Episode 5

Masculine vs. Feminine Energy in Women's Leadership

Published on: 26th April, 2021

Hello my friends! How are you? I am doing great! I’m recording this on a Monday and this week I have 6 more episodes I'm recording - we’ve got a lot cooking for you! 

I want to take a minute and do 2 things with you all. First, I want to thank everyone who left a rating and review for the show. And I want to read one of the reviews. This one is from Sassafras2016-

Thought-provoking and Empowering. Tracy takes you on a thought-provoking journey that makes you examine your status quo as a woman. The guests she brings in are experts and provide really informative insights into the context of Lady Macbeth, but also women and their place in history. Breezy and light enough to listen to at any time but also so full of insight.

Wow, thank you Sassafras2016! If you are enjoying the show and can take a minute out of your day to leave a rating and a review, it really does help more people find and enjoy the show. ANd I will read your review in one of our upcoming episodes, I promise!

Also, if you want to connect with me to talk about the show, if you have an idea for an episode or a suggestion for a guest, please connect with my on LinkedIn Tracy Oswald - that’s where I hang out and also Instagram - I’m getting better - tracy.oswald. Would love to hear from you!

The genesis for this episode came from a LinkedIn Live I did last Friday with Maribel Perez Wadsworth, the President of News at Gannett and Publisher of USA Today. We talked about using the power of your voice as women, and we touched a little bit on the concept of masculine and feminine energy.

Adopting Male Characteristics, male energy, Lady Macbeth. How this has shown up for me.

In order to be taken seriously, and actually be able to do the job, I needed to not only act more male, but also look more male.

In Lady M’s most powerful soliloquy - she begs for this.

Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts,

Unsex me here

And fill me from the crown to the toe, top full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood and stop up the access

Passage to remorse.

That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake fell my purpose,

Nor keep peace between the effect and it. Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall; you murthering ministers

Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature’s mischief

Come thick night and pall thee in dunnest smoke of hell

That my keen knife not see not see the wound it makes

Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark

To cry “hold, hold”

Scholarly article that appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly in autumn of 1980 by Jenijoy La Belle

So let's take a look at what our Lady is really asking - and to do that we have to look at both the physiological and psychological aspects of her request.

What our Lady is asking is to be relieved from the so-called “limits” of her sex, to literally stop getting her period, to give her gall in her breast instead of the ability to make milk, to stop having the bodily functions of a woman, she believes that if that can happen, if she can stop being a woman physically, she will also stop being a woman Psychologically. 

And in order to do what she thought needed to be done, she believed she had to stop thinking like a woman, to stop being a woman. VEry much like witches were accused of doing, she invokes the spirits to change her body and mind in order to 

Side note - it was believed during this time that menstrual blood turned INTO milk after the baby was born - The Complete Midwives’ practice written by John Peshey

While the birth remains in the womb, it is cherished up with blood attracted through the navel….and goes on to say..Now this blood, presently, after conception is distinguished into parts. The purest part drawn by the child for the nourishment of self, the second is less pure and thin, the womb forces upward to the breast where it is turned into milk.” Interesting fact!

Lady m believed That the only way for her to plot to kill King Duncan was to lose her feminine consciousness and adopt an entirely male consciousness. Masculine energy.

We also see the three witches referred to as masculine-looking by Banquo when he and Macbeth first come upon them in the woods: 

How far is’t call’d to Forres?

What are these

So wither’d and so wild in

their attire

That look not like the

inhabitants o’ the earth

And yet are on’t?

Live you?

Or are you aught

That a man may question?

You seem to understand me,

By each at once her choppy finger


Upon her skinny lips: you should

Be women

And yet your beards forbid me to


That you are so


The audience back then in the early 1600s is reminded consistently in this play that, If you want any kind of power, you must give up your femininity. You must not even LOOK like a woman.

Fast forward to more recent centuries and women have been encouraged to look more like men, in order to be seen as more powerful, especially when it came to the workplace.

