In an Age of Comparison, Busy does not Equal Productive

It seems that we have forgotten what it’s like to intentionally choose rest. When we do, we feel as though we are derailing our lives. It plagues us with guilt. I believe that this thinking is rooted in a culture of shame, pride and comparison.

How can shame and pride thrive simultaneously?

If you think about it, one cannot exist without the other. A culture of shame, lurking behind our obsession with productivity, is deeply embedded within society. And I would argue that it affects women more harshly.

One of the greatest threats to our peace of mind and ability to enjoy the present moment is the idea that busyness equates with productivity. We obsessively praise and admire what looks like productivity.

Instagram stories, facebook posts and twitter updates fuel the phenomenon. We see our friends’ elaborately organised desks and cups of coffee as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds, feeling guilty for not doing more ourselves. These constant comparisons and feelings of falling short pose a serious threat to our mental well-being.

When did our mental energy become less important than being recognized as worthy and successful by society?

Picture this: the ideal woman. She is able to multitask at all times, dedicates a perfect amount of time to each task, and always looks flawless. Effortlessly efficient in the workplace, she still makes it home in time to make dinner from scratch. She spends time with her family and gets the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

For real? These are impossible standards to live up to on a good day. More than anything, they set us up for burnout.

The dominant message is that it’s okay to compromise our health and wellness at the expense of appearing successful and gaining praise from others. We are expected to keep it together at every moment of every day, and to carry the emotions of our children and significant others while seamlessly managing our own. We should not express or even identify as feeling any anger or irritation. We are expected to love perfectly.

This is what is implicitly perpetuated by a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. How busy we are has become an indication of our worthiness.

Busy does not equal productive. 

Breaking down, being vulnerable, admitting to sometimes not being able to handle everything: we view these as weaknesses. Can you see it now? Little old pride, rearing its head, spurred on by shame and ready to put up a fight.

It is time for this narrative to change. We need to make a conscious individual and collective effort to fight back against this mentality, especially at a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever.

Periods of rest should not be scorned and embraced only once we are exhausted beyond recognition. Rest should be an intentional form of self-care to maintain good mental health, not a last-minute strategy to salvage what’s left.

Learning to Honour our Sacred Menstruation

I can still remember how I felt when I got my first period. I was scared, confused and really not sure what was happening to my body. My mother took me aside and explained that I was becoming a woman.

She taught me how to use a sanitary pad, but emphasized that this was a deeply personal experience to be kept private. As an obedient daughter, I didn’t share my menstrual matters with anyone – not my siblings, not my friends, not my father, no-one. It was my secret to bear silently.

Young girls are taught from their first period that menstruation is taboo and dirty.

They are taught that however natural it is, it’s also shameful, disgusting and a source of impurity. I learnt early that menstruation was not to be discussed openly, and I understood that no-one should be made aware of it.

All of this appears deeply illogical when you consider that nearly half the world’s population will go through menstruation in their lifetime. How has modern society managed to convince us all that menstruation, a natural bodily process, is a social and spiritual abomination?

As a woman in her late twenties, it is only now that I have decided to change my perspective regarding menstruation.

The emotional and spiritual work I have been doing in last two years has helped me realize that menstruation is something beautiful, sacred and worthy of celebrating. This realization has required a process of unlearning the beliefs and ideas I held about menstruation. It has also required me to embrace my body and love it in all its phases and manifestations. I’m learning to tap into the sacred power of menstruation and to understand what it means to be divinely feminine.

Menstruation is a gift. Think about it.

It is a process that allows us to give birth to new life. It’s a function of the wondrous uterus, a self-cleansing and purposeful organ. Menstruation is an experience that unifies women across the world. It reminds us of our great feminine abilities. How can we not celebrate this? Menstruation is deserving of more recognition and appreciation.

