By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
I’m thrilled to introduce the newest series of The Madame Guru articles – The Madame report. Here we’ll be exploring a more complex questions and topics about women empowerment and issues that we face and possible measures that can be taken. Let me “warn you” – these posts are going to be longer than the usual ones (old-school, may I add!) , so sit back and take your time to read!
I’m starting with the most fundamental topic and question – what is stopping women?*
Almost half year ago I was thinking about my career a lot. I was planning to make some changes. Big ones. It was – to say the least – a stressful and quite uncomfortable decision to make and to put in action.
The train of thought has brought me to further contemplate on why we, women, experience so much stress, struggle and worry when advancing or changing our careers. And, yes, mostly everything else in life.
I went to the holy Facebook and posted a question to all my girlfriends asking – what is it that they think is holding us, women, back or putting a lot of breaks along our way to success and fulfilment. As my girlfriends are superwomen I have received many amazing responses which I later narrowed down to this little report with my own commentary.
Social norms and lack of support
The first and the most featured obstacle that mostly dominated the entire conversation was something we blame everything for. The society and its norms. And even if it is a tired reason it doesn’t make it less legit.
The norms imposed by society, history and tradition feel like something quite abstract, but I think that it is an issue so wide and powerful that it is the hardest one to combat. Why?
Because it melts together the external and internal issues.
External “norms” are the usual suspects – the ideas and beliefs of what a woman can or cannot, should or shouldn’t do and what are or aren’t her roles in this world (focusing on family and home vs. career, being “softer” and more “feminine vs. strong and determined, catering to man’s ego vs. voicing your own opinion etc.)
As if it is not enough, we then take all of these external signals and internalize them – consciously or not. Even if you think you are above it, subconsciously we still are influenced and because of that – start creating restrictions, fears, anxiety and self doubt. It’s simply incredible.
“Culture (in the lips of own relatives and some friends) does not like strong women, as this would leave her without a male partner, which is implicitly assumed as an ultimate goal and an example of success. This make women to subdue their strong will and pretend to be what they are not, to fit the ‘norms’. A way to get out of this is to leave the country every now and then and meet other cultures, like Scandinavian or Germanic.”, – Vija M. Pakalkaite
Personally, I am coming from a mixed place – with an Eastern European background, currently living in the global and open world. The mentality and social norms in Eastern Europe are more conservative than in such places like Germany or Scandinavian countries. And that lack of push and too much pull creates this great problem of not enough of support – one of the main reasons women struggle.
Oh, I hear you say the closest people support you? You are luck and this may be true, but have you encountered a paradox where the men in your life will support you, but when it comes to another woman it becomes a whole different story? The strength becomes arrogance, grit – nastiness and determination – well, BITCHINESS. Now you see how as soon as you exit your tiny family “bubble” the societal prejudices take over.
I could go on forever about the social norms and I think I will, because only by having a conversation and putting it all out there we can fight the old ways.
“We’re raised to draw our power from how attractive we are and how good we are in the traditional role as women (great at cooking, cleaning, raising children, etc.). It’s quite hard for us to find confidence and society approval to step outside that box. If we do, it’s a daunting road ahead, with little support in the immediate community…. but it’s worth every bit of the struggle”, – Nataša Štambuk
Gender and family
This is a very complex issue and sometimes touches a nerve to many people, however, I strongly believe that it is something that needs to be talked about. Gender and family. So abstract. So complicated.
I don’t think I am wrong when I say that the social norms dictate that women are the primary care takers in the family. The ones to stay at home with the family – be it children, old or sick parents/other family members. In a way it is biology (and gender) – a woman is the one who carries the baby for 9 months and a woman is the one who is going to give birth, feed the baby at the beginning of his life. It is a fact, but it poses a challenge none the less.
Depending how big our family and closest surrounding “bubble” it varies on how long does the woman carry this main role. Somewhere it’s okay to go back to work, but you are still the one doing the most of the tasks at home, other times – it is “enough” to work part time or freelance in order to care for the kids.
Some other “bubbles” are happier than others – a woman and a man divide those home and child raising tasks.
Unfortunately, there are so many women outside of these bubbles and they stay at home for good. Yes, it is no secret that there are women who consciously stay at home as a full-time-moms and it is okay as long as it is their choice. A real choice. Unfortunately, many times it is not. And many times that choice comes from a place of anxiety, self doubt and even fear. Those are never never good places to base your life decisions on.
Anxiety, self doubt and fear
Here’s the modern “to be or not to be” for women – can I have it all? Should I have it all? Should I go back to my career or should I stay at home longer? And right here is where all the self-doubt and anxiety comes to life. Can you believe that even now, having so many freedoms and rights thanks to the ones fighting before (and today), we still face so much criticism, which comes to create anxiety.
This anxiety and self-doubt raise all these questions: do I still have the skills after time off; are there some new, younger, better candidates; am I a monster for leaving my children “alone”?
The anxiety grows and creates the mindset when the woman is left to feel helpless.