We’ll start in Early 1940s. War was on everyone’s minds. WWII pulled men out of homes and their jobs and onto the front lines, which meant women were stepping into those roles both figuratively and literally. Gender roles began to shift as women stepped in to fill the spots left by men across various industries.

For the first time ever, nearly one in four married women worked outside the home.

Suddenly women’s day-to-day activities shifted from housework to driving trucks and operating heavy machinery, so their clothing also adjusted. They had to be practical instead of glamorous and female clothing took on a more masculine quality, with jackets, coats, and dresses borrowing aspects of men’s military uniforms. 

The shoulder pads used in evening wear during the 1930’s were added to women’s regular clothing daywear to create a bulking effect on a woman’s narrower frame - very military looking.

After WWII ended and the men returned to the States, women were pushed from their wartime jobs, causing many to fall back into their roles as homemakers and primary caregivers. Fashion adapted and we got the poodle skirts and tight sweaters of the 50’s. Much more feminine look..

And then a few decades later - the glorious 80’s, the next swell of women re-entered the workplace, and this time we were here to stay. According to 1990 census data, the number of working women increased by 27 percent throughout the 1980s.

The phrase “smash the glass ceiling,” which originated in 1986, embodied the feminist goals of the era, namely achieving equal status with their male counterparts. 

Margaret Thatcher, an icon of both the women’s movement and the shoulder-pads trend, had just taken office as the first female prime minister of the UK.

I remember the late 80’s and very early 90’s when I wore big shoulder pads, and I already have broad shoulders! And I remember feeling like it gave me more legitimacy, more authority. Changing my appearance, changing the shape of my body through clothing in order to change my mind or change me psychologically. 

Also bewitching others to believe I was more like a man, since I looked more like a man, could I then summon the power of a man? And did I need to do that to be seen and to feel legitimate at work? 

Fast forward to early 2000’s,When I worked In NYC .I mostly wear dresses and skirts and blazers (no more big shoulder pads) but I also wore leather boots, and a very military like trenchcoact, it was like putting on my armor of protection, like do not fuck with me, but also it was a show of strength, of power. 

Throughout my career, for a long time, I worked in male dominated industries and I adapted to that. I summoned my own masculine energy, assertiveness, competitiveness, etc. 

And if I’m honest with myself, I spent a long time thinking that if I acted more like one of the boys, it meant I was powerful, that I would be recognized, even be a better leader. This was only 20 odd years ago my friends. I still had that conditioning, that programming running in my mind and belief system

I didn’t have strong female role models to show me how it could be.

How I could show love and empathy and vulnerability inside my leadership and life and be even more successful. I’m not saying there weren’t any great female leaders during that time, they just weren’t available to me, there weren’t a lot of them in the industry.

When I think of how I put on my armour every day, my leather boots and my power suits and got on that train to New York City, which proved, of course, how incredibly tough I was, right? LOLOL 

What was modeled for me was very much the fraternity culture, bro mentality before bro was  a thing. All bravado and swagger. And I’m not saying that was all bad, or that I don;t still sometimes tap into that energy when I want to - but the key is doing it deliberately. And not doing it because it was the only way I thought it could be done.

In last week’s episode when we talked to Dr. Valerie about Patriarchy stress disorder, and how it has never been safe to be a woman- that really struck a chord with me. 

Because along with not even realizing I had any other choice in how I was “being” as a leader back then, I also had something happen to me that looking back now was terrifying and was most definitely workplace harassment but at the time, although it was terrifying, the whole time it was happening to me I kept telling myself it was fine it was no big deal, and if I wanted to lead (like a man, or with the men) I had to accept things like this. 

I had to put on my masculine energy fields and just get over it. Be one of the boys.

It was back in probably 2008 or so, I was working in Manhattan for the Yellow Pages and I had a team of about 8 sales reps. One of my fellow managers, a male, because it was a very male-dominated industry, had come into my office to dispute a sale one of my reps had made.

There was a lot of that in the company, disputes over who was honing in on whose territory. Now this person was let’s say, not a very evolved person, human. He came into my office, we had our conversation, he accused my rep of doing something, I gave him my version of events, and he got angry. And I didn’t back down. He wanted to yell and shout and he did. 

