Sister Sparrow and this New Situation

Saturday night, at MayFest in Cold Spring, I was watching Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds perform on stage. There was Arleigh Kincheloe, this tiny peanut of a woman, owning the stage, and singing her heart out.  She had 6 men playing back up to her voice. She had such a powerful presence, and I was in awe.

Women are making moves, and I’ve never been a bigger fan.

Listening to Arleigh my mind wondered off, and I began thinking about how women are stepping up to the plate in so many industries; not just startups, but across comedy, movies, tv, politics, journalism and gaming. I’ve been in a women’s networking group called Dreamers & Doers since last November. I am so impressed with the strong, fierce and confident women in the group. Though we all have our days of self-doubt, I’ve never been a bigger fan of women in my entire life. I find it exciting.

So I ask, “How are men going to respond to this new situation?”

This new situation is, of course, one in which women get to lead, to start, and to be funny. We’re getting there by being smart, savvy, strategic, hard-working, and vocal in our shared-experiences.  Women aren’t following the old rules anymore; whether our hair is brown or blond, short or long, pulled-back or down, no longer has a place in whether we’re qualified for a job. We’re bringing our A-game to rightfully take a seat at the table, or making our own tables.  And, we’re doing it fair-and-square.

They better not get corny by holding on to the past.

When I saw George Clinton speak as part of Red Bull Music Academy he started down this path about how he avoids getting “old & corny”. He said that the quickest way to be corny is to hate on the new artists, and the new way of doing things. You have to grab the things you like from the people coming up behind you, and mix it into your own repertoire in order to remain relevant. You can’t let yourself get corny. You can’t hold on to the past.

Are men going to hang onto the past or are they going to innovate their own role in order to remain relevant in this new situation? 

I imagine we’ll continue to see that some men are holding on to the past and other men are jumping in to the future. The first group will really put up a fight, and they’ll kick and scream as the world diversifies around them. Talented young women that work for them will move on to other opportunities, and these men will lead organizations that lack all of the good qualities women bring to a team.

The second group of men will be a mix of confusion, varying from visionaries and strong supporters to those that will lose their way. We’ve already started to see the former appear; like Marc Benioff of Salesforce who has ordered a full review of salaries across his organization to find any gender-based discrepancies. But we’ve also seen how men have started to become more passive, and lose site of their unique strengths compared to women’s.

While these aren’t scientific findings, my impressions are: Where women are well-organized, tactical, strategic and patient, men tend to be bold, aggressive, and more comfortable with risk taking. This is why women far-outnumber men when looking at small business ownership, but men far-outnumber women when looking at startup creation.

What we all have to admit is that the new situation does not mean that men and women are now equal in all things, for all statistics, and on all axes. We need to keep in mind that, programmatically, women and men were designed to tag team a lot of life’s activities with complimentary skills. Even though we’ve moved on from hunting-and-gathering, our new lives’ activities require these somewhat-mutually-exclusive strengths from both genders.

Women are kind-of from Venus. Men are kind-of from Mars.

I can’t think of a better way to explain the future of gender roles and how they may still tie to the primal versions of themselves then relate this back to dating and courtship. Recently, my friend conveyed that she still resented her boyfriend didn’t court her in the early parts of their relationship. Indeed, on their second date, he told her he expected everything to be 50/50 and equal, and that she should pay for drinks. Very bold.

The obvious interpretation of gender equality in modern times is that men and women should go dutch, but it does not take into account each gender’s desires, needs and skills. The most primal building blocks tell us that women desire men that are good caretakers, and men desire women that are attractive, and worthy of carrying on their genes.

As a designer, I have to think that if men are savvy about their role and what women need to sense them, they’ll spend the money on drinks and dinner to show their dates they are good caretakers. It’s not chauvinistic. It’s smart, strategic and catering to your customer base. It’s a designed experience for a desired outcome.

If women are just as thoughtful, they’ll spend the money at the salon, keeping up their appearance (nails, hair, eyebrows) to how they see fit. Yet, this is where it gets interesting. Indeed, women are currently spending their money on hair and nails to impress their dates, yet many men are using gender equality as an excuse to bow out entirely of traditional courtship.

It’s balanced books at the end of the day. Men spend money taking women out, while women spend money looking good. It sounds basic, and offensive, though it’s a very simple and obvious equation.

Using gender equality to “bow out” is the quickest way to being irrelevant and corny. The new situation really needs men to be present and innovate their role for us all to move forward.

You tell me: How do men step up to the plate in this new situation? How will they create a win-win situation so that no gender feels like the cards are stacked against them? What is their strategy going forward? And, how is that strategy proactive, strong and inspiring, versus downright weenie?




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