A friend led me down this path of discovery, when she said, “If we want peace in the world, we should eliminate military terms in our vernacular.” It suddenly struck me how many of these phrases I use in conversation: code red, mayday, drop dead date, strategic, on the offensive, hold the line, kill that thought, not on my watch… the list goes on. All this time I’d been speaking like a military officer, and I hadn’t even realized it!
Including military words when I presented ideas in the corporate world ensured they were taken more seriously. It signaled to the guys that I was “one of them” and supported their value system, which in turn enhanced their inclination to really listen to me. However, their value system also included traditional gender roles—and that meant that deep down, they didn’t see me as belonging at the decision-making table. As you might imagine, this made it problematic for me to “find my own voice.”
Given how business evolved in North America, it’s not a surprise that we use military language. Our veterans came home from the war and were given a free university education, and from there they stepped into management positions in our expanding economy. They implemented systems and descriptive words with which they were the most familiar, and a military lexicon thereby made its way into the business world.
Military language is very masculine in nature, as it stakes a claim and protects a territory—often a necessity, particularly in business. Language which is nurturing or expresses empathy is indicative of feminine energy. Because our society tends to value the masculine over the feminine, both men and women avoid strongly feminine words. During my time in corporate, I had to remember to avoid certain phrases—I’m sorry, let’s imagine, intuition tells me, visualize this, consider the collective. To express this kind of feminine energy was a sign of weakness in the masculine business world.
Some would advocate that we become more gender-neutral and substitute words like “counselor” for “alderman,” while others contend that this butchers our language. Many people prefer languages like French where everything is designated as masculine (le) or feminine (la), believing that this system is more sophisticated and descriptive.
I have three suggestions:
1) Any title should be gender-neutral. We don’t want little girls to feel they can’t aspire to positions of power like Chairman.
2) Eliminate any stereotypical descriptions that give a negative connotation of women. For instance, we think of “bachelors” as handsome and dashing, while “spinsters” are old women who have been passed by.
3) Encourage men and women to use both masculine and feminine words rather than limiting themselves to a masculine energy vocabulary.
All individuals have a primary energy, which serves us well at times. But sometimes we need to access our opposite energy as the situation warrants. If we are using both masculine and feminine words, we’ll be more able to flow between the two energies and ultimately have stronger Gender Physics.