You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
March 8, since the 1900s, marks Women’s Day. A day to celebrate, a day to remember and reflect on the triumphs, the struggles women face, a day to notice women leading change in the world, a day to thank the women who have fought for the equality some of us experience today. It is a day of noticing the position of women in society and how, no matter how this differs across the world, ‘women still are doing it for themselves’.
Still, women all over the world are oppressed by male violence and femicide, where the UN notes that, on average, a staggering five women are killed every hour in the world. Women are still subject to stereotyping and misogyny, and the psychological health of women is affected as a result. Substantial research shows that women tend to have lower self-esteem than men, mostly connected to gender stereotyping.
Claude Steele, a psychologist at Stanford University, did a series of tests about stereotypes in 2021. He asked two groups of men and women to take a math test. The first group was told that men usually did better in such tests than women. The second group was told nothing.
In the first group, where people had been reminded about the stereotype, the men performed significantly better than the women.
There was no difference in the second group. Steele suggested that being reminded of the stereotype activated emotional centres in the brain, resulting in anxiety among the women, which affected their performance.
He said: “I was stunned to discover that just the threat of confirming a stereotype is enough to interfere with working memory, executive function, and also shift attention away from actually doing the task and toward worrying about, well, how well am I doing the task?”
This shows how dangerous stereotypes can be, and how they can have a very real effect on performance. There are many stereotypes that women are subject to including not being good at math or sciences, being over-emotional, being manipulative, the requirement to be a sex object, being physically weak, being impractical, being bad drivers … and some positive stereotypes like being good at multi-tasking! – all of which can be applicable to our male counterparts.
Steele calls this a ‘stereotype threat’. These ‘stereotype threats’ induce a false perception of yourself. The women are told they are not as good as men at math and they believe this to be fact and, therefore, then behave according to this imposed belief.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt
How can a woman be psychologically free and become immune from ‘stereotype threats’? How can a woman move beyond the trap of building beliefs about themselves through stereotyping?
Here are some scientifically proven ways a woman can build self-beliefs that free them from a ‘stereotype threat’:
- First, you need to identify your beliefs about yourself that are connected to ‘stereotype threats’. These might include beliefs about not being beautiful or sexy enough, clever enough, as good a driver, emotionally strong, thin or curvy enough, lesser than others, opinions not as valid as a man’s, don’t give enough, not practically capable, interesting enough, feminine or pretty enough, can’t be assertive because you think you must be apologetic or easy going, etc … You got the picture!
- Identify whose beliefs these really are or where they come from.
- Notice how often you confirm and exaggerate these beliefs in your self-talk – like, for example, ‘I’m hopeless at DIY’, ‘I don’t even know what a spanner is’ – and STOP doing this!
- ‘Stereotype threats’ make you misbelieve things about yourself and sometimes may stop you from trying. Notice what you won’t even try doing because you have been made to believe something you never even tried! Also, believing you have to focus on your appearance as many women feel they ought can lead to low self-esteem. Notice if this is the case and focus on another quality which is within your control to improve if you so want. For example, focus on style or physical strength rather than on beauty or sex appeal, or focus on becoming better with car maintenance if this is a limitation.
- Focus upon creating a turnaround statement that affirms or gives you permission to be, act, or feel this new way (examples: ‘I am excellent at sciences’, ‘I don’t take comments upon my physical appearance’, ‘I am interesting because I have a lot of knowledge’, ‘I love being interesting’, ‘I am an excellent leader’)
- Develop an honest respect for your own abilities, potential and value.
- Know your strengths and trust in them.
- Notice limitations that have come about through other people’s beliefs.
- Set yourself free from being overly concerned with what you imagine others think of you. You determine who you are, be who you want to be, not what you think others think you ought to be.
- Disapprove of other people’s disapproval of you! Focus on what you think and want.
Women are the dream and the hope. Feminism is not a swear word. Together we will rise. We will rise above beliefs others and society (unconsciously and consciously) place upon us. The time is now. The power is YOU.
Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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