Perdebate: Do successful women intimidate men

Katherine Atkinson
The way our society functions is forever changing. The feminist movement has ensured that women of today enjoy many more rights than women from the past.  The 21st century has seen an emergence of women who dominate academia and the workplace. In fact, Huffington Post says that women have begun to surpass men in many spheres and that the female population has “more master’s and college degrees” and “better GPA’s” than the male population. Further, it is estimated that by 2025 “more than half the primary breadwinners in America will be women.” 

Despite this female emergence, patriarchy and misogyny can still be seen today. Newsweek reported that on International Women’s Day 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked women for their “beauty and tenderness”. He continued to say that “only women can create a welcoming atmosphere at work and at home, take care of our homes and children and be a moral example to them.” Since he is ranked as number one on Forbes’ The World’s Most Powerful People list, and is therefore very influential, Putin’s statements could contribute to shaping ideologies within society.
Kate Manne, a Cornell philosophy professor and author, describes misogyny as the “law enforcement branch or patriarchy” which “polices and punishes women who transgress or threaten dominant men”. Manne argues that misogynistic views are still observed today because men are intimidated by high-achieving women as these women challenge a man’s place in society. Since this is a contested and ongoing debate, Perdeby asked both students and lecturers at UP to see whether they think that high-achieving women intimidate men.

 

Tseleng Tshabalala (BA Visual Studies)
It honestly depends on the male individual because among many other things, socio-cultural context influences these perceptions. From what I have seen in my male peers is that they prefer the assertive woman which is the successful, business orientated woman and the reason is simple, as much as women want that from men they also want a woman who can hold her own. However, when [it] comes to romantic relationships they would prefer a woman who can balance both those spheres. Assertive people intimidate weak-minded, passive people regardless of sex

 

Nicholas De Decker (BA Law)
I believe that a man’s approach to women, their standing in society and the subsequent respect accorded to them is shaped by early exposure in life. Unlike many, my mother was able to attain a degree and perform the domestic tasks of raising children. I have therefore been heavily influenced by my mother and her competence and strive to embody this respect for her and other women in my actions. Sadly, [while] many men pay lip service to the concept of work-place equality, the reality places increased pressure on already limited job opportunities. Many are willing to entertain an isolated female presence, but not a flood. We must be careful though, as pitting a career driven woman against a domestic causes division amongst women themselves. Each side becomes defensive, in turn disempowering their life choice. There is no “better” it depends on the context, circumstance and personality of the woman. The most important criterion is competence, whether it is in raising a family, starting a business, climbing the corporate ladder or both.

 

Kiana Fayard (Bcom Human Resources Management)
Yes I do [think that men are threatened by highly achieving women]. I feel like [this] has always been a traditional view – the whole thing of women [staying] at home and men being dominant over women and being able to put them down. When you get a high achieving women [giving orders] they feel very threatened in their masculinity. I think that society is slowly changing, but I still think there is a […] mindset that women should be in lower paying jobs. It’s not every day that you will find a woman as a CEO of a company.

 

Matthew Bernhardt (Bsc Actuarial and Financial Mathematics)
As a man, I feel that successful women make for better long term partnerships financially […] I also find more successful women to be more driven, which is an attractive quality to some men including myself. I do think that there [are] many men who are opposed to women being successful, perhaps out of intimidation, feeling a need for that sense of power, or out of competition within their romantic partnership. Depending on the upbringing however, many other men my find this to be a positive quality, as many people may have been surrounded by successful and driven women throughout their lives.

 

Simon Botha (LLB)
I tend to get along better with women who are career driven and ambitious as friends, but would not necessarily look for the same in a romantic partner. […] Most relationships need one party to be more domestic, or at least slightly less career focused, regardless of gender. From speaking to friends, my experience has been that the majority of men my age are rather comfortable with career-orientated women. A number of them are actually quite willing to take on the domestic role in a relationship and allow the woman to be the chief breadwinner. I think it comes down to personal temperament and doesn't have as much to do with gender as it once did. While I think that men in previous generations were certainly intimidated by high-achieving women, our generation seems to be very comfortable with either gender taking that role. However, there is still usually only room for one such person in a relationship.

 

Deneesher Pather (MA Visual Studies and Visual Studies lecturer)
Due to misinterpretations of the feminist movement, I think there might be a real cultural anxiety about females attempting to dominate male spaces. I think that certain men might feel threatened by high-achieving women because they believe their masculinity is measured by their financial or capital success. Society places great emphasis on status and on men to be the breadwinners especially in nuclear families. Big businesses are seen as traditionally masculine places and the thought of "feminisation" (bringing in daycare centres, allowing extended paternity leave, etc.) could be seen as a threat to functionality. Some men might not feel intimidated by high-achieving women, but rather anxious about their place in a world with changing values which constantly challenge their position. I think there needs to be more inclusive conversations about changing gender dynamics so that some of these latent anxieties can be dispelled. More inclusive conversations [lead] to the quelling of societal fears which often result the formation of extremist groups against perceived threats. We need to focus on educating one another and being more compassionate as a society, as a whole.

 

Dali Ngalo (LLB)
I think that anyone who is willing and happy in whatever they’re doing, whether that’s being a successful business women or being a stay-at-home mom, I think that’s the most important thing[…] I think other men are mostly quite accommodating. I think men who are not so successful feel upset, agitated, angry, whereas men who are quite successful may feel threatened because then a woman might take their place. Otherwise I think it’s also dependent on the background of the person and how that person goes about their daily life. […] I think it’s all dependent on the person, someone who would be threatened by a high-achieving woman is someone who would be threatened by a high-achieving man. I think the fact that it is a woman does play a role in that and I think it does, in certain instances, enhance that threatened feeling.

 

Dr Fraser McNeill (Anthropology Lecturer)
There’s no doubt that its more difficult for a woman to succeed in any sphere of life. There’s an ironic situation in South Africa because there’s a hierarchy in terms of when someone is going for a job. For example, women would tend to be higher up that hierarchy than men might be. The reality of the situation is that it’s still men who hold most of the powerful positions in society so when women break through what has been called the glass ceiling, are men threatened by it? Probably to some extent, but it’s different in different instances. if you look at academia, maybe less so than something like law. So maybe different professions have got different ways of dealing with promotion. But in general, in society, we live in a patriarchal society. It’s difficult for women to get through a specific glass ceiling, but when they do, the evidence shows that they still get paid less. So clearly, the playing field isn’t fair […] women have to work harder and that’s because we live in a really strong patriarchal society. […] There is this thing called a crisis of masculinity in Southern Africa and men are generally perceived to be in a weaker socio-economic position post-apartheid than they were pre-apartheid because of a whole range of things. Women’s rights are now guaranteed in the constitution, which they weren’t before, and inequality has risen and unemployment has risen. So men are in more vulnerable positions. But there is a debate around this.

 

Compiled by Kathrine Atkinson

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