If that is not enough for you – don’t worry, there’s more. There are some legit and emotional reasons to start questioning the life choices – things like the desire to be with your family and the struggle to separate from the baby and go back to work. And when fear, anxiety and self doubt touch such sensitive areas –it is that much harder to fight them.
I am confident that only the support provided at home, work and from the entire societal mentality can help set the mind and emotions straight.
“Gender. Once you are not a part of a #childfree movement, you are the one who is gonna give birth, breastfeed, be with them until some 1-2 years of age. In many cases it kicks you off your career and it might be not that easy to accelerate again. Of course, it depends on your priorities, on your partner (how eager and able he/she is to help you in that journey), on your perception towards child raise (whether or not mother is irreplaceable), but me, personally, find it inevitable that I will not make for CIO as fast as I could if I were a man :). p.s. I do not regret it. I state that:)”, – Skirmantė Ušu.
“Fear, self criticism, responsibility to get and raise children, to care for their parents, the wish to be accepted by the society as “normal”=confirm, vanity, proud, in many countries it’s the lack of education and poverty, the wish/need to please men, the culturally transmitted Conviction that women are weaker than men in certain fields”, – Mieka Wizleth
“ For myself it’s a little bit of fear or anxiety to find the balance of being a mom and having a career. I stepped away from a career I loved 5 years ago to have my 2 children and it was a huge struggle for me. I love that I have been there for my kids while they were small but I definitely miss being among the grown ups and working in a job I love to do. I truly believe it is those people you chose to surround yourself with that will help guide you and support you. I feel blessed to have great friends and family who encourage us woman to follow their dreams. Now it’s my turn to get working on that….”, – Nancy Milicevic
It’s THIS ONE. Can’t live without them, can’t live with them! We all know how much the high expectations we set for our life motivate us, but also how much they hurt us along the way.
They apply to most of the points we talked about – family, work and of course – he fact that a woman has to have it all and give it all. Right?!
And even though many of those expectations come from external factors, we are also confronted with the painful internalization
We want to prove things to ourselves and by extension to everyone else. Yes, like I said, it CAN be helpful. However, there are lines to not be crossed and it’s easy to recognize them – if you feel like you can’t do it anymore – you’ve crossed them a long time ago. It becomes a hindrance instead of motivation.
“Sometimes I wonder if the high expectations for women exist as much in reality as they do in our minds. My coach told me that, for instance, a man would often take a promotion without hesitating, and might even feel entitled to it, while a woman would more often question if she really has what it takes. I know I question myself a lot. But it can be a good thing too because it pushes you to get better, just need to make sure it does not stop you from trying altogether. I also found at multiple occasions that people actually accept whatever choices you make quite easily if they know and love or at least like you. And these people are the only ones who matter really: family, friends, colleagues. Personally, the more I focus on universally decent human qualities – respect others, show interest, encourage to grow, be genuinely happy, listen – instead of looking for male / female opposition – the more acceptance and encouragement I see from others regardless their gender.”, – Olga Smirnova.
The economy of it all
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add this last obstacle, because I still haven’t done enough research to provide stats and details. However, I decided that I must mention it, because it is a big one – and that’s a fact that does not need any research.
If all the above was not enough, our lovely society and economy make sure that women don’t get equal pay and have much harder time getting hired than men (well, but obviously – we get PMS and also may want to have babies one day).
The situation comes right back to the fear and self doubt where women are less likely to ask for a raise or equal pay out of the fear to not get the job at all, being named DIFFICULT, BOSSY (and worse), or being told that there’s a line of others who will do the work for what’s offered.
Once again – only the support and solidarity of others and especially other women we can move forward. Encouragement to ASK for more. Standing together. United front.
“On the gender level, economic constructs not suitable for the less career driven (not saying this is an exclusively female gender thing). “female” attributes not being validated, rewarded and paid for. “Male” attributes being the standard everything is compared to (she’s too emotional vs. what… he is too neutral??), but women being bashed when showing “male” attributes. Unequal standards, just look at the US: being called the worst liar and people wanting you hung for using the wrong email account vs. gaining absurd power by being borderline fascist, openly racist and obviously dangerously psychotic…Exclusionary male alliances often based on business or military background.”. – Sabine Mueller.
“Living in a male-dominated society, which creates the apologies from women for being strong and determined. If a woman is determined, she comes off as “bossy” or a bitch. If a woman stands up and works hard, she’s a “ballbuster” and devious. Men are not equated to the same connotations. So to break these words, we apologize, which gives us a lack of credit. Cyclical but difficult to get out of. We’ve been told we can’t be mothers or wives and still have the greatness we embody. We are told to make choices. We are trying hard and climbing up, and the biggest thing is to not give up. Not listen to the ego. Not listen to those wanting to keep us down because of their own egos or fears. #hatersgonnahate”, Vanessa Fleming.
*In this entire post I am referring and discussing mostly the situation in Western societies as there are unfortunately many places in the world where women face much more awful treatment and problems (devastating poverty, arranged marriages, lack of education etc.)