The sexist finger trap
So you think you broke the stereotype?!
Knowledge of the female stereotype is like a Chinese finger trap. The more you try to fight it, the more you end up stuck.
The initial reaction of the victim is to pull the fingers outward, but this only tightens the trap
Women are subjected to certain stereotypes
Our society has a set of ideas about how we should behave, dress, and present ourselves. We are aware of this stereotype, and hence try to break it in different ways. We try to break the cycle, either by by embracing extremes eg. being “less feminine”, or “more like a man” or by trying to be the “more than perfect woman”- perfect in all areas of our lives, to name a few. In trying to break the stereotype, we throw away or suppress certain parts of ourselves which we believe are flawed. We end up measuring ourselves by such a high standard of perfection and end up putting ourselves under immense pressure. Which ends up affecting our performance. This reinforces the stereotype further when we fail to meet these ridiculously high standards.
Women try to defy these stereotypes
Process involved in stereotype threat:
Stereotype threat occurs when individuals believe that if they perform poorly, they will confirm an undesirable belief/stereotype associated with their group. This puts pressure on them to do as well as possible in order to discredit the negative stereotype. The added pressure however, results in poor performance.
So let’s break this down:
knowledge of the cultural stereotype > belief that poor performance will confirm the stereotype> stereotype threat (perception that the performance domain is personally important)>anxiety>reduced memory capacity>result: undermined/poor performance
Women are too emotional (weak), and would crack in high pressure situations > if I’m too emotional or show emotion at work, I will be perceived as weak & I will confirm the stereotype (“I have to be more like a man in order to be taken seriously”)> stereotype threat at work (I care about my work capabilities)>anxiety at work>reduced memory capacity from constantly trying to “fit the script”)> Poor confidence and anxiety imbues, resulting in poor performance — ultimately, left feeling incapable >
The biggest problem with defining “how to be a woman”…is having other women telling you, you’re doing it wrong*…or that you’re doomed to fail.
*(technically, there isn’t a wrong way… you only fail if you believe the sheeple)
Recently I went to an inspiring Meetup. Well it started off inspiring…
Women were called to break the stereotype! So much of her words resonated:
“we end up working 10x harder, always trying to prove ourselves”.
She sounded just like me, I thought she was quoting one of my articles as the words were so much in sync. She even mentioned the elusive glass ceiling, and being invisible. She related experiences of being sidelined for promotions, while male counterparts with less experience were favoured, while she waited 3–4 years longer, despite being more than capable. Most of the speech I was in awe, it was exactly what so many women have been saying to me lately. It was the affirmation that “wow this really does happen everywhere, and has always been happening”. I was so inspired that a women had the courage to triumph despite unfair treatment in the workplace. I was glad to be present to hear her words. I was like, “so how did she do it?”
Then the downside came. I can’t remember the exact words, but basically she said something like:
“This is a mans world, if you want to compete and succeed in it, hold off having kids”.
She attributed some her success to:
- Having a husband with an open mind.
- Choosing not to have kids -helped her to reach her desired executive level. (Although she is still a minority (female and coloured), in that boardroom, she is now able to make a difference).
- No double standards in her relationship with her husband eg. he wouldn’t question if she was offered a new position in a new country, no issues, they’d both move. The same rules would apply if he was offered work elsewhere.
- Not having kids helped them both reach their respective goals.
“You can’t fight inequality in the workplace if you can’t set the precedence/standard at home”. -Being in subjugation at home, then switching and being a leader at work…it just won’t work. Be authentic in both instances.
Now I agree in a 50/50 relationship. I also do understand where she is coming from to a certain extent. However, she is not a mother, so she can’t fully understand, and hence her perspective would be this way. On the other hand I also believe that you don’t need another person ( a husband/partner) in order to be complete or to succeed. (You can do anything. Less drama. Not everyone is made for marriage). But I’ve never been married, so I wouldn’t know if there are any benefits in this kind of team effort. But from her words, it seemed as if being a single mother was a recipe for disaster. She said, it’s not that it can’t be done, she takes her hat off to those who do it, it will just be so much harder. (Personally, I think being married and dealing with a grown man with his own flaws and internal battles is just as challenging as trying to raise a son into a man who is better equipped to deal with his own inner battles and reach his goals). Her words struck me as a bit callous at first.
…Well that sucks.What if she’s right, and I am doomed to fail because I’m a single mother? What if the odds are really against me?
My heart sank for a bit. And I’ve been ruminating on these thoughts for awhile now. Rewriting this article so many times to try to make sense of this. I’m competitive, I always have been. To push my own boundaries and to see what I am capable of. As I’m my own worst enemy. But as soon as someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to test and see for myself. Don’t tell me I’m disadvantaged in some way. It’s that kind of thinking that will keep us down. We all create our own advantage.