Now I am NOT A FIGHTER. I am a Libra rising and I want equity and balance for all. So he kept yelling and at one point I just stopped engaging with him, because that’s what I do in situations like that, I shut down. 

I sat down in my chair behind my desk where I felt “safer”. He kept yelling and I wouldn’t answer. I was afraid. 

My body was afraid. And I kept telling myself - you have to be able to “take” this, if you were a guy, you would just stand up and yell back and get him to leave. 

My inner Lady M was beseeching me- calling to the spirits, Unsex me here! Make me into a man so I can do what needs to be done. So I can feel like I have some power in this situation. So I can defend myself and you know what? Maybe even go on the offense, stand chest to chest with him and physically move him the fuck out of my space.

And I was ashamed that I wasn’t doing that.

I could see the veins in his neck bulging, his arms and hand were gesturing aggressively, every cell in my body was telling me that I was in physical danger.

Then he did the scariest thing...he sat down in the chair opposite my desk and just stared at me for the longest time. I didn’t know what to do, I was terrified inside, I wanted to cry. So I turned to my computer and folders and I started working. He didn’t leave. 

And I felt physically paralyzed. Now I was 40 years old at the time, a grown woman. ANd I was physically afraid for my safety in a corporate setting. I don’t know how long he stayed like that staring at me, but it felt like FOrEVER. When he finally left and went to his office right next door to mine, I heard him punching the walls and yelling. 

And you know what? I never reported it. Maybe I told a few of my peers, all men, about it, but that's it. My brain told me to not make a big deal about it. Boys will be boys. I could have gotten up and walked out. I should have yelled back. I was weak. 

Have you ever been in a situation like that? Where you kept justifying what was happening, and that you should be able to take it and not get upset? If you want to share it with me, I’d be honored to hear your story. 

And I also feel sad for that version of me because at home I was a mom with 2 incredible daughters and a wonderful husband and extended family and had so much love in my heart for them, and I thought that I couldn't translate that person - me- to an effective leader and builder of teams. I wasn’t equipped to even understand that embracing my feminine energy would be like rocket fuel for my career! 

I spent so much time in “work” mode, 90 minutes to get to NYC, 9 or 10-hour workday, 90 minutes to get home, and the precious little time that I got to spend being in my female energy, BEING a woman, was like a handful of hours.

And so I kept my feelings locked inside, I never really got to know, at a deep level, the people I worked with. I didn’t make time for friends, I mean I didn't really have any friends outside of work. 

All the messages I got over my lifetime and career until that time was that in order to be a leader and get promoted and make things happen I had to be more like a man. More masculine. And the implicit message in that is ...because being a woman isn’t good enough. That women were not able to be as successful as men because we simply weren’t men. And so we are worth LESS.

It took me 10 years to unravel that for myself, to get ME to where I am now. 

To be able to embrace my womennes and softness. To understand how powerful I am as a woman.

To accept and love myself. And a big part of that unraveling and learning came from understanding the power of human connection and that’s where Sleep No More comes in and I promise to start unfolding that journey for you and with you in my next solo episode. How I used the Mckittrick as my laboratory and school and playground. And how I can’t wait to get back there once this covid madness goes away to those dimly lit halls and incredible people

Fast forward to now and masculine and feminine energy -What fascinates me now, in 2021 is watching the pendulum swing from the big shoulder pads of the 80’s to the I think, hypersexualization and over beautification of the woman with the huge emphasis we place on cosmetic surgery and procedures, - the pillowy lips and the mid-face thread lifts, and don’t think I haven’t thought about this!

Since Covid, we’re all on video calls all day long looking at ourselves, and then we're scrolling on social media looking at the before and after Instagram stories with women’s faces and bodies being scrutinized to the nth degree. Using scalpels and lasers to create new forms, to conform and constrict. To recreate our youth

Women are changing their appearances again, in a more permanent way than my shoulder pads, power suits and leather boots. Making themselves MORE female, defining what is attractive, creating new ways of being and being seen. 

