This blog post is for all the ladies. In the spirit of celebrating women, let’s take a moment to point out that even though our culture often uses its standards of physical beauty to measure the success or importance of women, women are so much more than how they physically appear to others. Instead of measuring your worth by how you look, which is largely out of your control, we suggest that you make an effort to be proud of yourself today for the things you do have control over, including:
- Being great at whatever it is you do
- Successfully raising wonderful teenagers
- Being a great mother/wife/partner/daughter/friend/woman in general
- Maintaining your job if you are employed
- Engaging in any hobbies you have
- “Small” things, like cooking a delicious meal or maintaining your exercise regimen
- Women are innovative! Did you know that computer software was invented by a woman (Grace Hopper, 1950s)? Or that a woman invented caller ID (Dr Shirley Ann Jackson, 1970s)? The dishwasher, windshield wipers, and Kevlar (the material used in bulletproof vests and body armor) were also all invented by women.
- Women are brave. If it weren’t for brave and strong women like Susan B. Anthony, who was willing to fight against oppression beginning in the 1860s, women’s rights would still be severely limited today. One hundred years ago, women did not have the right to vote-- and thanks to the courageous voices of women, women enjoy many more freedoms today than were thought possible a century ago.
- Women generally have a natural, powerful sense of empathy. Perhaps it is because they are bearers of new life, or maybe it is because they are socialized to express their feelings and offer support to others. Either way, women are known for their compassion and empathy. Think of Harriet Tubman, who risked her life leading her fellow enslaved people to freedom using the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s.
- Women make life better! Think of Ellen Degeneres, who constantly makes us laugh with her sharp wit and who has made important strides toward LGBTQ acceptance and equality in our culture.
- Women shaped you into the person you are today. Think of your mother, or your mother figure, whose nurturing and support fostered your growth.
Furthermore, sometimes, we “learn that having certain traits, being a member of a particular group, and being who we are, are not good enough or are not desirable. Sometimes, we even learn to hate our traits, our groups, [or] ourselves.” You may see this internalized oppression in some of your female friends, who, for example, may believe that they are not cut out to be as successful as their male colleagues. Or, you may hear a woman prefacing her contributions to discussions with “This may be a stupid question, but--” or “I could be wrong, but--.” Such admissions of self-doubt are not always, but can be, manifestations of hundreds of years of oppression against women that taught that women are not as intelligent as men.
Another facet of internalized oppression is biased views or beliefs toward others in your category. Bustle has a good example of this: “When we consider ourselves a rare exception to our gender for being easygoing or strong or more focused on inner qualities than appearance, we insult all women and therefore ourselves. As long as we view ourselves or a select few women as the exception, we will not change the rule.”
Obviously, internalized oppression is damaging to women’s mental health. Believing negative messages about women can cause depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and even self-hatred. Eating disorders, self-harm, and even suicide could result. To prevent these awful potentials, here is a list of simple tasks we could all engage in:
- Be supportive of the women in your life. Listen to them, validate their emotions, and be a good friend. If your friend/mother/sister is unnecessarily self-critical, point this out to her and remind her that she is wonderful!
- Allow yourself to be supported. Open your heart to the women in your life, whose empathy, compassion, and friendship will be a shining light in your life.
- Question your views and beliefs. Critical appraisal might reveal that your insecurities largely stem from the cultural messages you’ve been receiving. Your beliefs about yourself and other women might not reflect the truth, but instead a learned stereotype.
- Model confidence for your daughters. Unfortunately, well-meaning but self-critical mothers can accidentally teach their children to be self-critical. Often, mothers don’t realize that the reasons they are self-critical have to do with internalized oppression: for example, a mother might believe that women are supposed to be super skinny (in order to take up as little space as possible), and might accidentally model disordered eating for her children.
To clarify the purposes of this blog post: We were all born into this society and this culture, and the way things are are the fault of no one living today. Hopefully no one has felt “blamed” while reading this post. There are many wonderful men alive today who gladly fight against oppression of women, and we are irrevocably thankful for you.
Note: internalized oppression applies not only to women, but to all historically oppressed and marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, religious minorities, etc. Read more about it here and here.
If you are a woman, please take some time to appreciate, love, and care for yourself today. If you are not a woman, make sure to give the women in your life the support, encouragement, and appreciation that they deserve!
Hungry for more female empowerment? Check out these resources:
- A Mighty Girl
- Smart Girls
- Brene Brown
- Rachel Hollis
- Locally: Barb Steinberg & GENAustin
- Nike's powerful new ad
Stay healthy, Chaps!
--Kirsten Dalquist, MSSW Intern