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PROF. HENRY HIGGINS GETS HIS WISH: WOMEN ARE LIKE MEN

A new study on gender characteristics would have made 'My Fair Lady' protagonist, professor Henry Higgins, a very happy fellow.

Higgins, who questioned out loud, 'Why can't a woman be more like a man?,' as he attempted to decipher Miss Eliza Doolittle, just needed to wait a few decades to get his wish.

According to social psychology researchers Alice Eagly, of Northwestern University, and Amanda Diekman, of Purdue University, time spent in the working world has indeed made women more like men. Or at least women are perceived as acting and thinking more like their male counterparts than ever before.

"We clearly charted the perception that women have taken on characteristics more commonly associated with men," Eagly said, explaining the results of a survey that assessed the past, present and future personality characteristics of women and men over a time line from 1950 through 2050.

Among the male traits assigned to women with increased frequency going forward along the time line were independence, competitiveness and assertiveness. Physical differences were also noted, with adjectives such as "strong" and "muscular" being used to describe both men and women in the later decades of the time line.

"These are characteristics that would traditionally be assigned to the male stereotype, not the female," Eagly said. "And observing the shift along the time line, the reassignment of traits directly correlated to when women began working outside the home and taking on what had been male roles."

Interestingly, while women were viewed as having adopted traits that have served men well in the working world for generations, they were not observed to have lost their femininity. They were still perceived as warm and nurturing, while taking on characteristics that have allowed them to work side-by-side with men, and in many cases, take the leadership role.

"I can't say we were surprised with the findings, after all, these are characteristics that have served men so well in the working world. It makes sense that women would also need these traits to survive and excel," Eagly added.

Dianne Bennett, president and managing partner of Hodgson Russ, Buffalo's largest law firm, said she likely acquired more "manly" personality traits in law school.

"You have to be pretty tough to be a good lawyer, and you tend to get tougher as you move up in management," Bennett said. "You learn to be quicker on your feet, able to make decisions with less information, or you're not going to survive."

Bennett said having been the only, or one of just a few women in the room for a lot of years by necessity changed her professional style, but not her personality. "If I were wishy-washy or too soft, I don't think I'd be here," she said. "But I have never tried to act like a man. I'm probably just a little tougher version of who I've always been."

Eva M. Hassett, Buffalo's Commissioner of Administration and Finance, has a personal theory that women are simply applying skills that went unnoticed when they were using them for domestic or charitable endeavors.

"My mom is the perfect example," Hassett said. "She employed a tremendous range of skills -- strategic planning, organization, creativity, team building -- on a daily basis as she raised six children and planned dinner parties and junior league events."

When Hassett's mother, Caroline Hassett Buerk, moved from her duties at home to a career as a lawyer, those traits evolved into key professional assets.

For herself, city government's highest-ranking female executive, said while she can be "as aggressive as the next guy," she lets the situation dictate what management style is most appropriate.

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