November 19, 2019

Who Gets To Be "Empowered?"

“Women’s empowerment is usually equated with paid work outside the home. That’s a mistake. Assuming that women who choose to stay home and nurture their young children are powerless or unenlightened is not only insulting but dangerous. A woman’s value isn’t only a matter of how much she can earn, and women’s leadership should be understood to include nurturing.

In developed countries around the world, there is increasing pressure on women to leave their children as early as possible to pursue stressful and demanding careers. The implication is that women are useful to society only if they work full-time and add to gross domestic product. But women also contribute if they temporarily sacrifice career advancement in favor of raising emotionally secure children by being as present as possible, both physically and emotionally. Motherhood isn’t weak or worthless; nurturing children is the most significant and meaningful work a person can do.

I had a painful therapy session recently with a patient who had given birth to a daughter and was in great conflict over staying home versus returning to her prestigious full-time position in finance. While pregnant she didn’t anticipate how attached she would feel to the baby and how painful it would be to leave her behind. Nothing prepared her for these intense feelings. She assumed she would easily return to work after six weeks of maternity leave. Like many of my patients, this mother is well-educated and was taught from girlhood to believe that to be successful, significant, modern and a feminist, a woman had to work outside the home.”

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