Work, mothering and female empowerment part 2 – getting to the truth of it
Work, mothering and female empowerment part 2 – getting to the truth of it
As written about in an earlier article (Work, Mothering and Female Empowerment Part 1 – Where are We Truly At?), women have become increasingly burdened and exhausted in their efforts to cope with the demands of a world that insists that they should be able to juggle mothering and participation in the workforce with minimal effort or complaint. But in contradiction to this expectation is the stark reality that the domains of work and motherhood commonly have competing values, each with pictures attached casting judgment on a woman’s worth.
This situation is especially evident in the present COVID-19 times with data showing that females are bearing the brunt of job losses, are more likely to be expected to do the at home child caring as a result of limited paid child care options and school closures etc., and are accessing their superannuation funds at a greater rate than men due to the gendered economic imbalance. While it’s definitely not about competing with men, it’s hard to ignore the cold, hard truth of the matter, which is that women are as far away from achieving gender equality, work-life balance and female empowerment as ever, despite the many gains made over the past few decades and last century.
Most women are caught in the constant momentum of striving to constantly justify themselves to the external world. As women, we are caught in a bind where we are never enough as we are and instead there is often a real or perceived pressure on us to prove ourselves over and over again. The workplace and mothering are standout areas where this reality can be plainly seen. Paid work is usually a double-edged sword whereby mothers feel a certain amount of prestige through their place in the workforce, yet also feel trapped. Whatever domain a woman is focussing on leaves her feeling like she is neglecting whichever area isn’t centre stage at the time and attention to work-life balance and gender equality lack any real meaning. In my own case, if I was at work and the children were with external care providers, the guilt would set in due to a belief that I was neglecting my mothering responsibilities. But on the other hand, I found work gave me a lovely sense of freedom and I enjoyed the mental challenges and recognition that came with the job, not to mention the fact that the income meant that we were able to attain a higher standard of living. But all of that came with a drive and hardness that didn’t feel true to me – yet I had no idea what to do instead as I had no role models around me showing me that there was a different way to live and balance the competing demands.
Society has erroneously linked the terms with women doing more, rather than women coming back to being with themselves, i.e. the truth of their bodies and who they are on the inside. Ask a woman to name her qualities and often she will list off a couple of things she can do well or start to talk about her faults, but hits a giant blank wall when asked about the qualities she has within herself, i.e. who she naturally is as a human being. It comes as quite a shock to many women I’ve spoken with in my role as a counsellor to find that they know so little about themselves and that the truth of the matter is that they have quite a poor self-relationship. Yet this is what we are all yearning for – to have a loving relationship with ourselves and others which supports us to step confidently out into the world knowing who we are and that we are equipped to deal with what’s there to be done.
When we are caught in tension we often fall into the trap of feeling like we need to do more to boost our self-confidence, so take on additional responsibility for various tasks and set even higher expectations of ourselves. Yet this simply feeds the perception that a woman shouldn’t complain about her lot in life, and if she isn’t ‘happy’ then there is something wrong with her, rather than something amiss within society at large. As women, we’ve gone along with this social conditioning, backed up by rules, regulations, religions and the media etc., without much hesitation. We may disagree about certain aspects of what is going on, but overall we nonetheless are compliant and mostly focussed on trying to manage our own lives within the existing structures defining what it means to be a successful woman, worker and mother.
Talking regularly with women, I’ve found that when things don’t run smoothly we easily slip into self-blame and are usually our own harshest critic, and in this reaction we can’t see beyond our own perceived faults. Women frequently speak about feeling empty; like something is missing from their lives, but they can’t figure out what it is and how to change things. Vulnerability is seen as the enemy rather than as potentially the opposite. They often also make comments about feeling unsure of who they really are and in this state of unsettlement, stress bubbles along unchecked and can even be seen as ‘normal’ because this is ‘as good as it gets’ and women feel they’re not entitled to expect anything more from life.
Underneath the images of what good mothering and an ideal worker looks like, the insecurity, guilt, anger and sadness remain because no one can ever live up to the ideals and beliefs that constantly feed us the message that we need to work harder, be a certain size and shape and dress to look ‘the part’, teach our children to win as proof of good parenting, keep pushing ourselves up the promotion ladder at work, obtain/increase academic qualifications and so forth to mark ourselves as a success story. All this does is set us up to be constantly judging and comparing ourselves to others; the result of ‘doing’ in that energy ultimately leaves us diminished as women, mothers and human beings.
