The forgotten female
Much has changed in 50 years ... but have we forgotten the female within?
Since sisters started doing it for themselves, we've seen a surge of ladies in leadership roles around the world.
Knowing yourself ... and understanding that it's not a battle of the sexes thing, are complementary
The rise of women may have been mighty, but many have been left wondering whether we lost something along the way - and whether, instead of understanding that it is strong to be soft, many women have learned to withhold their warmth and tenderness.
In response to this, workshops where women reconnect with their femininity are gaining popularity.
"I believe we strongly undervalue the feminine in this society," says sex therapist, Jacqueline Hellyer. "Women's liberation in the 70s... was a great thing [and] led to definite improvements in the status of women... but, to achieve that status, women had to prove that they could be like men... that's fine, but... what it did show was that... women have to be like men to succeed in society."
Conversely to male stereotypes, "the essence of the feminine is to be soft on the outside and strong on the inside," says Hellyer. "In fact it's only by being soft on the outside that your inner strength [can] emanate. Otherwise, as a woman you're creating a false strength on the outside, which is hard to sustain, is brittle and prevents your true strength from blossoming and showing."
While it has been found that workplaces perform better when women are in senior management, other studies have found that women can have less confidence as leaders and their opinion is more likely to be disregarded.
Women-only workshops like Hellyer's (who also runs workshops just for men) are aimed at developing women's confidence in themselves and their bodies; instead of feeling they have to emulate stereotypically male traits they are encouraged see their femininity as a strength not a weakness.
In Hellyer's case, this starts with getting back in touch with our bodies. Held in a room made warm with fruit, fresh flowers and candles as well as a tasseled pink dildo adorning the display shelf, Hellyer says the first of the two-day workshop is about "knowing yourself ... and understanding that it's not a battle of the sexes thing - [men and women] are complementary."
She takes a playful approach, but is passionate about her subject matter. She talks through our sexual history ("We were still locking girls up for promiscuity in the 60s'") and biology, using diagrams, a heart-shaped pillow with a 3D vagina on the front and a crop whip for a pointer. ("Down here might as well be a foreign country for most people," she says, crop whip pointed south).
Hellyer also conducts breathing exercises to connect participants back to their bodies and talks through female sexual archetypes (or patterns of behaviour).
The archetypes she has coined include: The Amazon (Engages on an equal level), the Good-time Gal (About playtime and fun), the Maestra (Virtuosity and sexual skill), The Empress (Likes to take control), The Earth Gypsy (Sensual and spiritual), The Madonna (Nurturing), The Susceptive (Yielding and responsive) and The Seductress (Alluring).
The idea of the archetypes is to understand the roles we slip into with others and learn to integrate the different sides of ourselves. "They're all in you," she explains. It's just about learning to tap in. "It's not about acting or pretending."
At the end of the day, one woman approaches me saying she works in a masculine environment, has strong, unemotional parents and feels like she has to suppress the soft side of herself to succeed. Learning to redress the balance and feeling comfortable in her own skin "is why I'm here," she says.
While Hellyer's archetypes are sexually-based, they are essentially expressions of the soft and strong sides of ourselves; both equally worthy and deserving of respect, she says.
Merle Singer, who runs corporate workshops and retreats for women, also works with archetypes. Singer's retreats, held in the lush surroundings of Kangaroo Valley, offer physical and emotional exploration of a different kind.
Beautiful yin (female) yoga sessions lull retreat-goers from the treadmill of life, while walking meditations are used to tune us back into the body.
These sessions sit alongside left and right brain exercises which, Singer says, takes us out of our normal (left-brain dominated) way of thinking and helps us to be more open to a different internal dialogue.
Analysis of various archetypes complete the weekend workshop picture and encourage union of the whole self.
The Pearson-Marr archetypes Singer works with include the Warrior (tough), the Caregiver (exudes warmth and love), the Ruler (Responsible, efficient, productive), the Jester (Looks for light and humour) and the Magician (Influential and charismatic).
"Archetypes offer a vantage point and give us a better understanding of who we are so we can choose a different way of doing things," Singer says. This is particularly pertinent for those who feel "compromised as a woman at work... It's learning to be in a corporate environment without losing your femininity.
"We struggle with what it means to be a strong woman. You don't necessarily have to be a strong warrior the whole time. You can be a strong magician and use influence.
"In certain settings you may pull on [different aspects of yourself], but an awareness of that can improve your leadership skills. It's being able to recreate and call on different aspects of the self that you have walked away from, for whatever reason or have not developed to a lesser or greater extent."
Some women need to develop their inner caregiver, while others need to work on their warrior. And while she explains that some women might never be the comedic jester, for instance, with awareness, it's possible to bring more lightness to our lives and encounters.
But what women like Hellyer and Singer want to remind us is that we don't have to be tender or tough, the Ruler or the Caregiver, the Amazon or the Susceptive. They're all there and are not mutually exclusive.
"I am not talking about women being soft and weak and pathetic," Hellyer says. "We need women to embrace their essential selves... there is no limitation in how you express yourself as a woman. the important thing is that you be real and embrace the power and glory of being a woman."