Sick of “Mansplaining?” How Gender Roles Influence Communication

When it comes to topics of discussion, how many of us create a divide (conscious or unconscious) between “men’s topics” and “women’s topics?”

Sick of Mansplaining? How Gender Roles Influence Communication - couples can learn to communicate better through the influence of their gender roles

Maybe you think of men’s topics as politics, current events, science fiction, sports, and the outdoors. Perhaps when you think of women’s topics you think of motherhood, housekeeping, cooking, decorating, or fashion.

The lines are becoming increasingly blurred as we forgo traditional “gender roles” and embrace the realization men can be caring nurturers and women can be empowered leaders…but there’s still a long way to go.

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about the topic of “mansplaining.” This is where men barge into a conversation with a woman and condescendingly explain to her what it really means. I’ll bet simply reading about this makes some women’s blood boil (and probably makes a few men wonder if they’re guilty).

And rightfully so! It’s frustrating to be talked down to. Over a hundred years past women’s lib and we’re still facing inequality and assumptions about the opposite gender.

Now, of course, gender assumptions are a two-way street. How many women have said, “Oh, it’s like a man not ask directions,” or, “typical guy, thinking he can plow his way through a conversation.”

If we really want to balance the scales and celebrate the strengths of both genders, we need to even out the conversation and let go of our assumptions about the opposite sex.

Men Are From Mars?

Now, I’m the first to admit, in my relationships I can often be more dominate. My personality falls heavily into the area of regulator—I like to be in charge. Judith’s falls into the area of energizer—where she tends to be the cheerleader of the group. On the CARE spectrum, men are often on the analyzer/regulator side and women are often cooperators or energizers. (Read more about the CARE profile here.)

But it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule. I’ve known many women who were analyzers and regulators and many men who were cooperators and energizers. Our personalities have much to do with our nature and early nurture than our gender. In fact, many of our traits were set long before adulthood.

We may think of emotions and nurturing as more feminine traits, but as any successful CEO (male or female) will tell you, embracing and nurturing vision and displaying high emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a vital component of success. Men and women alike can’t afford to skimp on certain qualities or ignore them because they’re not believed to fit in their traditional gender role.

Take motherhood as another example. There are many myths about motherhood, such as: every woman should be a mother to be fulfilled, every mother loves being a mother, or a mother instantly feels a bond with her newborn infant. Not only are these ideas false, but they set unrealistic expectations for women (and men). A new mother may feel isolated and alone, as though she’s the only woman who’s ever experienced challenges in motherhood due to these false expectations. She may worry it’s selfish to focus on her own purpose and fulfillment outside of the role of motherhood. (It’s NOT!)

Ever heard “boys don’t cry?” And how many of us believe it? How many guys were raised to believe emotions were for the weak. It wasn’t okay to feel or express your emotions. Bottle up your feelings and hide them inside?

This is incredibly damaging for anyone. There are no such thing as bad emotions—every feeling from joy, hurt, anger, sadness and fear is healthy. Our emotions are there to be expressed!  It’s okay to feel pain and use it as a gift. If we deny our pain and hide it, we’re denying our gift to the world.

In fact, when we don’t express our emotions, they can cause us to become ill. They can cause our blood pressure to rise. We may find we’re tired, we’re drained. We may also look around us and realize those around us are drained as well.

In an iron battleship, there is always an electrical current running through the ship. Like, anxiety, anger and fear, if left, this current would eat through and corrode the center of the ship. Zinc plates called sacrificial anodes are used to absorb the electrical current around it and prevent corrosion.

I see this often in women who work for bosses who are poor at properly expressing their emotions. Women become the sacrificial zinc anodes of the office. It’s usually the HR department or admin who ends up absorbing and diffusing for their boss, so they don’t corrode the morale of the office.

Emotions are healthy! Emotions are a divine gift for women AND men!