It's an ongoing global issue but we rarely question the setup beyond the basics. Consequently, our understanding of female empowerment and gender equality, both in the workforce and within everyday relationships, is indeed limited.
When I finally did reach a stage where I was willing to explore my own personal narrative around the bind I was caught in, I discovered I’d let self-love, i.e. actively treasuring and appreciating myself, fall by the wayside. Reaching this point took time and required me to remove the critical filter I had previously used without a second thought and honestly see and accept all my innate qualities. In the quest to prove myself and gain recognition through all the busy ‘doing’ – as a mother, a wife and as an employee – I had let go of honouring myself and had been living in complete disregard of who I was on the inside. While I thought I was taking good care of myself with a nutritious diet and regular exercise etc., there was no consideration given to the quality I was doing these things in, i.e. if I was coming from a position of valuing myself and knowing that I was worth the care and attention, or just going through the motions to help manage symptoms or so I could work harder/more efficiently. Yet I still expected my body to deliver the results I pictured I should be getting. Speaking with other women I find it’s such a common story, with many agreeing that they have also fallen into this trap with the end result being that self-love has never been given the opportunity to flourish.
It is far wiser to constantly develop your awareness to what is truly going on – this will eventually bring you to the Divine you already are.Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 504
What if arising ourselves out of this dense mess was much simpler than we have ever imagined? When we allow ourselves the opportunity to go inwardly and notice what is happening deep inside ourselves, we become aware of just how much our bodies are a vehicle for us to know what we are feeling and sensing at any given time. We all have a place within us called our essence, which we can connect to through our bodies. It does, however, require us to prioritise time and space to stop and feel what is there in our core. Even the realisation that we can feel things in our bodies was a big leap for me, and similarly for many other women I’ve spoken with.
As women and especially as mothers, we can also quickly dismiss taking the time to make this connection because we feel we are too busy. Initially I found it was an adjustment to even slow down, let alone feel it was justified to take time out and devote it just to getting to know myself in this way. As I started questioning various things that were happening for me and in the world around me more deeply, my awareness of the world and what is truly going on grew, as did the fact that we are much more than just human beings. I began to pay attention to basic self-care from the understanding that there was a sensitivity; an awareness in me that could be activated and that held a very enriching potential for my life… but I found that if I did anything in a functional, ‘got to do this’ mentally driven type of way, there was very little benefit for myself or those around me. I came to realise that it was the way I went about these actions that brought either understanding or frustration with myself.
Pausing, taking a breath and learning to just observe myself and the world, as opposed to absorbing everything and then getting caught in reaction, certainly was a game changer. A simple work related example was catching myself when I’ve quickly read an email and jumped to conclusions about what the sender was meaning, to stopping, walking away and coming back later when I was calmer and re-reading what’s been written. Usually finding the pause/stop button enabled me to humbly understand the situation differently, including the true intention behind the sender’s words. Similarly, in the home I realised that the frustration I often felt when I was repeatedly asking family members to do something only led to blaming and shaming. But as I was learning to more consistently pay attention to my body’s messages, I could read so much more about what was happening for everyone underneath the behaviours and then speak from that source of intelligence, rather than the reactional source which only fuelled everyone’s defensiveness. It meant that either situations didn’t reach boiling point, or if the other person did go into reaction, I was able to avoid getting caught up in the same cycle myself.
Without the constant drive and hardness, I noticed that I felt calmer and less stressed and step by step the whole process of listening to the communication happening through my body became second nature. I found that the more rhythm and flow I developed with self-care, the greater the intimacy I developed in my relationship with myself and the more natural it felt to be self-loving and self-nurturing. What has been truly amazing has been the awakening to how tender, precious, sensitive, delicate, and beautifully fragile I actually am and the more I’ve learned to embrace these qualities, the more consistently I can feel them in my body. Vulnerability has taken on a whole new meaning. Whereas previously I had always presumed that being vulnerable meant being weak and pathetic, I gradually had a sense of letting go of the layers of a hard shell I hadn’t consciously known I had been wearing, instead enjoying feeling that the real ‘me’ was indeed incredibly vulnerable, yet also very steady and strong. I realised it was the push and drive that drained my lifeforce and left me powerless and in reaction, whereas the more I honoured what I could feel were my qualities, the lighter and more confident I felt.
