The Only Way to Win the Battle of the Sexes

Here's a double spoiler for you, first for the 1983 movie, War Games, then for this article: as the computer, Joshua, comments at the end of this picture: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play." It works as well for global thermonuclear war as it does for the age-old conflict between estrogen and testosterone. The masculine and the feminine are meant to be complementary — yin and yang — two essential dimensions of the whole. Yet, throughout human history, that complementarity has been distorted into a kind of warfare where the spoils become nothing less than human dignity itself.

The stakes are especially high as 21st Century men and women encounter the midlife transition. As you might expect, the effects of midlife on men and women couldn't be more different. Most men have been so severely acculturated that they believe (not with their rational minds, but in their gut) that feminine characteristics (gentleness, accommodation, cooperation, social intercourse, emotional acumen, self-knowledge, etc.) are not only diametrically opposed to their masculinity; these things are actually considered to be destructive to it. In contrast, many women have adopted the belief that, unless they adopt the masculine characteristics of aggressivity and emotional impassivity, they can't be capable managers or entrepreneurs. They (as well as their male counterparts) often interpret their femininity as a professional liability.

Both of these approaches are based on common fallacies; however, the controlling fallacy seems to originate from the male side. Underneath the general male antipathy toward valuing their own feminine side, lies a distorted concept of masculinity that, at the same time, defines it so narrowly that it at times appears to be a caricature of itself (the 'macho' man) and yet appears to be so weak that it can't be challenged or compromised without crumbling. A man who shows (or even considers) his feelings gets characterized in the most unflattering terms as a guy who's not a 'real man', a 'sissy', a 'girly man', or worse. For a typically acculturated man, the feminine cannot be complementary; it must be contradictory. Yes, a man can appreciate a woman's charms, but only so long as she remains in 'her place' as a 'real woman.'

Sadly, career woman often fall into the trap of believing this line of thought. At first glance, it can readily seem that the best way for a woman to achieve success outside of the home is to adopt the masculine approach. It seems that the whole traditional corporate structure has been designed to keep her down and out. She may not appreciate deeply enough that, for millenia, commerce has been structured by men and for men. The language of business has a grammar and vocabulary that men understand. The competitive model is not essential to commerce or law or any other profession. In fact, it's not only not necessary for women to learn the masculine language in order to succeed, it's actually counterproductive. The competitive model is weakening as social networking gradually replaces it with a much more cooperative model. The insightful, intuitive — essentially feminine — approach is gradually gaining the ascendancy. If there is a battle of the sexes, the tide of battle is now turning to favor the feminine.

This current approach to masculinity and femininity sees the two as incompatible rather than as necessary complements to one another. Why must femininity be a threat to masculinity? Why must femininity betray itself to purchase success? To be brutally honest, not only do men and women have to rethink their assumptions about their own lives and goals during the midlife transition; they also need to relearn everything they thought they knew about masculinity and femininity at the same time. You can't have a major paradigm shift regarding your self-image without, simultaneously, shifting your entire concept of the opposite sex.

To a limited degree, these things are already happening. Men are beginning to realize that the only way that they can successfully navigate the shoals of the midlife transition is to adopt an approach that requires them to become more deeply and intimately aware of their own emotional side and to be able to share that side of themselves — including their sense of vulnerability — without permitting themselves to degenerate into ego-destructive patterns of shame. Women, likewise, need to explore a wider range of options than ever before where they can use their intuitive and socially empathetic talents as success strategies. This means not only using different paradigms in their striving for success, but also different paradigms in defining success itself. In the 21st Century, the cooperative, win-win definition of success is rapidly eclipsing the old, competitive win-lose model. Women can leverage their femininity for success; likewise, men can embrace their sensitivity without in any way sacrificing their masculinity or manhood.

The computer, Joshua, learned the lesson regarding the futility of global thermonuclear war well. Now — and especially at midlife — it's up to us to do likewise: when it comes to the game of the 'battle of the sexes', for men and for women both, our only winning move is not to play.


H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC grew up in an entrepreneurial family and has been an entrepreneur for most of his life. He is the author of The Frazzled Entrepreneur's Guide to Having It All. Les is a certified Franklin Covey coach and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Effectiveness coach. He has Masters Degrees in philosophy and theology from the University of Ottawa. His experience includes ten years in the ministry and over fifteen years in c...

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