Her words at that point, were in line with another woman’s words I heard years ago:
“you can have a career, you can have a family, but you can’t have both. Most women who are successful in the workplace will usually have families who are falling apart. And most who’s families are happy and who have their time, will generally compromise their work. You can’t be devoted to 2 things.
…Men are only successful because they have a wife at home to look after them. They don’t have the same responsibilities as women. They don’t have to come home to help with homework and cook and clean. Their environment and society allows/enables them to succeed.”
Then more words to increase the pressure:
“A single mother cannot raise a man, what does a woman know about teaching a boy how to be a man, you ‘have to’ get married, a boy needs a father in his life”.
Who puts these thoughts in women’s heads anyway?
For years I’ve been torn by all these words. Always wondered if it’s true. Always wondering if I am making the wrong choices for my son and I. Always wondered if it really is a choice…
Forever I ask myself:
“Why? Why can’t I have both? Who says I can’t have a happy family, a healthy happy son, and do well in my work? Why can’t I change the world and be a good mother? …
Why do I have to choose?!”
Now I’ve thought about this “fact” a great deal over the years. (The fact that women always have to choose, while with men, it’s a given. No one “expects” them to make those kind of decisions). No one holds them accountable for it, and no one blames them if a family falls apart. Women are forever torn, and made to feel guilty for every choice they make in life. Even the privilege of a name is given to men. Women have to give up theirs. Why? Why can’t I start my own family tree? The entire system is rigged to support men and belittle women.
Society still promotes the idea of a “self sacrificing women & not a self sufficient one”
“Be independent, but not too independent. If you’re “too independent” and too ambitious, that’s intimidating for everyone around you. No one likes a smart ass…Why aren’t you married yet, are you a lesbian? What’s wrong with you?”. 🤦🏽♀️
All these words from the outside. All this noise. It’s time to turn the volume down…
No! It’s time to put the world on mute!
Women need to lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down. We aren’t competing with each other. We aren’t even competing with men. We’re competing with our former selves.
Who cares what you look like? I don’t. Why should I? Why waste money on clothes? More clothes = more decisions to make when dressing = waste of time. Why should I share pictures of myself online? What’s the point? My face has nothing to do with my work. The outside doesn’t matter. Stop worrying about your size. And just be happy in your own skin.
Decide what matters to you, and focus…forget what others say and forge on!
Hack away at the inessential and throw away the negativity in your life, especially the negativity you send out to others. If you prefer making gourmet meals everyday…then do it and enjoy it. But don’t make another woman feel bad because she chooses not to do so. Not everyone can cook, or wants to learn to improve it. If my son loves it, it’s good enough for me. If you spend too much time working and playing with your kid and can’t keep your house clean, get someone who can help you. Or teach your son to pick up after himself. If you have work to do, then finish it and make it awesome. If you haven’t seen your friends in ages, make time to do so. If you really care about your family, make time for them. All too often we waste our time focusing on things which don’t actually matter in the long run. Or because we want to be able to do “everything” perfectly. We need to simplify our lives, and direct our focus to only the truly urgent + important. Not to all these useless distractions which are standards which society has created just to put women in boxes. Every choice we make comes with a responsibility to see it through to the best of our ability.
If we choose to marry, we will have to accept the challenges this brings. Likewise, if we choose to have children, it’s also a lifelong contract. In both instances the one who chooses to marry over having kids, and the one who chooses to have kids instead of marrying have an equal chance of success in their work & personal life. Neither is disadvantaged in any way.
You don’t have to feel guilty for not getting “everything” perfect. Sometimes, good enough, really is good enough. And we all measure what we believe is good differently.
If you have dreams you’re chasing…stop chasing, and start planning.
Stop overthinking, and just do.
The way to escape the Chinese finger trap is to push the ends toward the middle which enlarges the openings and frees the fingers
In reality, sometimes all we need to do, is stop listening to everyone else. The more we believe what others say, the more we compromise who we really are in order to please them. It’s good to gain other perspectives, but to also bear in mind that they don’t hold the same values we do, they don’t have the same desires and goals. And most importantly, they haven’t walked in our shoes. So take everything with a pinch of salt. Instead,
“pull yourself towards yourself. Be your authentic self and keep pushing on”.
