bad though, they are fighting for the right to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. Most men feel threatened by such women and love to misuse that most-often used and cited word, “submission”.

    I believe the more we support and celebrate each other, collaborate and not undermine each other, be ourselves and yet stand up for what is right in a beautiful godly way, we will effectively silence the demons of chauvinism.

  • March 12, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    Nice one! Bisi ! For me Confidence in who you are and the purpose for which you were created helps in d world of chauvinism. Am a woman and I have absolutely no apologies ! My make up is different from a man I was created to procreate , bring human beings into this world and raise and nurture them. my hormones were constituted for that purpose , my makeup is totally different from that of a man. So it will be foolhardy of me to compete with him. I compete with myself and my purpose. Women get into trouble when they try competing with men. . can a saloon car ( man) compete with a container carrying trailer( woman)? All you need to do is educate the chauvinist about your difference . . . a lot of time he’s ignorant !

  • June 5, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Wow! Great thought. Many ladies also fnd it difficult to attract love when they put aside their feminity and act manly. Not wanting to appear weak and vulnerable they unconsciously tell the men they are not needed, life can go on without them.

    • November 22, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Florence, you can’t be further from the truth. We need to strike a balance

  • March 8, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    The bit that got me is war declared by a woman against another woman. You remember the old adage of a problem shared is problem solved. That does not hold true any more. It is now a problem shared is object of gossip among women. People are happy at other people’s pains and challenges. A sister tells another who has not eaten for days that God will provide and bless you when she is in the position to place 1000 naira in her hand. Women come up with various lame excuses for not lending a helping hand. I sincerely do not understand. It is really sad.


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