What is a woman’s worth? Is it synonymous with value? Who defines it? Is it a tangible thing? Are we born into it, marry into it, or do we earn it? I’m writing a book about women, and consequently this subject has taken up so much of my waking thought, that I practically see the question lurking behind everything I do and say. In researching this subject, I’ve had an opportunity to view women from many angles, perspectives, cultures, time zones and eras.
A general round-up of what defines us as women reveals, not surprisingly, that women are the traditional nurturers, the connection-makers, the socializers, and the soothers.
Are we defined by motherhood? Perhaps – parenting of the young is still considered a predominately woman’s domain and duty, and how the kids turn out can be a direct reflection on us. Very often, the first question we’re asked in conversation is, “How are your kids?” If the kids are not well – we take on the blame. As the mother of four – I spend a great deal of my time wondering if what I have done in life has been worthwhile, particularly as far as my children are concerned. People say, “If your children are happy and healthy, then you are happy too.” What an understatement.
Are we defined by our careers? Though 60% of women in the US are in the workforce, relatively few are in high-level jobs. The top five occupations of working women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, are secretary, teacher, nurse, health aid, and cashier, and the median income is $552 per week.
Are we valued for the efforts we expend? Globally, women perform 66% of the world’s work, but receive only 11% of the world’s income. There are 6 million more women than men in the world, but we own less than 1% of the world’s land. In addition to out-of-home jobs and careers, women are double-shifters, meaning they come home to an additional workload of domestic and house management duties
Do we have access to education? Women account for 55% of all college students in the US, but make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults. In many countries, principally the economically challenged, under-developed, and developing countries – girls and women’s access to education is expensive, difficult to obtain, and infrequent, at best.
These various statistics speak to us in broad strokes, of course, merely adding a bit of color to a portrait of women that is extremely nuanced. A woman’s worth is undeniable, yet our sense of self-esteem, self-respect, and self-efficacy seems to fluctuate and waiver. Women consistently seek approval from others in order to adjust our self-esteem meter, which is understandable given that we continue to face inconsistencies in our lives that make us question ourselves, i.e., equity in pay scale, balance of work and family, value or lack-of placed on our unpaid labors. We worry about our worth, ability, value, stature, physical appearance, and often base our assumptions about ourselves – even to the point of establishing our identity – on the opinions of others.
In a world that still functions with a predominately male-oriented mind-set, which uses a louder, and more aggressive voice, women are grappling with a difficulty being assertive – particularly as it applies to negotiating better deals for ourselves. Rather than ramping up our gumption and raising our own voices, we often choose, by default, not to vocalize at all. Consider our dismal voting record.
That a woman’s worth is inviolate should be the beginning, middle, and end of our story. However, in many life domains, and in various cultures and societies, a woman’s worth is stratified according to stereotypes and rituals – the residue of history. Enough. It’s time for us as humans to grow up. Female, male – both genders are equally needed, and both are equally worthy. Women are highly capable of changing the status quo. To do so, however, we’ll need to apply our formidable talents to this task, and raise our voices with at least the same tenacity and fervor as our male counterparts. Women make up the majority of educators; let’s use that power to teach young girls to be assertive, resilient, independent and responsible.
We want our daughters as well as our sons, to face challenges – to learn about the world, to experience life, to work hard, to find love, to be healthy, to be paid an equitable wage, to be awed by nature, and to seek fulfillment. But they shouldn’t have to wonder what they’re worth.