Maya Angelou wrote, ‘Being a woman is hard work. Not without joy and even ecstasy, but still relentless, unending work…To become and remain a woman commands the existence and employment of genius.’ Some things have changed since Maya wrote that profound statement but even now in 2020, being a woman remains relentless unending work.
Consider that while women are now a necessary part of the formal job market, primary caregiving duties still fall on them. Take into account that even with the same qualifications and skills of a man, a woman is still likely to be paid less. Women remain the biggest casualties of gender based violence across the globe. In El Salvador, which has one of the highest femicide rates in the world, a woman is killed by a man every 24 hours.
There are a myriad of ways in which women suffer from the structural violence of institutions that don’t recognise their full humanity. There are implicit biases and and subtle microaggressions that must be surmounted each day by women across the globe. It is true, as Maya Angelou said, that to become and remain a woman commands the existence and employment of genius. Well, to become a and remains a happy woman commands not only genius but two other ingredients: attention and intention.
Psychologist Ronnie Janoff Bulman described trauma as the shattering of the assumptive world. The definition did two things: widened our understanding of trauma and made it easier to identify traumatic experiences that have happened in our own lives. It also paved the way for Dr. Margaret Crastnapol to address microtrauma. Her work focused on how people react to the slights in their everyday lives.
Trauma and indeed micro-trauma are increasingly being recognised as a part of our lives that needs to be addressed. Unrecognised and untreated trauma may result in stress, insomnia and even depression. This is where the importance of attention comes in.
Very few people are aware of their own state of mind and women more so. Because of women’s traditional role as caregivers, they tend to overlook their own wellbeing in order to take care of the people in their lives. They are unlikely to notice when they are stressed or even look for ways to manage that stress. However, with a little careful, cultivated attention, you can recognise your stress and look for ways to manage it.
Social psychologist Erich Fromm stated, ‘One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves.’ While the statement is true, multiple articles have explored the reality that women perform more emotional labor than their male partners. Emotional labour has been defined as ‘the invisible and often undervalued work involved in keeping other people comfortable.’
The unequal distribution of emotional labour is rooted in traditional gender roles within which women were expected to accommodate and serve the needs of those around them. While that view of women as complements rather than humans on their own right is shifting, there is still an unspoken expectation for women to shoulder the burden for those they love. While emotional labour is mostly highlighted when discussing romantic relationships, it cuts across the other spheres of life as well.
In romantic relationships, it may be seen in the fact that women are still expected to do most, if not all, of the cooking and cleaning. They are also the primary caregivers for their children, a situation justified by the flippant statement ‘it’s a woman’s job’. Additionally, due to a (thankfully declining) resistance among men to seek therapy, women have for decades been substitute shrinks for their male partners.
However, it is likely that in any social situation, women will be expected to perform emotional labour. Consider that extremely successful women still complain that they have been asked or expected to serve tea in meetings in which they were in attendance. That a woman in a corporate setting who chooses to lead with a firm hand is usually viewed negatively while men who do the same are admired. It additionally falls to women to play diplomat in disagreements.
Intentionality is how to surmount this seemingly impenetrable blockade. If you are constantly carrying more than your share of the emotional labour, you won’t be happy. However, if women are more intentional with who and what they give their love to, it is also easier to delineate their boundaries so they can get as much as they give. Intention is how women choose their lives instead of simply accepting what is handed to them.
The prince of paradox, G.K Chesterton, wrote, ‘What is wrong with the world is that we do not ask what is right.’ This is true. There are a lot of things right with the world. We have Serena Williams, who has won more Grand Slam titles than any other play in the Open Era. We also have Jacinda Ardern, the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand, lauded for her successful response to Covid-19.
For the first time in history, both Rwanda and Ethiopia have achieved gender parity in government with women representation attaining the 50% mark. There is possibility, there is hope and there is a future where women are seen as full human beings. Yet, before then, there are still hurdles to be crossed, microaggressions to be dodged and life to be navigated. Despite all this with applied intention and cultivated attention happiness, which had always seemed so elusive, is finally within reach.