There are experiences common in every woman I have ever known. I’ve lived in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the United States, and witnessed the unique conditions of global women. From young girls in rural Zimbabwe to corporate women in New York City, there are common threads regardless of culture, religion and socioeconomic background. Every woman, at different times in her life, has woken up to stark realities which are absent from the experiences of her male counterparts. While the severities, timings and contexts are different, the core notions and resulting emotions are the same. They are dense with stress and fear in an effort to find authenticity, security and self-worth. This is the darker side of being a woman today.
Every woman has struggled with the fact that her sexuality does not belong solely to her and is an object of power wielded by others. For example, female sexuality is used to further capitalistic causes, control ethnic lineage, represent the values of a religion and rape is used as a military tactic in some war-torn regions. The list of goals is unending. Collectively speaking, female sexuality has become a tool and we’ve developed classless words for women who dare to exercise its power for themselves. Every woman I have ever met has been through varying degrees of stress or trauma rooted in the fact that her sexuality, reproductive freedoms and body are not wholly for her utilization, pleasure and spirit.
Also, every woman has felt disappointment or struggled with the popular view that a woman’s life is incomplete without the validation or nurturing of another. That her ability to accommodate other human beings, be it her colleagues, husband, children, friends, is directly related to her worth. That the value of her own self is secondary. Consciously and unconsciously, every woman has felt the abrasive pressure to measure herself against her value to others.
At various degrees of severity, every woman I know has feared for her sexual and physical safety. The experience of being a woman is ripe with stories of misogyny, harassment and violence. The world is generally less safe for women than their male counterparts. It didn’t matter whether I met a female tycoon in London or a woman from a remote village in Bangladesh, every woman has a story of danger.
Finally, every woman ultimately experiences distress due to the false notions that her appearance and self-worth are correlated. Each woman’s degree of distress varies, from eating disorders to a quiet internalization.
During conversations about the state of women, it’s wise to discuss how much progress has been made. There are more women who are educated and financially independent than ever before. Undoubtedly, this is progress relative to a previous generation. However, we are still on a long trek and the summit is not yet in sight.
So whether you are male or female, I ask this of you today, tomorrow and every day: the next time you can ease a woman’s fears about safety, don’t hesitate. If you’re in a conversation that’s disrespectful to women, say something even if you risk being uncool.
Step by step, we will all reach that summit together by using compassion and kindness as our equipment. Little by little, we can create a world where these experiences are not inevitable for our daughters. Brick by brick, we will build a foundation of a healthy partnership and respect between the sexes. These common threads will fade into the distant past.