07/28/2011 06:02 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2011

Praising "The Feminine" Is Discriminating

Writing a book about today's smart, strong women has given me a chance to work around the world with females dedicated to achieving goals. Each experience has deepened my resolve to open people's eyes to two facts:

  1. To talk about women as if they are all alike and want the same things from life is not only silly, but heart-breaking to the thousands of women who fall outside the box.
  2. As women are more educated and have the potential to earn a good living, the more they desire to do something significant. This requires women accept their power and take on leadership roles, actions still frowned on by many Americans. We are not as progressive as we claim.

A study preformed by researchers at Northwestern University recently found that, first of all, "Women are viewed as less qualified or natural in most leadership roles ... and secondly, when women adopt culturally masculine behaviors often required by these roles, they may be viewed as inappropriate or presumptuous."

Therefore, when people talk about natural feminine traits as being receptive and nurturing, a growing number of women think either there is something wrong with them or they must be lone warriors to succeed. What's worse, their husbands, managers and teachers wish they would be quiet and more "ladylike," though most people except Florida Republican Allen West would ask us to be more "diplomatic" and "collaborative" when suggesting we change who we are.

So if you don't fit the accepted definition of "woman" and you don't bring those wonderful "feminine traits" to the table, who are you?

If you dare to be ambitious, pursue multiple passions with vigor, struggle with impatience, commit to excellence even if some people have to get out of the way for you and you strive to make a difference using your talents, are you a cultural misfit? If you are nauseous when seeing workshops on the Divine Feminine in your inbox, are you dysfunctional?

I would like for us to stop assigning certain personality traits and approaches to the "feminine" or the "masculine" which creates an "us vs. them" mentality that helps no one.

Shannon Kelly, author of the blog Undecided, wrote in her post Us Vs. Them, "We like our people simple. Our women especially. Easily defined. Simply categorized. And when it comes to women, the less threatening, the better."

The rise of females having the gumption to publicly express their ambition and opinions is not about women abandoning feminine values. We are all experiencing an evolution of consciousness where women are free to choose a life based on passions instead of expectations. It is exhilarating! But because there is resistance to this evolution, it is also confusing and often disheartening for women in both their personal relationships and in the workplace.

Whether you are a manager, teacher, or friend, can you ask every woman you meet what motivates them and what they want to create? Here is a hint... it might be different from what drives you and what you assume it should be.

It is time we look each other in the eyes with a sense of curiosity, to seek to know the person standing in front of us. Who is the person beyond the labels? What strengths, gifts, talents, and perspective does she, or he, bring to the moment?

There is nothing wrong with women who take on too much work for the love of it, who get bored if they can't look forward to new and exciting challenges or who give up an easy life or turn a down secure, well-paid job to find work that feels more significant.

The good news is that there will be more and more of these women. Whatever you call them, every year many women get stronger and more confident in spite of those who judge them.

Let's quit defining what a man or woman should be and get on with the business of being the best humans we can be.

If we can allow each other to be who we are, it will be so much easier for smart, strong, goal-driven women to proudly accept who they are. It is a time of transformation. As women walk through the fog of confusion trying to follow their hearts while "doing what is right," shouldn't we help them choose for themselves? Shouldn't we stand for freedom for all instead of confinement?

Being feminine is not the same as being a woman.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D. explores the challenges and needs of smart, strong, goal-driven women in her book, Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. She is a professional coach and leadership trainer who works within a variety of industries around the world.