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If you are in my generation you have probably heard the song, “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy. If you haven’t heard it, it was released in 1971, when I was 2 years old, but it was played regularly throughout the 1970’s. It’s a great song.
I’ve been thinking about this song more so lately because Helen just passed away. It is the inspiration behind this episode of the podcast, where you will learn why we women have trouble finding our voices.
In This Podcast
- How we learn to define what makes a “good woman”
- Why this differs from what boys are taught
- How to find your voice…..and roar
How we learn to define what makes a “good woman”
Much of these gender roles come from what we are taught, and what it is to be an acceptable female. Many women were taught that to be a good woman means to be quiet and polite, agreeable, attractive – well-dressed, made up, hair done. And a good woman cares for others. Society has long rewarded and complimented women for the behavior that is in line with these gender ideals. Compliments and rewards reinforce our behavior, and it starts from an early age. Loud, confrontational, and opinionated has been casted in a negative light when referring to women. We are ingrained with the notion from our school age years that women’s intelligence or capability is not as valuable as how we look or how we take care of others. Women begin to value in ourselves only what others value within us. And we lose our voices.
Why this differs from what boys are taught
On the other hand, for men, the roles of winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, Playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuals, and pursuit of status help reinforce the patriarchal society that we live in. So women are taught to define our self worth more by our appearance than by the content of our character.
How to find your voice…and roar
Here are three steps that women can do to dig deep, find out who we are and appreciate ourselves for our substance, and not our cover. Not what everyone else sees. First, to uncover exactly what it is, those rigid rules that we’ve learned from role models about what it means to be a good woman. Second, recognize that you have a choice and make that conscious decision. What do you choose? Do you want to follow these rules or do you want to choose your own path? Become clear about what you want rather than following the path that someone else has laid out for you. Third, write your own rules. You get to write your own rules, you get to decide what makes you a good woman. If you don’t like the rules that have been handed to you, write your own. Find your voice and practice it until it becomes a roar.
I am woman hear me roar in numbers, too big to ignore. And I know too much to go back and pretend cause I’ve heard it all before and I’ve been there on the floor. No one’s ever going to keep me down again
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Meet Kathryn Ely
I’m Kathryn Ely and at age 50, I’m enjoying my very best life. I spent years as a lawyer and then stay-at-home mom helping others go out into the world and live their best lives. While this was very important to me, I did not realize that I was losing myself in the process. I followed all of the “shoulds” like “women should always care for others” and “taking time for yourself is just selfish”.
As two of my children were getting ready to go out into the world I realized I was lost, without my next purpose, and it was scary. So I went back to school and over the course of several years, I not only found myself, but I designed the formula for women in midlife to achieve their most fulfilling lives. It is my mission to equip as many women as possible with this design and the tools to make this chapter of their lives the best chapter.
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If you were in my generation, you’ve probably heard the song, “I Am Woman,” by Helen Reddy. And if you haven’t heard it, it was released 1971 when I was two years old, but it was played regularly throughout the 1970s. It’s a great song. You should look it up. I’ve been thinking about this song all week because Helen just passed away recently.
And that’s the inspiration behind this episode of the podcast. Here’s a verse and I will do you the favor of reading it and not singing it. “Oh yes. I’m wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain. Yes. I’ve paid the price, but look how much I gained. If I have to, I can face anything. I’m strong. I am invincible. I am woman.”
Now a lot of things have changed in the 50 years since this song was written, but not everything has changed. Have we women all found our voices? Are we using them to roar? It turns out that women are two and a half times less likely to ask questions in academic seminars than men, according to the study from the University of Cambridge. And they researched over 250 classes at 35 schools in 10 different countries.
And they asked the students who didn’t typically speak up in class. Why don’t you speak up? When asked why they didn’t ask questions, even if they wanted to, women said it was because they didn’t feel clever enough, they felt nervous or they worry that they misunderstood the content. Here comes our not enough creeping in, ladies.
And what was interesting to me about this study is that there was a 7.6 increase in the number of questions asked by other females present when another woman had the courage to ask a question first. This reminds me of something I read recently late in “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. Great book if you haven’t read it. She has three children and they had a bunch of kids hanging out one day, middle school-aged kids, I believe.
And she was walking through her house and went to the room where the kids were and they were all watching TV and she asked if anyone was hungry. The boys all answered immediately. And answered for themselves. The girls, however, all looked at each other, then to the leader of the girls and she spoke for them.
She said, no, thank you. We are not hungry. So what leads to this common, not enoughness that so many of us women have that leads us to be nervous or worried about our intellectual abilities and our knowledge. Well, much of it comes from gender roles and what we are taught that it means to be an acceptable female.
Most of us were taught to be a good girl, is to be quiet and polite, to be agreeable, to be attractive, which means then well-dressed made up, hair done. And a good woman cares for others. We are rewarded and complimented for the behavior that is in line with these gender ideals. And so these compliments and rewards reinforce our behavior. Whatever our parents, churches, teachers rewarded and accepted,
we wanted to do more of. For instance, if a parent sees a little girl consoling her Teddy bear and hugging it, the parent might say what a kind girl you are. This is rewarding for the child. It makes it more likely that she will repeat the behavior. Her behavior has been reinforced or strengthened.
