What do Women Want?
… everywhere women want to be whole together
make stew, simmer all that is true
in the broth of human goodness, invite
every man, woman and child to toss in
a favored spice, a wish, a way to rebuild
our fractured world and with tomorrow
in our wombs, we will carry bowls of peace
from hearth to each table, however remote…
– ©Perie Longo, from What do Women Want?
Women want peace, respect, self-esteem, and healthy ways to express anger. Women want to love, be loved, be heard, dance, wear red dresses, and feel safe in the world and with our families. What else do we want?
As women we may:
care a lot about what other people think
have trouble saying “no”
worry about being seen as “mean” or a “bitch” as opposed to being “nice”
try to take care of things at home and at work -try to do it all
like to connect with others
gather strength from our connection to others
find self esteem in small clothing sizes
What’s good about being a woman
I’m going to talk about the challenges women face in today’s world, but I want to start out by stressing how much is good about being female. The beauty of the body and mind connection and the inclination in humans to reach towards health and healing are both very apparent in women. Women’s bodies are miracles of motherhood, creation, and healing. Women’s minds and emotions, at their best, are paragons of empathy and compassion. As Perie Longo says in the excerpt of her poem above, women are child-bearers, healers, and peacemakers.
Our challenge is to cope with the difficulties we are born with and acquire along the way, and to find the means to strengthen mind, body, and spirit. This can be done with the support of others, through learning and developing, and through looking for ways to create fulfilling and successful lives.
What do you like about being a woman?
Do you like the permission to be emotional, peaceful, connected to the feminine, under the influence of estrogen, not under the tyranny of testosterone? How about the freedom to enjoy flowers, express yourself through clothes and jewelry, be soft, and love babies and small animals? Do you love the feminine body with hips and breasts made for having children? What about girlfriends, intimate talks, and cooking?
What do you not like about being a woman?
Do you dislike being disregarded, disempowered, disrespected, and invisible? Do you not like the idea that a woman is a “bitch” if she is just angry or grouchy? How about being discriminated against for age or marital status, or for how many children you either have or don’t have? Do you dislike worrying about what other people think of you? And what about being expected to take care of household work? And how about PMS?
Women and psychotherapy
Going into psychotherapy is a way for women to understand themselves and find more empowerment, hope, and happiness. When you start therapy you will begin to tell your story to someone who has no preconceived ideas about you and who is there to support and understand you. The therapeutic process happens as you begin to feel more comfortable and safe, consider helpful changes, and find relief from shame or fear. As you talk about your thoughts, feelings, and needs, you may discover ideas or insights that can help you find new directions. As a woman in therapy with a female therapist, you can find support, connection with another woman in a helpful and self-esteem-building manner, and the experience of empathy and respect. You can understand how you may be judging yourself, and how normal many of your reactions may be.
Challenges women face in today’s world
One look at the television show “Mad Men” will tell you that women’s roles have come a long way in the last 50 years. There are far more opportunities and freedoms in the U.S. today. What follows are my thoughts on what the remaining challenges are for women.
How our society thinks about women and what our society expects from us
Women are supposed to be pretty, and thin, and wear make-up. If a woman has an important career, she’s supposed to work out and dress well, not just to feel good, but to look the right way. Women are expected to be great mothers, lose baby weight right away, work happily outside the home or happily stay home with the baby. Women are supposed to be in couples;. Single women are encouraged to find someone and are pitied if they are alone. Older women consider surgically fixing or botoxing their faces so they won’t be invisible. Women of all ages consider augmenting their breasts. Models’ images are air-brushed and idealized in magazines. TV and movie stars are, for the most part, expected to be very thin and buff. This brutal Hollywood environment can be what the average woman uses to judge herself by.
Women are encouraged at times to think of life as a romantic fantasy. It’s no wonder so many women feel depressed and anxious given the difference between that fantasy and reality.
In the workplace, women may be getting more promotions, but they may also feel sexually objectified when in positions of power. There is still a pay differential between men and women (women earn 23% of what men earn in the same jobs), and men still hold more positions of power than women do.
The way our minds and bodies work
If you’re female, then you know the power of hormones! Men have hormones, too, but PMS, menopause, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum depression, infertility-that’s the female body at work or misfiring. And women tend to get more fibromyalgia, migraines, osteoporosis, and breast cancer than men.
Even women’s brains are different from men’s. Although as humans, we are more similar than different, having a women’s brain leads us to communicate more effectively, notice non-verbal cues such as tone, emotion, and empathy, have more creative problem-solving awareness, tend and befriend rather than fight or flight, and have enhanced language skills.
Women and girls tend to feel shame and self-doubt, especially if they express anger, have addictions or are simply being true to themselves. Women and girls also have to contend with higher rates of sexual assault. It’s staggering to think that 1 in 5 women in the US today has been sexually assaulted, and some say it is more like 1 in 3. Childhood sexual abuse is an extremely damaging event in a girl’s life with many repercussions over the victim’s life cycle.
Sexually, women may forgo their own pleasure in relationships with men. In lesbian relationships, women may find it hard to initiate sex because women are not socialized to be sexually aggressive.
How we grow and develop through life
As girls, we hope that we will be encouraged to feel good about our accomplishments and achievements, instead of just our looks. Although there is more emphasis nowadays on helping girls feel confident in science and math, there is still a strong gender stereotype that says boys will do better in these areas. So much more emphasis is placed on girl’s and women’s bodies!! I have heard repeatedly in my (therapy office about women who were told they had a weight problem growing up, only to look back in astonishment when they see pictures of themselves as children with totally normal or average-sized bodies.
Sometimes women have difficulty with the transition from one phase of life to another. This problem could be produced by an expectation to be superwoman, -work, raise kids, and conduct fulfilling relationships,-or it could be caused by basic needs left unfulfilled in childhood. This insecurity can cause some women to stay in self-destructive, abusive relationships or it can produce a tendency to “lose the self” in relationships. For women who have been emotionally, sexually, or physically abused or neglected, there can be a pattern of compromise or self-doubt in relationships that may feel “natural”, rather than self-detrimental. Abused women do not tend to act out as perpetrators in adult life, although sometimes this can happen when a woman who has survived child abuse is abusive to her children. Abused women are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking and drug abuse/addiction, or choose unhealthy or abusive relationships.
As women age, changes in their looks and hormones can cause depression and anxiety. Some women worry that their lives and chances for happiness are over.
If these challenges ring true to you, please do not give up hope! Even if you are very financially challenged, and experience discrimination because of color, religion, sexual orientation, body size, or drug and alcohol addiction, there is help and hope available. Even in times of economic distress there are still services available in the community for women in need. In my years of working as a psychotherapist, I have seen many, many women blossom. If you feel isolated and disconnected, there is always a way to reach out.
Psychotherapy won’t take away the difficulties women face, nor can it change what happened to you while growing up. What therapy can do is offer you a relationship with someone who cares and has your best interests at heart. It can give you a way to understand yourself and learn new coping skills. You can feel better about yourself in close relationships and in the world.