In many ancient cultures, menstruation was seen as a sacred and precious time. Due to the connection of the cycle to the moon phases, menstruating women were believed to harness great ‘shamanic’ and spiritual power. Anthropologists suggest this may explain the use of menstrual huts in certain cultures, originally intended as safe spaces for women to retreat at the ‘height of their powers’.

In honouring menarche, different cultures celebrate a girl’s first period. They view it as a right of passage in to womanhood and mark the occasion with a ritual or cultural practice. Menstruation is given the respect and the regard it is worthy of.

What if we chose to look at menstruation differently?

Let us remove the stigma and shame. We have an opportunity to embrace and acknowledge something beautiful and fascinating. Beyond the biology, menstruation is a spiritual time that allows women to connect to a deeper part of themselves. It’s a time to release old and negative energies, and begin a new phase of self-growth and reflection. To me, that sounds like something worth celebrating.

?Read more menstruation posts on girlsglobe.org ?

Women Who Do Too Much

The exhausted woman is a cultural trope.

It’s a scene repeated in books, movies, our own lives: she arrives, apologetic, to a lunch appointment or meeting, straight after her last appointment or meeting.

Somehow, between mouthfuls of food, she remembers what’s been going on in your life, updates you on how she’s been juggling her career and her personal life and her family responsibilities, periodically checking her phone to answer an urgent text, share that contact you needed, forward that interesting article, and then rushes to leave on time for another appointment or meeting or to pick up the kids.

Even looking at the mythological modern woman is exhausting. Being her is next to impossible. A whole industry has been spun around the herculean task that is living up the feat that is being a successful modern woman.

Artist Emma Clit, who followed up her viral comic You Should Have Asked with The Consequences, used both to brilliantly highlight the multitudinous invisible burdens women carry with them every day. The psychological wear and tear is hard to see, but significant.

Women of all ages – from as young as adolescents – may recognize the heavy psychological effects that stem from the expectation that they can be everything to everyone.

So, what can we do about it? Recognize this in yourself? Want to know what to do next?

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’ve taken pride in being there for the people around you, taking time for yourself – even when you desperately need it – can feel like self-absorption or failure. A helpful trick is to think of ourselves as our best friends: if they came to us, worn out and frazzled, we’d insist that they turn off their phone and think about taking care of themselves for at least an afternoon.

Running or Swimming or Yoga (or Something Else)

We’ve heard this ad nauseum, but it really does help. Any kind of exercise helps lower stress levels and does wonders for our health. We don’t have to run marathons or join dance classes (unless we want to!) Free youtube tutorials teaching you how to stretch or moonwalk or kickbox or anything that gets you breaking a sweat are just as good.

Schedule You Time

The way we’ve been told we need to make time for our jobs, our partners, our friends, is the same way we need to make time for ourselves. It is okay to say no to the party and stay in to rest if you need to (it really is). It is okay to tell your significant other you need some space to recharge.

Be Your Own Advocate

(Warning label: This can be the hardest one to do.) Learning to insist on helping and breaking patterns is a difficult thing to do, even when they’re patterns we don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s crucial to maintaining our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Further Reading on Girls’ Globe

Will Education Alone Suffice?

In a not-so-small village in India, where people earn their livelihood by farming, education is booming. In the last decade, this village has seen the birth and development of a government school and several private schools. A couple of these are even elite ‘English medium’ schools.

The village has also seen the opening of a pre-university college. But to pursue any vocational or professional course afterwards, an individual must travel to the next town. With no frequent bus connectivity, this higher education remains a distant dream for many. But the people of the village are still ecstatic.

Their children can now say a few words in English. They can identify the English alphabet. They can – sometimes stutteringly – say a sentence in English too. Their children are educated – a word whose purpose and worth many of us fail to comprehend.

In a real-life scenario, each family enrolls their child/children in school dutifully. Fees are low, midday meals are provided and children are taken care of while the parents work in the fields as daily wage labourers. By the time the children are back, parents are back at home too.

