In honor of Women’s History Month, all throughout March we’ll be focusing on the true meaning of feminism and how feminist ideals and practices can help you improve all aspects of your life. (To catch up on earlier posts, click here. To find our more about our NEW Women's Empowerment Group, click here.)
I work with many clients who are incredibly loving, forgiving, and non-judgmental with others. But when it comes to themselves, their inner monologues are full of all sorts of hurtful messages. Often this harsh voice comes from experiences they’ve had, the society in which they live, or the ideas they have internalized. It tells them they can’t, aren’t good enough, aren’t worthy. It makes their relationships with their inner selves toxic.
Embracing the true meaning of feminism—which is a belief in the fundamental equality of the sexes—is a powerful antidote to this harmful inner monologue. When my clients learn to see themselves as equal to their partner, their family, their friends, and their colleagues, it transforms their ability to set healthy boundaries and gives weight to their needs and desires.
Society wraps women in a web of “should” and “must,” telling us what we need to do or how we need to behave to be a woman. These standards—for instance, that we can effortlessly juggle a successful career, lovingly mother our well-behaved children, and be a perfect spouse for our devoted partner—are unrealistic. Furthermore, they’re actively harmful because when we don’t achieve them our self-worth can take a hit.
Feminism, on the other hand, is about recognizing that there is no right way to be a woman and, therefore, whatever path you carve for yourself is valid. It allows us to let go of the shoulds and musts and define ourselves on our own terms.
So how can we learn to see ourselves as equals and become the authors of our own stories?
1. Talk Back to Your Inner Critic
Practice talking back to that judging voice which tells you, “You can’t,” “You’re not good enough,” or “She is a way better mother/wife/daughter/etc. than you are.” Say things like, “I know I can,” “I am good enough,” or “We are on our own paths, and mine is just as valid as hers.” It may feel awkward or hokey at first, but as you repeat these messages they will take root and help you see yourself in a new light.
2. Exercise Confidence
Our self-confidence, or lack thereof, is a direct contributor to our sense that we deserve to be treated equally. And while it seems like some people are born with self-confidence, no one is. Confidence is learned through action. It’s like a muscle—if you’re not used to using it, it may feel weak and uncomfortable when you start. But the more you do, the stronger it will become. Eventually, you’ll hardly even notice when you’re flexing it. So every time that doubting voice says “You can’t” or “You’re not good enough,” see it as an invitation to begin strengthening your confidence and reach for what your inner critic told you wasn’t possible. Perhaps it will take a couple tries to succeed, but think of each attempt as a brick in the house of yourself that you are building.
3. Set Your Own Standards
If you’re used to defining yourself on others' terms, it may take some time to discover what being a woman means to you. Start by thinking about your life now. What roles do you take on because you think (or know) other people expect you to fill them? Are they roles you’d assume if you were free of those expectations? Do they align with your authentic sense of self? Use these questions to guide you to a deeper understanding of who you are and what being a woman means to you.
Next week we’ll talk about how feminism can improve your relationships with friends and family. In the meantime, what can you start doing today to help yourself become the author of your own story?