Happy International Women’s Day!
The gender equality movement has been palpable in the past few months since my last related post. It is estimated that at least 3.3 million people participated in the Women’s March across the United States. There were zero arrests. Beyond the U.S., people marched on all 7 continents in solidarity.
With it has come loads of inspiring moments, such as this one:
One of my favourite aspects about this movement is an open dialogue in helping people understand a very charged word: Feminism. Feminism is about gender equality. Do you believe men and women have equal rights? Great, you are a feminist! And for women, feminism is about freedom. Being a feminist does not mean you must act any certain way. It means you have the right to live your life in any way you choose, based on your personal set of values, free of exploitation and pressure. To quote Emma Watson, “Feminism is about giving women choice.”
It’s safe to say any woman who has been somewhat aware and conscious during her development has experienced some form of sexism. From uneasiness walking to your car at night, to the difference in targeted commercials for girls and boys, to unequal treatment in the workplace, to unwelcome advances, to feeling objectified, patronized or ogled, to sexual abuse, not to mention the daily barrage of images in the media that carry a simultaneously subtle yet powerful pressure of what it means to be a valued woman in our world.
The sneaky part of it all, is striving to become closer to that feminine ideal can feel empowering. I’ve had many clients express that they only became aware of sexism as real and damaging problem AFTER being sexually assaulted. When you are celebrated and valued for fitting into the feminine ideal, it brings you closer to the power source, and it can allow us to be blind to the inequalities and injustices that exist. That blindness is risky, because many aspects of the feminine ideal involve youth and the fleeting physical attributes that come with it, which we all know are impermanent. Eleanor Roosevelt once shared that she was grateful she was never conventionally beautiful, as she never had to grieve the loss of it as she aged. As soon as the impermanent fades away, a woman is left victim to the oppression.
Those oppressive forces are often internalized by women, and they commonly manifest in deep-seated beliefs when presenting for therapy. Here are some common examples (though these cognitions can manifest in many different ways):
THOUGHT “I’m not good enough” –> FEELING inadequacy, fear, anxiety, &/or shame–> BEHAVIOUR self-sabotaging behaviours or lack of striving for things she desires.
THOUGHT “I’m unattractive/unloveable” –> FEELING inadequacy, sadness, &/or shame –> BEHAVIOUR unable to see the possible supportive relationships when they present themselves, only sees the people whose beliefs of her are consistent with her own.
THOUGHT: “I have to be perfect” –> FEELING fear, anxiety, shame –> BEHAVIOUR conducts life in a way that is suitable for others without considering own wants or needs.
[Specific to sexual abuse] THOUGHT “It was my fault, therefore I am bad” –> FEELING guilt, shame, depression, anxiety –> BEHAVIOUR isolation, tearfulness, lack of striving for love, success, happiness.
Now, this post centres on women due to it being International Women’s Day. For my male readers, a quick shout out that gender inequality also negatively impacts men in many ways! In this oppressive binary, men are confined just as much as women, such as lack of acceptance for a man to feel or express emotions.
So without further ado, I’d like to offer you a formal invitation to the revolution. Does that sound exhausting? Well, I have great news for you. Whether you’re the type of person hitting the streets with homemade signs and writing letters to government officials, “liking” and sharing empowering messages on social media, simply noticing what is happening on the news, or ANYTHING in between, this is a challenge we can all easily take on. Plus, it is a challenge that directly benefits your mental, emotional and physical health, and also changes the world while you’re at it. Are you ready?! Here it is:
- TAKING STOCK: I invite you to take this holiday as an opportunity to take stock. In what ways has gender inequality impacted your life?
Your thoughts? Emotions? Behaviours?
2. MEDIA DETOX: Next, scan the media that bombards you every day. What type of images do you see in the magazines, people/personalities you follow, books, Instagram accounts you scroll through, websites you frequent, podcasts you listen to, etc.? Do some support unrealistic ideals of femininity or body image? Do they make you feel great about being you, and that you are perfect and enough just how you are? Or do they feed “not-good-enoughness”? Let your honest answer be your guide, and weed out the yuck. You won’t miss it!
Every time you look in the mirror, and love your body for all its incredible functions and the amazing things it allows you to do, YOU ARE INCITING A REVOLUTION.
Every time you say, “Meh, no thanks” to comments or media that exploit or objectify women or in general make you feel less than, YOU ARE CHANGING THE WORLD.
Every time you make a decision about your time, activities, body, and life based on your values and needs rather than what society tells you to do, YOU ARE EMPOWERMENT EMBODIED.
Every time you speak to yourself in a compassionate, loving way, like you would your best friend or loved one YOU ARE STICKING IT TO THE MAN (Sorry, men, just a figure of speech).
And you don’t even have to leave your house to do it.
Take home message: the revolution starts within. We don’t have to accept an oversimplified definition of what it means to be a woman. We can create our own meanings. We can weed out internalized oppression. It’s not your inner voice, it’s theirs, so give it back. We can create an internal revolution by loving ourselves fiercely, without any conditions. We have the power to fight back against explicit and implicit messages that have surrounded us our entire lives and claim new messages of our choice within our internal world. I’m with you on this journey, and if you need more support in your work, please feel free to reach out! I would love to hear from you.
Helen Thomas MC, RCC, LPC