When we connect inwardly with ourselves, our essence has some amazing messages for us. We are given the opening to honestly reflect on how we are living our lives and to start to question so many of society’s creations that set the rules we have, up until that point, lived by without further examination.
Some of our wonderings might be:
- Who does it really serve when we push ourselves mercilessly to complete our ‘to do’ lists?
- What would happen if more and more women began to live increasingly in the ‘beingness’ of who we are on the inside and allowed that to shine through outwardly?
- Are our children really as needing of our constant care as what we have chosen to believe – or could they actually benefit if we took regular time out as part of self-care?
- What if being a mother is being a ‘life supporter’, not a ‘life-saver/ doer’ for the children, and our role is to assist them in become responsible and independent, hence supporting them to do all their tasks by themselves and not doing them for them? In other words, educating them to take care of themselves by equally taking care of ourselves.
- Why do we feel guilty about nurturing ourselves and what are we avoiding when we refuse to put such care of ourselves first?
- What if learning to honour and love ourselves supported us to re-discover our innate worth as women?
Being open to exploring these and other types of questions that may arise is not something all women wish to do as the answers can be confronting. Not everyone wants their lives disrupted in this way, but for those that do, a whole new understanding of what female empowerment truly means awaits them. Every step, whether small or large, counts, such as taking the time to sit and eat a nutritious meal, going for regular walks and paying attention to the way we move our bodies, taking a long shower, asking others to help out more with the children and the home care, learning to ask for help and or delegating where appropriate in the workplace. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Creating these types of shifts in our lives is a starting point and the simpler we keep it, the higher the likelihood things will positively change within our immediate lives; the impact of which eventually flow through to the larger systemic level.
‘We ought to be building a foundation of truth and self-honour that directly builds our confidence to shine as the gorgeous women that we are. It is not about being unrealistic and abandoning the needs of our family for example, but rather about placing our needs as equal to those around us; so that we can operate in our day well rested and cared for, so that we have the capacity to bring all of who we are in all that we do.’ ~ Natalie BenhayonSerge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume III, ed 1, p 609
While there has been a huge shift on a personal level for me, what has been equally as profound has been hearing comparable stories from many women I work with who have made similar adjustments to their way of life! What this has confirmed strongly to me is that regardless of our backgrounds or where we live etc., we are all the same and therefore what affects one woman has an impact on us all, either directly or indirectly.
True freedom means not being governed by the pictures that run us and our society and instead, is about re-connecting back to our delicacy, preciousness, grace and sensitivity as women. I’ve found many women look at me with quite a degree of trepidation when I speak about the value of feeling and expressing these qualities, especially in the workplace. After all, society views them as failings; weaknesses which others will exploit and leave us hurt and humiliated, so we have learnt to deeply bury signs of these attributes as a form of protection. But at the heart of the matter, it all comes back to women taking responsibility and honouring everything about themselves and deepening their levels of self-care and self-nurturing – which I acknowledge is a big ask for the majority of women given how far we have become lost in the illusion that some new law or government policy will turn the tide.
But as women of the world, can we really keep turning a blind eye to all that’s not working and keep blaming ourselves or others for the way things are, and demanding that someone or something will deliver us a different, better deal?
Change happens when we start to accept that our bodies do actually speak very loudly to us and as our relationship with our body deepens, one of the amazing discoveries is that we find that in our essence there is more to us to love and appreciate than we ever thought possible. Anxiety, over and under eating, alcohol and drug use and the need for other forms of stimulation to keep going or to numb us, start to slide away. Women often report that they find work and their family life, including mothering, more enjoyable and I’ve noticed that their self-confidence grows enormously.
The development of true female empowerment, i.e. the return to who we naturally are on the inside, is a beautiful expansion to witness and yet it’s not reserved for just a special few – it is constantly on offer for us all to experience whenever we are ready.