What does being a woman mean these days? I can only speak for myself and admit that it feels confusing at times. There seem to be endless expectations and messages, overt and covert, flooding our lives in the form of images, words, courses, podcasts, programs, retreats, ‘self-help’ books and more and it can be overwhelming.
The trouble is that many of those expectations and messages are coming from us, influenced by when and how we were raised and what and whom we have chosen to believe and follow since. How we should and shouldn’t look. What we should and shouldn’t do and say. Who we should and shouldn’t mix with. Many disempowering beliefs and biases, that are not ours to start with, have been seeded and watered over time and, like weeds, have taken over our true awareness of and deeper connection to self. They are insidious and harming and, as with some weeds, can grow deep roots and be hard to get rid of.
Unless there is some physiological problem, we are all born fully aware of our surroundings and without judgment of who we are; we feel connected and comfortable with our self and those around us and perfect up until around the age of two when we discover free will and four when we start to compare ourselves to others. What we have experienced up to that age will have a bearing on how we handle that comparison when it comes. We may have learned that everyone is equal whatever their size, shape, ability and skin colour and be very accepting of that. Or we may have been subjected to judgment and comparison by others since we were born, sometimes by those closest to us and, storing the experience in our subconscious, now expect it to happen to us or we do the same to others, whether intentional or not.
I suspect that this happens to boys and girls equally but differently. Dressing boys in blue and surrounding them with boys’ toys, comparing them on strength and sporting prowess. Dressing girls in pink and offering girls’ toys, praising them on their looks and popularity. Assessing generally on intelligence, how diligently we study or our ability to pass exams as though important measures for our worth. Ok this is stereotypical, but you may recognise what I mean and it’s still felt by us as judgment and comparison and setting a standard that we feel we are supposed to meet.
As girls grow and develop, there is often unwanted attention and we don’t always know what to do with it; are we supposed to feel flattered, disrespected or threatened? Does it seem better to have some attention rather than none? We grow up with mixed messaging and it can build or feed our insecurities. You’re told to just be yourself but what if you don’t feel good about yourself, others criticise you for being you or you don’t know who you are? We’re told to work harder, study more, get better grades so you can get a good job or go to further education and we feel the pressure. It can make us sick, anxious and have us feel like a failure if we don’t somehow fit in or do as well as we’re expected and then assumed to be lazy when we’re really not coping with life in general and the weight of expectation.
Fast forward a few more years and we find ourselves in the workplace where some may feel the need to compete, particularly if that’s been encouraged during development, perhaps with other women or with men. With more women in traditional male roles and domains, it can be easy to feel that we need to stifle our female traits and develop more male ones to be ‘acceptable’, survive comparison and get anywhere. We bring our male energy to the fore and suppress or disconnect from our female energy but at what cost to ourselves and others?
There seems to be something missing here and I feel that it is acceptance and non-judgment by ourselves and others. We are all essentially the same and we all have something unique to offer and bring to the world and the best way we can achieve that if is to be us. As I wrote above, that might be a challenge to begin with as we may have hidden, lost contact with or forgotten who we are or it has been shrouded in layers of who we think we should be to fit in with the world and conform and expose all of the insecurities that follow.
My suggestion or perhaps my invitation is that, as women, we start exploring our self and start to recognise what may have been lost along the way. What do we bring to the world? What is we would like our young girls to know; how would we like them to feel about themselves and how can we best support them? And it’s not just a mother’s role; finding and spending time with a role model who demonstrates the wisdom, beauty and grace of being female and lives in a way that is true for them can be a powerful way to keep us connected to all that we are, at any age.
Who will you choose?