Being a woman, is being true to you. If you like pink, then wear it, if you don’t, then don’t. (your favourite colour doesn’t make you any more or any less of a woman). Just like millions of provocative selfies doesn’t make you more of a woman. But if you love doing that, then do that if it makes you happy. Just consider what kind of message you’re sending out there to other young girls, and assess if that truly is the message you want to give them. And question why you think you need to give that message. What are you teaching girls by being a half naked role model? Is this going to impact them positively? I don’t know. Personally, I don’t get it. But exhibitionists have their reasons I’m sure. Be whatever you want to be. Have a dream and follow it despite what others say to inhibit you. We can’t all want the same dream, we can’t all be happy with the same journeys. I don’t care to be some Executive one day, sitting in endless meetings solving problems I don’t care about. I don’t care for wasting money on some big wedding day. I don’t even want to be locked down to paying off a home for the next 20 years. Why should I? I don’t want to get married and be obligated to force conversation with some person I’m not related to, for the rest of my life. That would just cut into my reading and son time. (Not completing any of the so-called pinnacle adult milestones, doesn’t make me any less of an adult or any less of a woman — we each have our own sense of values — and being trapped by a system of debt is not on my list of becoming an adult) — in fact, becoming a so called “adult” is not even on my to do list. Why should I keep up with society’s standard. I haven’t met anyone who followed these adult milestones and is truly a happier person today because of it. Ok, maybe a few, but that’s not a big enough number to validate it.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married or being an Executive or choosing to not have children. Also, there’s nothing wrong with being a single mother, and being ambitious too.
And in light of this, there’s nothing wrong with being an obedient wife either. As long as you’re doing it because that’s who you truly are. Not because it makes life easier to be “acceptable” in society’s eyes.
Rethinking why you do what you do, and redefining what success means to you is the key
Conformity doesn’t bring happiness. Finding your own way does. Embracing all the parts of you is being truly alive. Merging the “so-called weak” emotional parts & the core strong unshakable parts. Being aware of your default thoughts and actions and learning to break through them. Or at least understanding that you may not even be aware of your blindspots in it’s entirety. Being whole, on your own, instead of compromising continuously and only being pieces of yourself, just to fit into someone elses’ mould.
Most importantly, you can excel in more than one thing. You don’t have to choose. Being a mother doesn’t mean you have to compromise on work. It just means you need to be more disciplined when it comes to your time. And learn to say no to people/things/distractions which aren’t important. It just means you need to plan better, and allocate time for all the important things. — Simple. It’s not rocket science!
One plea to all women, BE KIND…stop bad-mouthing & continuously putting each other down. As much as we try to break the stereotype, we end up reinforcing the stereotype or being sexist toward each other. Women discriminate against each other judge each other for being women and for the choices made which either are too “traditional” or too “extreme”. Get over it. We all need to stop judging each other for the choices we’ve made in life. Those were not our choices to make. Why do we have to make another women feel like she’s not good enough, because she doesn’t make the same choices we’d make. Stop it! We are all more than enough, and we can be even more. But breaking each other down isn’t the way to get there…it’s not high school anymore…Neither is tearing men down either. One group isn’t better than the other. Gender and colour means nothing. We are all people with our own internal battles, our own mountains to climb, with the world on our shoulders…just like every other human who has walked this earth and still walks.
If I wasn’t a young single mother, I don’t think I’d have a reason to get up each day and push on. If I only had myself to look after and I didn’t have someone who depended on me, giving up would’ve been so much easier to do. I’m not saying that you should have kids to maintain a level of endurance. But being a mother, doesn’t mean that my own personal goals no longer matter. How can I teach my son to follow his dreams if I don’t set the example. But how can I teach him about all the important things that no one taught me, if I am not there and always working. Each factor is of equal importance, therefore time needs to be invested in both goals.
The point is, if you do have children, you should never feel that this is your disadvantage. It’s essentially your strength. As long as you always put the needs of your child first, everything else in life will go smoothly. If you don’t, no external goal will be worth achieving. There is always enough time to finish work, don’t worry.
It’s not just women who need to realise this; society needs to stop making these stupid associations about women and condoning double standards when it comes to men. Be consistent & be fair!
Discrimination against women
Historically, women have been a target of discrimination. Women have made progress over the past few decades. Still, they remain underrepresented in positions of influence in most countries, and are terribly disadvantaged in others. Daily, online and offline we are subjected to intentional and unintentional discrimination.
Sexism: “Prejudice & discrimination directed against women because of their gender”
What is ambivalent sexism? Basically, sexism can be measured by 2 dimensions: benevolent & hostile.
“Knight in shining armour ideology” that offers protection/affection for the women who conform to the stereotype (cute girlfriend, obedient wife)…having positive but paternalistic attitude towards women.
Negative attitudes toward women, especially those who violate the “traditional stereotype”.
How sexist are you?
The ambivalent sexism inventory, measures both dimensions of sexism: hostile vs benevolent. Oddly enough, women are sexist too, but not as sexist as men. And in most cases, those who took the test found that women scored lower on the hostile sexism scale compared to men.
Take the test, and see for yourself. Are you really as tolerant or as fair as you think?