Were you raised to be a “good girl?” Me too. Good girls are kind, empathetic, and relational. We put others’ needs ahead of our own. Caring for the young, old, weak, vulnerable – we serve a valid and necessary tribal need. And they’re lovely human traits we would wish for anyone. Someone who amplifies love. Who takes care.
And then there’s that dark part of our role as caregivers. That makes our love, and therefore our self-esteem, “women’s work.” “Less than.” And, quite literally, “less than.” Dollar for dollar. Our culture’s measurement of value is money and it’s depreciated by gender. Sugar and spice and everything nice is so lovely and warm and comfortable… and… economically disempowered. And then we wonder why we can’t express our true thoughts in a meeting. Or lead causes that are dear to us in ways that are financially sustainable, despite knowing that these are the causes that will turn the world around… because those causes and industries are largely driven by… women. Charities, Not-for-profits, healthcare, education. Under-resourced sectors.
Our culture is in dire need of healing and wholeness in quite a literal, physical way. How can we help when our gender is still being run by the systems that have led to the creation of the current conditions that we find ourselves in?
We’re rewarded for our feminine traits in personal relationships and likability and punished for it economically and intellectually. How do we jump out of the cycle and into our own sovereignty, taking authorship of our life and work? Redefining the binary from either a liked woman OR a powerful woman to both a powerful AND a celebrated woman (belonging instead of shunned). This isn’t a matter of self-esteem this is, literally, tons of access, resources, material, positional, expert power and full self-realization. Not paying the heavy price for attempting to defy a taboo that says: not past this line do you walk if you’re a woman. That’s the taboo that we’re looking to take aim at and fire. Sound too masculine? Have we been socialized to believe that force of will is only a man’s entitlement?
Counter to some self-help literature out there, our self-regard and the feedback we get from the world are interrelated. When we get messages about what’s desired of us, it takes very hard work to believe otherwise – and then to be or do otherwise. And so we in turn invest in and pay for personal development, therapy, coaching, professional development to help us. And in that realm, sometimes we find something actually worse than where we started from.
Not only do we start with the female socialization experience as a handicap to stepping into our sovereignty in the world, we are then given the message from personal development that we are, actually, in need of some never ending constant improvement in ways we might not have even known we needed upgrading. Our culture makes money off of our efforts to self-empower. The messages to women that there are “no limits” and they can “be anything,” leaves us blaming ourselves when we find that, contrary to that messaging, we are still statistically failing to close wage, self-esteem, industrial gender gaps. Didn’t get that job? Work harder on your interview skills. Having a hard time speaking your truth? Better start speaking up.
We’re in a culture where: “people are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become” (I read this in the New York Times recently). However, people of marginalized identities – like women – and especially women of colour – feel the heavier weight of systemic inequity as personal failures rather than systemic failures due to our gender. We are given the message that we need to “brave” ourselves to success. Which is about the most destructive thing I can think of to say to anyone who experiences objective inequity due to their identity from the moment they were born, and were socialized to repeat that inequity in the world in ways that disempower them by design.
The antidote to self-improvement as a mechanism to keep women from stepping into their own power and realizing that there is NOTHING wrong with them, and that there’s only something wrong with how we’ve been socialized, is to, first, stand still.
Our culture says do it bigger faster better more. And then we’re on autopilot. Rushing faster and faster toward… another cycle of trying to be the better more improved versions of ourselves which keeps us, ironically, smaller, lesser, weaker, gone. Because as we attempt to self-improve toward another person outside ourselves, we take away from our own power. Our inherent worth.
So, first thing’s first. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your inherent worth is perfect. There is something wrong with how you’ve been socialized. The more we see it, the less we are effected by it.
So the time you might tell yourself to knuckle your way through the 100th meeting you wished you had said more at, or berate yourself for the fears you have about your small business barely scrapping by or how you need to improve as a director because you’re anxious about both pleasing and asserting your authority with your staff. Take a moment. Stand back. See yourself in the greater context of your own social inequity. And find support. To do it differently and realize you don’t need to fight with a failed weak version of your desperately-trying-to-improve-socialized-to-fail self. You can ally with the stream of life force buried beneath your fatigue and burnout. The life giving energy that says:
You have infinite strength to tap into your possibility without lifting a finger the moment you say: “I’m here for me and not the garbage that you’re throwing at me that I sometimes mistake for my own doubt.”
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