Letting Go of our Beliefs About the Opposite Sex

So, what can we do to overcome these limiting and damaging preconceived notions about the opposite sex?

Well, first we need to explore the truths about our own beliefs about men and women. Whether you’re a woman or a man, you’ve created and built up beliefs about both genders. These are based largely upon your experiences with your parents and other adults of either gender during your childhood.

Perhaps your mother relied on you for her emotional support and consequently you feel overwhelmed when other women express their emotions, or conversely, you’ve embraced the role of rescuer and look for opportunities to save those around you, even at your own emotional expense.

Perhaps your father was emotionally distant and mysterious, so you’ve viewed men as a quiet and enigmatic. As a man, perhaps you feel you don’t measure up, or aren’t sure how to measure up to the idea of how a man should be. As a woman, maybe you seek out men who are emotionally estranged and unknowable, accepting distance as a norm. Maybe you work hard to please men because you’re still seeking the approval of your father.

These ideas are heavy concepts to tackle, but they’re key areas for us to explore in our personal growth work. Day in and day out we’re surrounded by and interacting with people from both genders.

When we allow ourselves to let go of our beliefs about the sexes, we open ourselves up to a greater understanding of each individual.

See others for the truth of who they are and allow yourself to explore and embrace your own expressions and truth, not simply limited to the gender roles you believe you’re assigned. If you’re a man, embrace your nurturing and emotional side. Let go of the idea that weakness exists in emotions. Stop “mansplaining” and fighting to prove yourself in conversation. Learn to listen.

For women, embrace your strength and allow yourself to view your emotions as powerful tools rather than weaknesses to overcome. If you’ve ever worried you’re too sensitive, realize there is strength in sensitivity. Embrace your emotional intelligence and use it to strengthen your leadership and resolve.

Men and women greatly benefit from overcoming limiting beliefs we may hold about each other and ourselves. Explore where your ideas of what’s okay for men or women come from. What do you believe men “should” be like? What do you believe women “should” be like? Why?

As we explore and expand our beliefs, we’re able to better connect with each other on a human level rather than operating under a gender-specific notion. Embrace your strengths as men and women, but don’t let your gender limit you.

For more on exploring masculine and feminine roles and strengths, join us for a Men’s Leadership or Women’s Essential Experience Weekend Retreat. Visit us at the Wright Foundation to learn more.

About the Author

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

The Holidays: A Time for Living Your Truth

How many of us feel like we can be 100% honest with our family? If you answer yes, I’m going to bet you’re bullsh*tting yourself.

Many of us gather with our families during the holidays. If the idea of family time is stressful, ask yourself if it is because you aren't living your truth.

Most of us put on some kind of mask, or false persona when we get around our parents, siblings and relatives.

Now, I don’t say these words to make you feel bad, of course. You should know almost all of us struggle with the truth of our identity when it comes to our families. We grew up with these people, right? They’re the folks that should know us the best. Yet, when we go home we often feel we need to downplay our feelings, hold back, or put up a front.

We may also experience a return to who we were as a child. Patterns we felt we’d overcome or put behind us come rushing back when we get around mom and dad. Suddenly we’re a little 5 or 6-year-old.

If we were rebellious, we might find we jump into the pattern of being the smart-aleck, the bad-boy or girl, or intentionally play up our rebellion. Maybe you choose a dress to show off your tattoo or lean back in your chair and put your feet on the table; actions that, as adults, we would probably rethink in other situations creep out when we’re back on our old stomping grounds.

Perhaps you were the good child, eager to please, quick to swoop in and care for everyone else. When you get around your parents you’d never do anything to tarnish your halo or let them think you were anything other than perfect, right?

You see, the holidays and returning home for a visit tend to dredge up all of this “stuff.” It causes these feelings to surface. We may feel like we’re regressing, and any personal growth work we’ve focused on is for naught.

