One of the videos we sometimes use in our learning programs for women coaching/mentoring is the Dove Real Beauty Sketches commercial, with the key message that women often think less of themselves and that they are better, more talented, more beautiful than they give themselves credit for.
Recently, a cohort of women watching this very touching and emotional clip (tears still well up in my eyes every time I watch this even though I have viewed this clip too many times to count) got into a hypothetical discussion that were it men who were involved in this social experiment, they might not show the kind of emotional connection like the women did in the clips.
I am going to go out on a limb here to disagree. If men were involved in the same social experiment, and assuming that they had the same outcome (that is a blog topic for another day), I believe the men will feel emotional. The more fundamental insight is recognizing that due to social conditioning, many men do not have the same privilege that women have to show the outside world what they are feeling inside.
I use the word “privilege” here in the context of women being able to be more openly display their emotions outwardly of joy, sadness, etc. within a societal context. I acknowledge that in the work context which is more dominated by male norms, outward displays of emotions would present a double bind to women. But, even at work, women do have some privilege to wear their emotions on their sleeves (albeit a much narrower range of emotions can be displayed at work than in society).
So back to the men. When I think back to the many diversity discussions I have facilitated, when we talk about women and emotions at work, so often we also bring up the topic of men being emotionless at work. I think we need to change the dialogue and reconsider this differently – that men don’t have the freedom to “come out” at work or in society at large with their emotions. For many, as long as they can remember, parents, teachers, the media etc. have been telling their younger versions to “keep it in”, that showing “emotions is a sign of weakness” and that “boys (men) don’t cry”.
Even as we continue to talk about the challenges that women face at work or in society from a diversity perspective, let us not overlook that there are also diversity challenges (of a different kind) for men too. Being able to hold both realities in our minds will lead to more balanced and healthy discourse that engages rather than divides and thus sustainably engender change for a more inclusive future for both women and men.