When boys reach 5th or 6th standard, they drop out of school to work alongside their parents. Another breadwinner for the family is more important than learning English – which ‘they will never use anyway’.

The girl child, however, is sent to school to complete her education up to the 10th standard. Some progressive families will even allow their daughters to study up to the 12th. All because it increases their demand in marriage.

A boy educated up to 4th standard will work from the age of 9 till 24, manage to buy an acre of farm land with the joint earnings of his family, and then approach the family of a well-educated girl with a marriage proposal.

If all goes well, the proposal is accepted and a marriage is celebrated by the families. The daughter-in-law dutifully takes up her responsibility of cleaning the house, cooking three meals, tending to the cattle and bearing children – often before she herself is even 20 years old.

This is the story of young adults in most villages here.

Is there any need for change? Who is to blame? Does something have to be done, or is this something to be left alone?

Schools and colleges were, at some point, new to many living in villages across India. Yet most people accepted them with open arms. My question, though, is if this education does not translate into a good job and decent pay, is it of any use to poor farming communities?

Ensuring we don’t just stop with providing schools, but focus on creating livelihoods through relevant vocational training is a major need for our people.

Making opportunities for working and earning available to girls and boys equally is the responsibility of every government.

What use is a 12th standard education if a girl is unable to support herself financially? After all, financial independence is very closely linked to security and safety.

I believe that societies change and adapt to the opportunities presented to them. Law makers, influencers and policy makers must understand the needs of a population with a view to future growth, rather than simply providing dead-end educations!

In Conversation with Natasha Salifyanji Kaoma

Allow us to introduce you to Natasha Salifyanji Kaoma! Natasha is a Zambian medical doctor and the founder of Copper Rose Zambia – an organization working to advance adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

We sat down with Natasha to talk about starting her own organization, the taboo around menstruation and abortion, and how she takes care of her own wellbeing in her work. 

“I noticed a menstrual hygiene problem in my school. Not because the girls couldn’t afford the products, but most people didn’t know what was going on with their bodies.”

It can be incredibly challenging to work on issues considered to be taboo, sensitive or ‘controversial’, but Natasha clearly isn’t going to let societal norms in Zambia – or anywhere else in the world – stand in her way. 

“I believe that women, if empowered, can change the narrative of the African continent.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

Can we Redefine the Definition of a Woman?

The emancipation of girls and women is a rallying cry, opposing the societal conservatism that impedes on the rights of women.

It is, however, still devastating to me that as a woman, I really can’t share my opinion truthfully and openly concerning the issues I feel are a bottleneck to my wellbeing.

It’s so hard to substantiate my case further without accusations levelled against me that I am being emotional, angry and inconsiderate.

Social construction has been unfavourable to women over the years in such a way that we spend our girlhoods being fed with ideologies that glorify silence as the best option for us. If someone steps on your toes, society expects you not to respond because ‘good women don’t fight back’. This is a senseless dogma which perplexes me –  how long should women remain silent, allow themselves to be walked over and continue to be subjugated?

“Women are supposed to be feminine, soft and less aggressive,” people tell me! This is a fallacy, and doesn’t come anywhere near how I see the definition of a woman.

Melinda Gates has noted that “a woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman.” For me, this quote summarizes what it means to be a woman.

To be a woman does not mean that you are a doormat everyone can tread all over. Being a woman means you can be as aggressive as you want, speak as loudly as you want, fight for what is right, show all of the tendencies associated with masculinity – and still be a woman.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once stated: “of course I’m not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.” As women, we need to build one another up so that we can navigate and eradicate powerful ideologies of male chauvinism.

If a woman stands for something and commits her mind to it, she has no time for negativity or what society will think about her actions. Today, in the 21st century, a woman can be a trend-setter and a policy maker. A woman doesn’t condone the ‘pull her down’ mentality, instead she pulls other women up. A woman assures other women that there’s room for them too at the top. That is the definition of a woman!