THE PRINCIPLE OF BALANCING
Not only do advice books mix codes, adding in other elements of culture; some advice books tell readers how to balance “masculine” with “feminine” demeanor and feeling rules. Some advice books urge women to adopt “masculine” manners. In The Right Moves Charlene Mitchell urges women to remain detached, cool, businesslike, and for purposes of making conversation, to learn some football teams and scores. Other advice books urge women to adopt “feminine” manners. In Feminine Leadership: How to Succeed without Being One of the Boys Marilyn Loden urges women to use their “natural” intuition (as if the very use of this advice book didn’t put the idea oi intuition in question), warmth, and motherly qualities to induce subordinates and co-workers to be loyal and dedicated. In Having It All Helen Gurley Brown advises the female executive not to pace, speak dramatically, or act important as she might imagine a man would do. But Brown’s advice otherwise leans to the “male” side: there is no mention of acting or feeling motherly. Instead the package includes developing an iron will “like a man” but a demeanor and comportment “like a woman.”
Anticipating that her reader may worry about not feeling feminine enough, Brown reassures her:
Don’t be afraid that success will de-feminize you. . . . Robin Smith, former president and general manager of the Book Club Division of Doubleday and Company, now president of Publishers’ Clearing House, largest magazine subscription agency in the world, says, “When you become an executive, you do not raise your voice or get loud or masculine. You got where you got… by being rational. . . . These qualities are where your strengths lie. There is nothing masculine about them. You also get what you want by being stubborn—a very feminine trait.
Avoid the superficial mannerisms of male authority, but adopt the less tangible traits associated with it. Apparently assuming that the reader takes rationality to be a male trait, Brown urges women to degender rationality, so that they can feel feminine but act rational. .
Brown doesn’t question the gender codes themselves. She sees determination as male, stubbornness as female. But she relabels determined behavior as stubborn. With this feminine “cover,” she can now permit herself the authoritative stance she needs to get the job done. Ultra-femininity, like ultra-masculinity, may mask the underlying social principle of “balancing.”
This strategy of “balancing” is one response to a conflict Brown assumes many heterosexual women readers face. On one hand, they want to be seen as “feminine” lest they be seen as unattractive or abnormal. On the other hand, many job-relevant traits are traditionally associated with masculinity. A woman who cultivates a “masculine” trait risks compromising her “femininity.” So she resorts to a balancing strategy. She appears “more" feminine in one realm in order to permit herself male traits in another realm. Given that many traits required for economic survival are culturally defined as male and that women now form 46 percent of the labor force, given the almost infinite variety of ways in which a person may be defined as “masculine” or feminine,” the potential tradeoffs are almost endless. And so a woman who wears very long fingernails, very fluffy blouses, and very high-heeled shoes may try in this way to make up for being a hyperaggressive saleswoman and hope to come out even. But balancing has limits.