So, what can we do to operate in truth this holiday season and spur on our momentum in the new year? What can we do to be genuine, sincere and true to ourselves in all we do? How can we use this truth to strengthen our connections and engage with our loved ones on a deeper level?

What is Truth?

To embrace, reveal to others and be free to live your truth, we must first understand what truth is.

We may think, “I know who I am,” but who we are is ever changing. Our truth today might not look like our truth from years past, or even from yesterday.

Truth is more than factuality; it is a personal journey to increasingly discern and show the truth of you experience to your highest vision, to the best of your ability. When you embrace this concept, you learn to tell increasingly potent, deep truth—helping you develop into your fullest self…learn to express truth and become more genuine and real.

Aligning to truth means that you are not rationalizing. Rationalizations are abstractions we make up to justify our behavior. Most of us have pat answers for why we do what we do or superficial explanations for our behavior. We remain unconscious to what is really going on and are unwilling or unable to frankly assess and report on our actions, behaviors and motivations.

As we grow in our commitment to truth, our vision changes and we are able to discern and express more and more truths. We are able to go beyond our shallow excuses and knee-jerk explanations, we seek and give more conscious responses that reflect more truth.

The journey of truth is personal for everyone. Over time it can include having no secrets from your spouse becoming less defensive, having and increasing sense of integrity. It can mean that you feel more genuine and real, that you reduce lying and withholding information, that you develop honest friendships with straight feedback.

The One Decision

Our relationship with our family members is an integral part of exploring and living our truth. Many of us grew up in families of secrets. For many of us, honest talk with our families is off-limits. There may have been times of joy and happiness. There may have been areas of encouragement and growth, but there are also areas that are off-limits when it comes to our families. How many of us know we just don’t “go there”?

Embracing and Living Your Truth During the Holidays

Part of embracing and living your truth means giving voice to your feelings. It’s our responsibility to express our truth directly and honestly with others. If we want to deepen our connection—to truly understand others and be understood—we must approach it from a place of honesty and truth.

Now, this might mean rocking the boat. It might mean letting your parents know when they piss you off, or letting your sister know you refuse to fall into the drama triangle with her this year.

But speaking your truth doesn’t always need to involve direct confrontation and conflict (although conflict is a healthy part of relationship building). Truth simply means deliberate, responsible communication. It means viewing your feelings as valid and worthy of being expressed.

How many of us grew up in households where it wasn’t okay to be affectionate? Maybe we “know” our parents or siblings love us, but we aren’t the kind of family who expresses our feelings about each other.

This year, embrace all your feelings. Don’t settle for superficiality in your relationships. Make it a point to look each person in the eye and tell them what you appreciate about your relationship with them. Let them know you love them and why.

For some families, this kind of emotional vulnerability is even more challenging than letting them know when they hurt your feelings or make you frustrated. Speaking the truth about what you truly appreciate about your family (even if it’s simply that they gave you life) is a powerful and profound experience.

If your family interaction veers into the dramatic territory of guilt, shame, blame, victimhood and rescuing, it’s fine to step back and refuse to take part. The important part is to express your truth. Let them know, this year you’d like to take a different approach. You’re not going to take part in dramatic games and charades. You appreciate them for giving you life and being part of your life, but you want to operate in honesty this holiday.

It’s also fine to let your family know there are items to address later, but during your holiday get-together you choose instead to focus on your appreciation, hopes and wishes for each person. Take charge of your situation and choose to create an atmosphere of peace and love.

There is great power in honesty.

The more you embrace and face the truth, the more power you have. The more truth and power, the more you can serve the world. Truth unlocks you power and allows you to align more powerfully with others. It allows you to become your highest self and partner with others more deeply. At the Institute we have a culture of truth where students can get straight feedback on their strengths and weaknesses—what is facilitating their quest for MORE and what is blocking it. In your life, in your world right now, you can seek to establish a culture of truth around you, where you give and receive feedback and your communications are powerfully honest. That is the freedom of truth.

