A colleague dragged me to a November viewing of the film Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. This same person coordinated a gathering of women in January that viewed the film or were invested in women’s issue. The purpose of the gathering was to dialogue about the message of the film. A smaller group of women met again in early March. The film “explored the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, and challenges the media’s limited portrayal of what it means to be a powerful woman.” Little did I know that between the November film viewing and the frank discussions with my colleagues that I would be provided with the catalyst for a thought provoking change in my life.
These gatherings served as a women’s support group and a sound board for our thoughts and feelings about work, life and family. One woman at the March meeting stated she had very high aspirations for her professional career, but she did not feel like she has met her aspirations. We delved into our many identities at this gathering. We are friends, sisters, wives, girlfriends, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, nieces; colleagues…insert additional titles here. We spoke about the difficulty meeting all the expectations of being a woman today. I was left with the question of who am I really and who ultimately gets to decide my identity? Have I met my aspirations? Where did my aspirations derive? Who should decide my aspirations? The obvious answer is ME. However the obvious answer sometimes is not the answer. We get over 1,000 messages a day from advertisers about who we should be and what our aspirations should be in life. Women have received these messages from birth. Women still get the message that “we can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan” (from the Enjoli perfume advertisement). The advertisement goes on to state that this perfume is for the twenty hour woman. Women are judged every day on what we do, but I want to know who sets the standards.
I began reading a book titled “When Work Doesn’t Work Anymore” by Elizabeth McKenna after the March gathering. This book explores women, work and identity. The book goes on to discuss the two value systems that women have been given by today’s society; women can be powerful but they are still expected to be nurturing caregivers. The author quotes a research statistic that concluded “three quarters of women said they were defined by what they did.” We have become judged for what we do, our outsides, accomplishments, behaviors and not for whom we are on the inside states McKenna.
I have been focused on my professional life since I left graduate school. I have been dedicated to my career. I have derived great satisfaction from my professional life. My work has been my life. I have an exceptional work ethic that I inherited from my mother, and as a result, I feel that I have been successful in my career. However I do not feel that I have all I want in life. We are told if we work hard enough we can have, do, and be it all. Can we have it all? Is it possible to have it all? As women we are expected to do it all, expected to be a superwoman. I believe this expectation is unrealistic from society and us. Each day only consists of twenty-four hours. Time spent accomplishing one task deducts time from something else in life. For those women who appear to be accomplishing it “all”, McKenna states that in time many women may find herself in a true midlife crisis of unhappiness with her world and identity.
So where do we as women go from here and what can we do for the future? I suggest five items for women to reflect upon then take action.
*“To thyne own self be true” – A colleague and I presented a webinar on NASPA personal foundations. Know yourself, your values, your strengths, your aspirations, your goals, and your beliefs. Do not live by someone else’s standards. Live your life according to you, you get to choose your identity, choose well and make it work for you. Be true to who you are holistically.
*Manage the expectations – Be clear about your boundaries. Set the parameters you need to meet your priorities each day, and stick to them. Support other people and their boundaries as well. Mentor and coach others to establish realistic expectations in both their professional and personal lives.
*Live by example – Live according to your personal foundations. Live out loud. Be the change you want to see. “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach” by Albert Einstein. Challenge yourself every day to walk your talk.
*Find balance – The McKenna book suggests women need balance similar to a potter, women need to have a steady inner hand and an outer hand to create a whole item. Make time for yourself each day, even if you have to schedule it as an appointment with yourself. You are important. Find your inner peace.
*Support other women – The Miss Representation film speaks to the fact that women should be supportive of one another using the phrase “Halleluiah sister whatever gets you through.” This phrasing means whatever it takes to get you through a situation. I find that some women in professional arenas tend to be hard on other women. Women become judgmental instead of supportive. We need to take more action to combat societal views of women. I want to see more women aiding, guiding, mentoring and coaching other women especially the next generation. We should be raising each other up both professionally and personally. An organization such as WISA is great because it creates an environment that not only celebrates women but supports women through Facebook messages, blogs, and conferences.
For me, I am still left with my questions regarding identity and aspirations. I believe these questions will be answered by each individual and their choices. Society will attempt to influence choices. Women will be held to the principle that we can be powerful yet she should still be able to be considered a woman. We must focus on who we are as well as what we do when defining our identities. Gloria Steinem was quoted stating, “I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.” A woman’s identity needs to incorporate her life holistically. Together we can create and represent a positive realistic identity of what it means to be a woman. Each of us has the chance to be a Miss Representation. We must be the change we want to see in this world.