As children, we have a number of models with whom we identify. These are people in our immediate world, like our parents, older siblings, they can be fantasy characters or people in the media. We identify and model others who have what we would like to possess. So if you younger than my generation, your story might be a little bit different, but it’s probably much the same.
So if quiet and polite is good, that means loud and opinionated is bad. If agreeable is good, then confrontational is bad. If thin, well-dressed with makeup and hair done is good. Then even slightly overweight, beyond our ideal, and our natural selves not made up, that’s bad. The perfectionism that we feel with this impromptu speaking, raising our hands in class, speaking out and answering is debilitating.
We are afraid that if we speak up, we will not be seen as a good girl or a good woman. And we don’t leave this perfectionism and this way of thinking about ourselves behind when we leave school. Oh no, ladies, we take it out with us into the world. So even though we are born as capable and intelligent as our male counterparts, we are taught in many ways that our intelligence and voice is not what is valuable about us.
What is valuable about girls and women is how we look. And how we care for others. We begin to value in ourselves only what others value within us. And we lose our voices. We stop asking who we and what we want. We lose our voices, never really achieving our roar. Some research suggests that expectations for behavior of women have become more flexible as women’s social roles have changed.
There are some women in leadership positions, who were expected to show a sort of behavior. However, in terms of men’s behavior and women’s behaviors that support heterosexual relationships, expectations still seem quite gender stereotype. Researchers examined contemporary gender role norms conducted by focus groups with college students.
For women two of these norms are directly associated with body image concerns.
And it is that we invest in our appearance and our thinness. The other six norms are modesty. Women should be modest – we shouldn’t be boastful. Domestic – care for children. Romantic relationships. And sexual fidelity. Clearly situate woman and traditional societal roles. This research was done in 2012, not 1971.
So for men, the roles of winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, Playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuals and pursuit of status help reinforce the patriarchal society that we live in. So we are taught to define our self worth more by our appearance than by the content of our character.
Now research has found that there is social pressure for girls to disparage their bodies in the form of fat talk. It’s expect it’s acceptable, even expected for girls to be obsessed with their bodies. Body obsession is related to thinness concerns. One study found that between 30% and 50% of adolescent girls are concerned with their weight and many report dieting.
Recently researchers found that girls as young as 11 years old engage in self objectification. Conformity to the ideal body for women is central to our success as woman. This is the trend with girls and young women now.
What about us women in midlife? Well, as our society values youth and as baby boomers reinvent what it means to be middle age there are growing social forces that can under undermine our self esteem and potentially lead to our body dissatisfaction. Right? If we see women on television that are 80 years old, who look 55, it’s very difficult for the rest of us who are almost 55 and look that age. So combined with health concerns about obesity, all of this can make us feel bad about our bodies and in turn our self esteem, ourselves in general.
And despite the underdiagnosis of eating disorders in older people, professionals are now reporting an upswing and request for help for older women. For some of these women, the problem is new and others have struggled with it for decades. So what can we do as women to focus on who we are we are and what we want versus how we look.
Well, it’s definitely not easy, but here are three steps that we can do to dig deep, find out who we are and appreciate ourselves for our substance, and not our cover. Not what everyone else sees.
So number one, uncover exactly what it is we learned that makes a good girl or a good woman. This is about those you loved and looked up to. What did they model for you and what did they teach you with their words?
Chances are whatever you learned, you tell yourself that is what you must do to be a good girl or to be a good woman. And if you do the opposite of that, then you must be wrong. This will eat out yourself, esteem and yourself confidence. This will reinforce that you have nothing to offer the world of substance, of intellect.
So, we want first to uncover exactly what it is, the rigid rules that we’ve learned about what it means to be a good woman. Second, recognize that you have a choice. Say to yourself, “Self, I don’t have to follow these rules if I don’t want to. Today’s the day that I get to make a conscious decision now.”
Now if you like the rules, follow them. I’m not here to push an agenda or tell you what to believe or who to be. I’m just here trying to nudge you to become clear about what you want rather than following the path that someone else has laid out for you. So find out and make a choice. What do you choose? Do you want to follow these rules or do you want to choose your own path?
Third. Write your own rules. One of my favorite quotes is by Jack Kerouac and I’ve probably said it on the podcast before, but it warrants saying again today. “I discovered my life was a vast, glowing, empty page, and I could write anything I wanted” You get to write your own rules, you get to decide what makes you a good woman.
What makes you a happy you? What do you want to be known for in your life? Number one, uncover the rigid rules. Number two, make a conscious decision. And number three, if you don’t like the rules that have been handed to you, write your own. And as Helen said, “I am woman hear me roar in numbers,too big to ignore. And I know too much to go back and pretend cause I’ve heard it all before and I’ve been there on the floor. No one’s ever going to keep me down again.” So my suggestion for the one thing you can do today to move closer to your best life is to find your voice and practice it until it becomes a roar. And I will see you right back here next week.