The One Decision

This holiday season, embrace truth in all your interactions. Aim for positive intentions to connect with and appreciate those around you. Enjoy a holiday of more vibrancy, more light, more joy and truth.

To discover ways to unlock your personal power through purposeful living, please visit us at the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming networking event to connect with others. Go forth and ignite your world this holiday season!

Dressed in a black jacket against a window is the author, Dr. Bob Wright.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Making Sense of Motherhood:
How to Understand and Embrace Your Emotions as a Mother

To say motherhood’s fraught with emotion is an understatement! Of course, motherhood starts out as an emotional experience right from the beginning.

Being a mom comes with a lot of emotions, and making sense of motherhood can be a rewarding challenge.

From dealing with the ups and downs of your own emotions (hello, hormones!) to the wide range of moods displayed by a toddler (hello, terrible twos!) making sense of motherhood and the wide range of feelings can be a challenge.

Of course, motherhood starts out as an emotional experience right from the beginning.

There’s a flood of emotions mothers experience during pregnancy and birth. The joys of the experience are usually highlighted, but it’s perfectly normal and expected to also experience fear, sadness and uncertainty as well. In fact, one could argue these emotions are even MORE common, especially in the first months as mothers navigate their new role (and lack of sleep).

From the conception of our children and for the rest of their and our lives, motherhood is a platform for examining, growing and strengthening our emotional intelligence. In fact, examining how we “mother” and nurture other aspects of our lives and even ourselves is a powerful lens for self-exploration.

While motherhood is traditionally viewed as a state of nurturing and focusing solely on the growth of one’s child, it’s a missed opportunity to ignore the personal growth and evolution of moms’ emotional intelligence as well.

Through the lens of motherhood, you may start to examine your own experiences and relationship with your mother. You may discover unfinished business, thoughts, feelings and even resentments and hurts from your childhood. There’s no better time to explore the origin of these feelings and delve deeper into your own personal growth. Motherhood’s an amazing chance to dive into and explore the ocean of emotion.

The Wright Foundation has an upcoming FREE webinar!

The Myths of Motherhood with Dr. Gertrude Lyons

Join us on Friday, December 15th at 12pm CST for a special Idea Cafe: A Taste of Wright Graduate University webinar.

With all the “expert” advice bombarding mothers all the time, this is your chance to unpack the myths of motherhood and gain new insights on thinking critically for yourself and embrace all the true joys of your motherhood journey.

Sign up now – it’s FREE!

Making Sense of Motherhood: The Three Categories of Mothering

Mothering, and the concept of motherhood can be generally broken down into three categories:

  • Traditional Mothering
  • Mothering Others (People and Projects)
  • Mothering Self (Developing One’s Own Emotional Growth)

Inherent to the state of womanhood is the ability to nurture. To nurture and grow is naturally a feminine trait. However, this in no way means all women should be mothers, or all mothers are nurturers. Nor does it mean nurturing is limited to women (Guys—you can strengthen your personal power by getting in touch with your feminine and emotional side too!).

It’s important all people foster their nurturing, caring and emotional side. In fact, the basis of emotional intelligence and sensitivity comes directly from the more nurturing and growth-oriented side of our personalities.

One of the common myths of mothering is that nurturing is an inherent quality all women possess and excel at. This often leaves new moms feeling inadequate and/or confused if they don’t instantly bond with their infant.

In reality, mothering’s a state that must be strengthened and evolved into. In our role as children and growing up, we’re self-focused. We learn to be concerned with our own needs over the needs of others. When we shift into the role of motherhood our focus on our needs may shift as well. We may become less concerned with our own emotions and growth and more focused on our children.

For women though, this distancing from self-concern can often happen even earlier on in life. During childhood people, especially girls, are often taught to “tamp down” emotions. We’re taught it’s not acceptable to be too emotional or to feel a broad spectrum of different emotions. We may have learned to put our emotions on the back burner.