And on top of that, I’m sure you’ve seen the campaign on social media that says I am a female CEO with a picture of a woman and the word woman crossed out. 

There was a woman who posted this on LinkedIN and she said:

I am a CEO. I am an Entrepreneur. My success is not because of my gender. My success is due to my hard work, passion, and grit. I am ready to drop the gender and get down to work. If I can do it, you can do it.

And there were lots of comments, especially from men. One of the comments from a guy said: THAT is how it should be written. No man needs to write I’m a dude CEO. So you don’t need to write you’re a boss-babe or female CEO.

And I wonder what that all means inside this narrative. IN the context of our Lady. When we think about masculine and feminine energy and power, Is it the ultimate power play to try and stand in our womannes even more WHILE claiming a bigger share of power, while standing up and saying, hey I can LOOK this pretty, this sexy and not be a witch. I can look this pretty and this sexy and BE POWERFUL. 

And I’m going to look this pretty and sexy AND demand that you pay me equally and treat me with respect?

Or is it because we still feel less than, not good enough or pretty enough and that means we’re not valuable enough in men’s eyes?  Or even that we feel less than in our fellow woman’s eyes? So much so that we feel the need to make ourselves smaller in some areas bigger in others, lift the toll that gravity is taking? 

Conforming to impossible beauty standards that WE as WOMEN help create and reinforce?

I ask myself what would she do? What would Lady M think about all of this? This woman who had to be written so evil and heinous because that’s the only way audiences would accept her and her power and influence. The crime that we are still being punished for?

When will we stop writing ourselves and each other as evil and heinous? When will we allow ourselves to inhabit ourselves fully as women, and wholly as we are without having to put on the shroud of male-ness to feel as if we are worthy and seen as powerful? 

When will we stop cutting and sewing our bodies and faces to conform to some misbegotten idea and fantasy of beauty - beauty as the ultimate power. 

Or buying beauty and youth to stave off being overlooked, ridiculed, and being labeled a modern-day witch because we are simply not pretty or young enough.

What are your thoughts about this? I want to know.

Until next week my friends!

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About the Podcast

Defending Lady Macbeth
For every woman who was ever told, you are too loud, too much, or too ambitious.
Was Lady Macbeth a cunning, evil, manipulative, murderous villain, or a fierce, smart, badass influencer who did what needed to be done? Now I’m not saying conspiring to murder your husband’s boss is OK! (it’s bad!) But what’s a woman to do when she has IDEAS, a POINT OF VIEW and a PLAN and absolutely no “right” to show up in her power?

I’m calling you, beckoning you, down a dimly lit hallway, a gravelly, uneven path, where we will hold up Lady Macbeth as our cautionary tale of what happens when you step outside the socio-political roles that history has written for YOU, for US, as WOMEN.

When we say - THIS IS WHAT I WANT, and then go after it.

When we show up in our sovereignty as WOMEN.

When we let our AMBITION show, even just a little.

When we stand naked and visible in our POWER.

We are going to LAY BARE all that history has given us on female agency, ambition and power by having juicy conversations with leading experts on women and gender studies, Medieval experts, and Shakespearean scholars about what life was actually like for women during Lady Macbeth’s time in history vs. the experience we live today.

We’ll also talk with bad-ass women (like you!) who have laid their ambition out for all to see and have suffered the overt and subliminal consequences that are built into our social, corporate, and family structures.

We’ve been conditioned for thousands of years as women to give up, deny and side-step our own agency. To not rock the boat and to never show up visibly in our own power. OR ELSE.

This show is all about revealing our current reality by unearthing the past, all in an effort to create change at scale in our future, for women everywhere. The BIG questions we will be grappling with are, “How far have we, as women, REALLY come since the Middle Ages?” and “How can we normalize women’s ambition, help them activate their agency, and stand firmly and boldly in their power?”

About your host

Profile picture for Tracy Oswald

Tracy Oswald