I remember the look on my brother’s face when I confessed that I’ve always battled with this gnawing feeling of not being enough. To him, I was already more than enough, so my revelation left him utterly dumbfounded.
He asked the million-dollar question: “Why do you feel that way?”
Many life experiences have added their weight to this internal fear, but there’s one that set the foundation for all of them. About a year back, during a meditation session, I decided to take a trip down memory lane to find out when the whole “not enough” thing began. Let me tell you, I was in for a surprise. But once I saw it, there was no denying the cold, hard truth of it all.
The first moment I questioned my worth was the first moment I became aware that I’m female.
Let that sink in.
The moment I became aware of my gender, it made me feel like I fell short somehow.
And can you blame me? We live in a world with a long history of undervaluing women, and those practices reach into the present day. In some places, women are still considered property. I mean, it took until 2019 for Saudi Arabia to let women travel, register for divorce, or apply for official documents without the permission of a male guardian. And male guardians still have rights over women in many aspects of civic life.
Then there’s India, where women die every year from “Bride Burning”. This happens when husbands murder their wives—by setting them on fire—because their families won’t cough up more dowry money. According to India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, there were more than 35,000 so-called dowry deaths reported between 2017-2021. The fact that dowries even exist is a reminder that women are seen as nothing more than stuff you can trade.
In the early 19th century in the U.S., married women were legally subordinate to their husbands. They could not own property, keep their own wages, or enter into contracts. In 1920 some women received the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment (all women didn’t receive the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed people of color to vote).
Three years later, in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was initially proposed in Congress to secure full equality for women. The ERA sought to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters.
It wasn’t passed. It didn’t even clear both houses of Congress until 1972, when it was finally sent to individual states for ratification.
And then the ERA was not passed because the deadline of 1982 came and went without having the necessary support from three-fourths of the states.
Let that sink in.
By 1982, three-fourths of the states still didn’t support constitutional equality for women.
But even without the ERA being passed, women gradually achieved greater equality through legal victories that continued to expand rights. Now thirty-eight states have ratified the ERA. Virginia was the most recent in 2020. ERA advocates are campaigning to get the bill voted on again, and if passed, the ERA will become a constitutional amendment.
Sure, we’ve come a long way in the U.S., but it’s been slow and we have more work to do as the hold-up of the ERA proves. Women still make less money than men for doing the same work, which is like a neon sign flashing “You’re worth less.” In many states, women still don’t have autonomy over their bodies and reproductive choices.
In countless ways, these double standards seep into our everyday lives.
Ever been in a meeting where you’re the only woman, surrounded by guys, and suddenly you’re the designated note-taker? Yeah, me too. In this situation, 99% of the time I’m singled out, and that’s not a coincidence. This unconscious default comes from history’s long shadow of females being restricted to secretary positions.
It can be hard to see bias and unfairness when they’ve been normalized for so long.
But here’s the deal: Women aren’t the only ones trying to shake off the weight of history’s unfairness. I’m sharing my personal story as an invitation, a wake-up call. We all have a part to play in creating a world where no one, from the moment they’re born, has to hear those sneaky messages telling them they’re worth less.
I recently came across this speech by actress Ashely Judd that does a brilliant job of highlighting violence against women. Which is another theme in global cultural norms that devalues females.