Growing up, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what being a woman meant. Financial independence, resilience, the ability to make your own decisions, despite a man’s influence, were characteristics I grew up observing.
I was fortunate to have strong female role models at home and others whom I met through work, school and university.
As I get older and start to understand the complexities of being a woman across the globe, the meaning of it can be difficult to articulate.
Each of us live a different set of privileges and life experiences. The life as a woman in Australia is in stark contrast to a life women lead in other parts of the world.
What I do know is that we all place importance on different aspects of being a woman. And one common challenge we face is the fight for gender equality, regardless of geography.
Here are 8 realisations I’ve come to about being a woman:
- Internal biases will be a force working against you
Being a woman means recognising the internal biases society projects on us, and our own internal barriers. The voices inside us, courtesy of societies projected norms, are constantly telling us that we are not skilled enough, not smart enough, not confident enough, not pretty enough or not good enough.
When our internal voices are being naysayers, you need people beside you telling you you’re worth it, until you can learn to do that for yourself.
When I’ve had weak moments, and there have been many, the good company around me has always reminded me of my value.
We spend a great deal of our time downplaying our unique assets, but we should be using them to our advantage.
We could be capitalising on our strengths as good listeners, being empathetic and honesty.
Find hobbies that give you confidence in your skill set. Volunteering your time for a community organisation can provide you with a career boost and a personal development opportunity.
2. Some weaknesses are ascribed from birth
Women face an uphill battle from birth, which we often don’t recognise until later in life.
We’ll learn throughout life that men’s voices are stronger and therefore get heard more often. We’ll be told that we need to speak louder, with more authority, and adapt our voices to be deeper in order to be taken seriously.
I’m softly spoken and introverted and boy do I need to work hard to be heard.
It’s not an easy task when we’re constantly telling ourselves there is someone more deserving of the job.
3. Science says we have more resilience
Women embody resilience. There is no doubt about it. Women need more resilience than men to overcome traditional obstacles placed in our paths in order to advance in society, particularly in business.
What I’ve found is that women gravely underestimate the amount of resilience they possess.
Research has shown that female concentration camp survivors coped better than men post Second World War. Women are also 14 per cent more likely to survive traumatic injuries after surgery than men with equivalent wounds. The study attributed this difference to estrogen and progesterone. Hormones are on our side for once!?
4. Fear is necessary to understand your limits
Being a woman means understanding fear and going beyond that fear, to define yourself in a society that will make it difficult to understand your purpose and value.
Someone once told me “the only obstacles in life are the one’s you set yourself.” This may not be true in all situations, given woman face unique barriers, but it makes you look within yourself to identify internal barriers.
I’ve found the best opportunities in my life have come from taking opportunities which I’m not sure I’m good enough for.
5. Women are key to economic growth
When we invest in education for young girls, the whole world benefits. Women’s empowerment and gender equality ensures all of us have a better future.
Reductions in barriers to labour force participation for women has a direct impact on global GDP. Women also tend to spend more of their income on the health and education of their families.
Research has shown that spending $1 on improving women’s economic opportunities creates an amplification effect, creating about $7 in health, poverty-alleviation and education benefits.
The World Bank released a report analysing the legal restrictions placed on women’s employment in 173 countries of the world. It found that 155 of these countries have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities and that in 18 of them, husbands can legally prevent their wives from earning an income. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
6. Society will try to mould you, for better or worse
Determining your own self worth is crucial. Society will pressure you to conform to its pillars. A husband by this age, children by this age, is what you will be subconsciously told.
I once came across a doctor that used to inform his female employees how much reproductive time they had left. Our own biological clock ticks loudly enough, we don’t need people reminding us.
People will pull you in all directions and tell you how to be a better woman, mother, sister or employee.
Call people out on their bullshit and focus on who you want to be and when you want to be it.
7. The work is never over
History is a lesson for all of us, we need to be aware of it so we don’t repeat its mistakes. Women have been fighting for centuries for a seat at the table.
Let’s never forget where we are today and how far we’ve got to go.
We have to fight for women in countries that don’t have a voice. Women’s issues are not just “women’s issues.” We are still plagued by issues worldwide such as child marriage, access to education, domestic violence, lack of women in leadership, corporate management and parliament.
In Australia we’re pretty lucky, it’s mandatory to go to school until you’re 15. In other countries this is not the case.
An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Investing in girls is investing in our future.
8. Women are all round badass creatures
The most important lesson I’ve learnt, is that women are truly amazing. What other creature survives for decades after their reproductive cycle ends, as Jane Caro hilariously states here.
Science aside, the resilience and strength that women learn to embody is unparalleled. Being a woman means you’ll find strength and will be able to use it like a muscle, getting stronger and stronger each time.
My favorite TED Talks when you need a spurt of confidence in yourself:
- Amy Cuddy, The Power of Body Language
- Sheryl Sandberg, Why we need more women leaders