“Women: We’ve failed them”. This was the front page headline in the Cape Argus newspaper yesterday in anticipation of Women’s Day being celebrated today in South Africa. I felt called to respond to this and say, yes, internationally, society has failed women.
What am I basing this on? The high rates of fatigue, burn out, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders and mystery illnesses that afflict women these days and ultimately result in them being incredibly exhausted.
“I’m so tired” has become the motto of the modern woman. In my practice, and the practices of most of the Functional Medicine doctors I know and work with, it is primarily women who are seeking help. In Facebook support groups for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and thyroid imbalance male participants are few and far between. 80% of people experiencing autoimmune disorders today are women, as reported in an article by Fairweather, Frisancho-Kiss & Rose published in the American Journal of Pathology.
This exhaustion is a sign of imbalance and it is telling us that something is very wrong. There is an argument that women are more prone to this imbalance because of hormonal make up. It’s always the hormones isn’t it?! I do not completely disagree with that biological answer, but it negates a far greater issue. The way that women are doing life is breaking us down and we do not have the emotional and physical capacity to keep it up. I use the term “doing’ very emphatically as that is the major problem.
Since the industrial revolution there has been a shift in society towards a masculine form of living which involves enforcing power over nature; single-minded achievement and acquisition (often to the detriment of others and even the self); the need to be in control; and a rational, linear and logical approach to overcoming challenges. This all translates into a whole lot of drive, doing, control and perfection.
Feminine contributions hold a far different currency and worth to masculine contributions. Note, that I am not necessarily distinguishing between sexes but rather the qualities. Feminine qualities like emotional relating, connecting, intuition and creativity are largely negated in comparison to masculine achievement and success towards which most of society is geared and tuned.
What women contribute is so extremely valuable yet mostly goes unseen and unacknowledged. Yet it is expected…. and deeply tied into our sense of self-worth. The work generally carried out by women is what I refer to as holding. This involves ‘managing life’ and making sure everything happens that needs to happen for everyone to be healthy, happy and generally surviving. While this work is largely unacknowledged it is pivotal to the way that society functions.
It is mostly women who hold households and families together. Generally, it is women who buy the birthday presents, organise the family and social gatherings, call the plumber, and organise the children’s doctor appointments, hair appointments, swimming lessons and play dates. Most importantly, anything that falls into the ‘emotional realm’ is also generally left up to women. And while the fixing role traditionally fell into the ‘masculine realm, there are pink power drills advertised for the burgeoning market of women who have taken on this work too!
All these tasks are the things that keep life and home running smoothly yet they often go unseen.
And they require so much energy.
Yes, there are men who are far more involved these days (and I’m fortunate to have a hands-on husband like that) but they still mostly have to be asked or told what needs to be done. It still requires further holding from women (and more energy).
The downfall of all this holding is that it is generally carried out in a masculine way as THAT is what is affirmed – how much, how well, how capable, how strong. From a young age girls watch mothers doing the holding in the home and they pick up on societal expectations. However, societal expectations also affirm the masculine traits of being driven, capable, in control and lots of achievement.
The message is created that to be recognised and affirmed women need to do the holding and they also need to be doing it perfectly. Yet, the holding is not necessarily acknowledged so there is a drive to succeed in all other aspects of life too besides the holding.
This double-whammy (to fulfil the holding role and to strive for success in a masculine way) becomes overwhelming and is exhausting, and when we feel overwhelmed and tired there is a general tendency to not ask for help or support from others because to be successful in a masculine world we need to be in control. There is often a perception that it is frowned upon to be seen as not coping or vulnerable and, for some, an implicit belief that women should not make a scene and express their views too loudly (it’s not in line with holding the peace). So the overwhelm increases and we therefore do more holding, more doing and more achieving to help us to feel capable, in control, safe and acceptable.
But we can’t manage this. Physical imbalance and exhaustion is inevitable. Our bodies are telling us that it is ENOUGH. In my work I see exhausted and overwhelmed women who above all have lost touch with themselves – their bodies, their needs and their power – in their drive to meet societal demands and expectations.
This world is desperately in need of a more feminine approach to life to balance out the overtly masculine way of living. This is for both women and men alike. We are being called to get in tune with our bodies and listen to what they need and how much they can manage. We are being called to tap into our intuition and live life with more heart and less head. We are being called to create from intuition and inner strength rather than always control and enforce from rationality and what ‘should’ be done. We are being called to honour natural rhythms and cycles and honour each other and what we are capable of together. Charles Eisenstein writes so powerfully about this in his book The More Beautiful World Our Heart Knows is Possible where he refers to ‘interbeing’. Everything we do impacts the people and planet we live with.
As long as women keep holding for everyone else while striving and driving to match up and be good enough in a masculine world we will keep crashing and burning. Unfortunately, society is deprived when our women are burnt out and ill and healthy feminine qualities are lost. The holding needs to be shared between sexes and all those who do the holding can only do it if they nurture themselves first. A shift needs to happen where there is more rest, more time to tune in to the self and personal needs and to then offer a balanced holding and create from a very powerful, rested and connected place.
So from today ask yourself:
– In which areas of life am I holding for others where I do not need to be?
– Which of my needs are not being met?
– Where do I need better boundaries in my life so that I do not give away my power to others?
– How can I better care for myself so that I am a better person for me and for others?
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