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The Weight of Womanhood

It may have been the first time I had ever typed these words. Certainly, not the first time in feeling them.  But, my thumbs had never clicked on that combination of 14 letters before to share with the world:

“I feel powerless.”

I stared at this before sending it – for this was new, impactful and paradoxical given the sender and recipient.  How powerful – and confusing – it felt, this thread about feeling powerless written by a national TV journalist to a beauty company CEO.

The exchange had surprised me and came on the morning of the historic SCOTUS announcement and a pretty overwhelming week I was having. “Am I really writing this?  And do I want to send this? 

I blinked a few times looking at words on my display, because it felt odd to me that I had written them. I wondered, “Am I allowed to write this?” When the text bubble changed to blue, I read them again with new permanence. 

“That’s ridiculous. I know I am not,” I reflexed.

But with the particular craziness of work and life as a single mom that week AND all the rulings that week on issues affecting women – I actually meant it. And I gave myself permission to sit with that.

As I stared at the text, the enormity of it struck me.  When powerful, educated, capable women feel powerless, what must the ‘unpowerful’ feel? The moment being an ‘aha’ one where I felt a fractional tinge of what the underrepresented have felt for decades and centuries in perpetuity.  What is different now is that the ground is beginning to quake and more of us are feel it, particularly women.

This post from Marianne Williamson speaking to me: 

The pandemic has walloped women

The chat with my friend exposed emotions that had some to do with politics but more to do my sheer exhaustion of being a woman right now. The pandemic has walloped women.  The problem is especially acute for women of color. Since 2019, women have quit our jobs at a faster pace than men and have not returned. For those still working, we face increased work stress for often only 80% of the pay of males. Most women are also coping with greater childcare and housework duties than before the pandemic. A McKinsey study shows that women with children were 3x as likely as fathers to be responsible for the majority of housework and childcare. This while fundamental rights are being challenged and employers miss hearing our desires for flexible work arrangements with equal pay. 

The pandemic and news headlines are forcing to the surface what was already simmering for women – and not just about work. In addition to keeping up clean homes while managing endless Zoom calls and homeschooling children, women became acutely aware of the countless other “jobs” we have: to be pretty and slim, good cooks, supportive spouses and dutiful daughters while working at levels equivalent to men in our careers. For most working women, clocking out of work becomes the start time for their other career – being a woman. These critical moments in public discord remind some of us that our voices are not being heard.  In fact, they are being silenced. I experience this silencing in my own life.   

Keeping the ship afloat

External events are reminding me and other women how much we are not being seen, heard or considered. I am exhausted by the work of being a woman.  In writing my text, that’s what I felt – unseen and exhausted.

Let me explain: I write this blog as I fly across the country to drop my three kids off with their grandparents because both their dad and I have work commitments that require us both to travel. As the mother with a flexible but high-profile career, the burden is on me to ensure continuous care for our children or find a replacement if I cannot do it myself. That has been our arrangement both married and divorced and something that I wrote about in my piece for Elle.  

So now, I am criss-crossing the country a few times this week to ensure our children are cared for, my career thrives and my ability to provide are being met.  I also have to worry about getting my nails done, covering my grey, completing my research prep and ensuring their camp paperwork is complete.  Mothers have this overwhelm in common with one another. Our education levels and zip codes insulate us to some degrees.

This may be an extreme example, but working women have to do such things  – routinely – for children, parents and spouses…keep the ship afloat. Even still, I know am fortunate to be able to carry out this. Yet, some days the load feels exceptionally heavy. That is how I am feeling right now. When I look around in the workplace, I assume my male counterparts don’t have to go to such extreme measures to show up to work.

Marathoning just to get to work

Jumping through these types of hoops is what it takes for the women I know to compete at the highest levels. But before walking through the office doors, there is a marathon we women run both before and after work. We have to hide that race, for fear of being seen as unreliable or messy.  We have to keep this part of our lives in silence.  

The week leading up to my boarding this flight was truly insane but would seem entirely normal for anyone who is a mother or single parent right now.  The craziness started on Monday morning, with my sitting on a park bench all morning because my child was having anxiety about attending a new camp.  I have had to deal with their anxiety attacks more frequently these days, requiring more time talking to teachers, consulting with the right professionals for help and sitting at activities to help them get through their day. 

School administrators, physicians and camp counselors always call the mom first, it seems.  

So, on Monday, I sat on a bench for 3 hours with my laptop while campers screamed in delight in the background. I was incredibly stressed about how unprofessional I might come across on work calls and tried to stay entirely on mute, timing comments to quick moments of silence during the dodgeball game.  My guess is that if I had been a man, I might have been lauded for my devotion to my kids. 

The rest of the week looked similar and doubly hectic because of our travel.  It included extra loads of laundry, packing that took 3 days to complete, sending grocery lists and library times to the grandparents and attending extra Zoom calls ahead of 2 major events I’m hosting and an award I’m receiving this week.  An award for being an exemplary woman. 

Take that in given what I had texted that morning.

Questioning the un-winnable rules of womanhood

Parts of society tell me I am lucky to have the freedom and flexility to work this way.  I know this is true. I feel that my privilege of having a babysitter that can share in the driving and tasks should muzzle my overwhelm.  It doesn’t. We mothers are doing the work of many but we feel guilty for asking for help or hide getting it. The overwhelming theme is that we should be able to do it all. Why it is normal for both men and women to have the support of teams at work, but at home be expected to do differently?

Then, there are other parts of messaging saying I am coddling my children too much – that they should stay at home to learn how to be bored.  I may miss them, but I do not hear these same messages to fathers. The messages I hear about motherhood are full of conflict, judgement and pressure that my decisions will forever screw up my children.  I haven’t read a blog that pressured fathers in the same way.  

This is what I have been reflecting on – how the work of women is harder because of the rules of being female. This can include striving for and maintaining physical perfection – even as we age.  It is part of the marathon we run before and after work – the time, money and torture we endure for beauty. If we get the botox, we are unnatural and vain. If we don’t, we are letting ourselves go and turn into “old hags.” Where’s the winning?

All of this energetically fueled my text that day.  Political outcomes are unearthing frustrations held by women.  They have been roaring under the seemingly calm, solid surface. But, it seems it may be time to for us to break the silence and question the rules. Even in silencing ourselves we expend energy. Energy that could be used to lift ourselves – and especially the neediest – up.  What if we, as women, took out of the darkness the weight of womanhood.  What if we spoke more openly about this? What if we challenged the rules, because aren’t those what we can influence? What if we rewrote them in a way that would allow us to succeed?

By changing the rules of the game, more of us can win. In that, there is true power.

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