Public, Private, Male, Female

One of the things that has driven me crazy over the years is that when men are personable, friendly, etc to each other, this becomes the basis of trust and leads to business for them. When I do the same, I basically get asked for a date -- or assumed to be some temptress, trying to ruin some guy's marriage.

For a couple of decades, I did the homemaker and mom thing. So, I lived a much more private life than is the norm for a woman of my generation. In the years that I have been trying to move more into the public sphere, I have really wrestled with how to deal with the public. It has not at all come easily to me to make that transition.

I have recently had a couple of men engage me in meaty, meaningful private (email) conversation about actual business-related goals of mine. This is basically a first for me. The one thing these conversations have in common is that both men basically refused to engage me in "personal" topics. They either politely ignored those pieces of my comments or outright stated they didn't want to go there for REASONS.

I am not sure how to engage either of these men, but this is a huge deal to me and in a good way.

I still feel it is a problem inherent in being female rather than a problem inherent in my behavior per se. I feel confident that if I were male, they could talk to me about both business and personal stuff and it wouldn't be a problem.

For me it is additionally a problem because I am basically in the business of lifestyle. I made a conscious choice to talk about things I do as a means to educate people while framing it as entertainment. This leads to a lot of misunderstandings. I get called a narcissist for talking "too much" about myself or people think they know me better than they really do, and they feel they have a personal relationship to me because my various blogs are filled with personal information.

So, if I can't talk about myself with a man without it going weird places, this is potentially a barrier to business for me, one that I feel a man would not face. Men seem to have a much easier time being "gurus" in, say, the fitness space without that being mistaken for being all about them. It is still a legitimate business if, for example, they work out and eat right and use themselves as an example in the course of talking about what they think works.

But I don't think it is just me or just that I am in some weird niche. At the highest levels, only about 17 percent of CEOs are female. There are higher attrition rates for women in STEM fields than for men, and there is a lot of evidence that women just are not able to compete on the same footing with men. Women mostly don't achieve the same levels of career and financial success as men do, and I don't think it is straight up sexism in the sense of "We are so biased, we just won't hire a woman for that job because we are just pigs."

So, I find myself thinking that one of the differences between men and women is that men are raised with an expectation that they will primarily function in the public sphere, while women are raised with an expectation that they will primarily function in the private sphere. I think this has impacts both on how women behave and on how others perceive their behavior or frame the social contract involved.

Men are not really expected to care. They are expected to do business with you or work for you and to be after money in the process. If they prove that they also care, this is a mark of trustworthiness.

In contrast, women are expected to care and to do things because they care. They aren't supposed to be after money. If they are, they get called gold diggers.

Women are supposed to define themselves primarily through their relationships with their family, including husband and children. Men are supposed to primarily define themselves through their work.

There is some evidence that this may actually have roots in biological brain wiring. For example, there have been books written about how women have ethics rooted in an idea of caring and men have a less touchy-feely sense of ethics.

But, there is also evidence that women are forced into these roles by society, like it or not. For example, female Aspies are apparently frequently underdiagnosed in part because they aren't given any slack for not learning the social stuff. Whether it comes easily to them or not, they just have to get with the program and learn some of this stuff.

So I don't think we can sort out how much of this orientation is due to socialization and how much is due to innate biological differences. But I think it might be more useful for me to think of this split in terms of public sphere and private sphere rather than male or female.

Thinking of men as people who are by default expected to have a public sphere role and women as people who are by default expected to have a private or personal relationship to others suggests a potential solution to my frustrations. Where men need to prove they are good and caring people who aren't merely using you, I need to prove this is a formal, public sphere relationship, not a private and personal one.

I am perhaps more likely to be assumed to be caring, thus emphasizing that fact is the wrong thing to do. Instead of establishing trust, it denies that this is a business relationship. This traps me in stereotypically female roles. I get related to like a wife or mom. This means adult men who see me as the wifely sort imagine that I am trying to position myself as their next wife when I am only trying to network, just like all the guys are doing.

I am not sure how to proceed here, but I feel like I at least have an inkling of a paradigm for the first time, one that suggests a potential path forward. I am hopeful that this will be the start of something big for me.


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