In childhood, we may also be taught certain emotions are more acceptable than others. For example—fear and anger might be suppressed and subdued as we’re taught to comply and put on a “happy face.” We may have been taught the myth, it’s not okay for women to feel anger or to be too disagreeable.

This suppression of our emotional range can deeply affect our emotional experience as mothers as well as our experience as emotionally intelligent adults.

When we’re experiencing the emotional rollercoaster ride and making sense of motherhood it’s a perfect time to nurture our own feeling as well as those of our children. In fact, by focusing on broadening our own emotional range we will have a positive effect on our kids’ ability to cope with and experience different emotions.

Emotions are okay! Feel fear, feel anger, feel joy, feel sadness! Get in touch with your emotions and let them break through! It can only make you a stronger mother and a more vibrant human being.

Being Emotional: It’s Not Selfish

While writing my dissertation I explored the teachings of Alison Gopnik, psychologist and philosopher discusses the concept of motherhood as a gardener rather than a carpenter, an apt metaphor.

We often think of parenting as being like a carpenter, carving children into a prescribed likeness that fits a parent’s ideal. Gopnik proposes a model of caring for children like a garden.

 “Messiness and variability are a carpenter’s enemies; precision and control are her allies,”[1] while “[w]hen we garden, on the other hand, we create a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish. It takes hard labor and the sweat of our brows, with a lot of exhausted digging and wallowing in manure.”

This concept of a mother as a gardener has such a critically important message and has been the drumbeat of the parenting program at Wright for over twenty years.

Dr. Bob Wright is consistently cautioning mothers on the parent and child training to loosen the reigns and let their children express their emotions, feel their feelings and make mistakes so they can learn from them.

During the parenting weekend retreat, Bob was conveying this concept and proposed the children, ages 5-12, cook the entire breakfast on their own for the over thirty participants and with no help from their parent (overseen by staff).

The children could ask intelligent questions of their mother and that was the only involvement allowed. The breakfast took a very long time, but they accomplished what they set out to do. The mothers were supported to identify their feelings which, for the most part, was fear due to the lack of control and potential unknown outcomes for their children.

Further exploration brought to the surface experiences from their own childhoods that had been buried. Brought to consciousness, these feelings could be felt, leading them to their own healing of these past wounds. The children benefited as well as they all shared how proud they were of themselves in accomplishing this task.

This is one example of how stepping back and allowing children to grow and learn is beneficial to all!

Motherhood’s an excellent time to focus on our personal growth. As we’re making sense of motherhood, we can learn and grow. We can guide our children and nourish them, but also give them (and ourselves) space to experience emotional growth. Providing room for self-exploration and expression will lead to greater confidence and an ability to handle all of life’s challenges and thrive!

Experiencing a range of emotions during motherhood’s not only natural but healthy! Focus on self-care, mothering and nurturing yourself along with your children.

Embrace the emotions of motherhood today! To learn more please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for a parenting workshop or a More Life to learn more about how you can embrace your emotions and use them as a platform for greater growth!

Click here to sign up for our FREE webinar on the Myths of Motherhood – Friday, December 15th.
We hope you can join us!


Gertrude Lyons, EdD
Gertrude Lyons, EdD

Gertrude Lyons is a human emergence coach and adjunct faculty member at Wright Graduate University. Her academic career spans from a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting, a master’s in psychology from Antioch University, and a newly completed doctoral degree from WGU. Gertrude is a wife and mother of two and resides in Chicago, IL where she continues to learn, grow, and develop her skills as a human emergence coach with the Wright team.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Portions of this post are taken from Gertrude’s doctoral dissertation, Expanding Mothering: Raising a Woman’s Awareness of the Opportunities for Personal and Psychosocial Growth and Development in Mothering—A Curriculum Evaluation Study.

[1] Alison Gopnik, The Gardner and the Carpenter, 18.

Featured image is courtesy of Alexander Dummer on Unsplash.