WOMEN AND SELF ESTEEM –
A good measure of self-esteem is necessary for succeeding in life. And successful people have higher self-esteem. The two conditions are thus inextricably tangled in a chicken or egg, which came first?’ situation. The conundrum becomes more complicated when the attribute is discussed in relation to women, because of the gender stereotyping that still exists.
Man has no problems with self-esteem in relation to his wife and children, though he could have enough of it at workplace. And woman’s self esteem was neverconsidered important in a family till she too started bringing in the bucks that helped keep the hearth warm.
Self esteem, which is a sense of personal worth, is a combination of security and significance. A woman may have security with or without a successful career. Acceptance by the family, being loved the way she wants, acceptance by the society, or financial security, can give her a lot of security even when there are no personal achievements. But the other half of self-esteem, significance, has more to do with personal achievement. It results from financial success by her own accomplishment, excellence in career, or acceptance by the society for any other skill she might have.
Remaining active, and responsible, even if there is no salary involved, would give women a reasonable self esteem as long as she is not lorded over into doing every mundane thing, and as far as there is no negative gender stereotyping. Many women who have financial security may not be lacking self esteem, provided they have responsibilities and activities. Still, even in such a set up, those who have talents that go unrecognized, may suffer from a terrible lack of self esteem. A talent, which could be a creative ability, or a career skill, has to be properly channelized and should be allowed proper expression. Where that is not possible, a woman’s self esteem would suffer enormously.
Anyway, nothing boosts a woman’s self esteem like a successful career. Those who are able to pursue a career for which they have an innate skill, and thereby excel in it, expand and accrue self-esteem very fast. Too often it is seen that a woman’s self-esteem is directly related to the level of her earnings. The more the earning power, the higher the self esteem. In cases where it is economic necessity alone that goads a woman to take up a job, that job may not be an esteem booster of the same level. Nevertheless, even such a job has the ability to boost esteem because a certain amount of financial freedom and decision making power are part of independent earning capacity.
The very word working woman’ means a woman working for a wage, for there has been no stage when women have remained idle and non-working. Women cooked, canned, cleaned, sewed, tended cattle, reared kids, and managed the entire home economics. These highly demanding jobs did nothing to boost her self esteem, or release her from her secondary status that society gifted her with. It is the non-remunerative nature of this work that worked against her interest and forced her to move into the traditionally male dominated fields of income generating jobs. Women now earn with jobs that have been traditionally done at home, like cooking or sewing. As long she did those things gratis, it did nothing to boost her esteem. Once she started charging for it, it became her accomplishment.
In USA, from the beginning of 20th century onwards, women’s status in society and home has been continuously undergoing change in a way that steadily boosted her self esteem. An array of household gadgets that lessened the burden of housework, and helped her to take up paid jobs outside, increased her financial security and raised her self esteem. Even in the early part of 20th century, lots of women earned money by working in industries like canning, textiles, printing etc. Women, who worked outside home, also became fashion conscious. Because of the added income, they became able to afford more clothes and keep themselves in style. Movie industry of the times also helped, by projecting working women in a positive light.
With all the financial freedom women started enjoying by the early part of the 20th century, their job options were mainly restricted to certain type of jobs that were considered traditionally feminine. By the 1970s this also disappeared and every type of job was thrown open to them, provided they were ready to cultivate the skills necessary for it. Today, whether out of choice, or out of necessity, most women prefer to work outside home for a salary. There are many single mothers who are the sole breadwinners of their families. Even in families where a man earns enough to meet the household expenses without the woman having to work, women choose to work. She wants to excel somewhere, and she wants to showcase her talents and thereby boost her self esteem.
Law and society have rallied alongside women to help her hold tight to her self esteem. Career women’s rights are protected in most countries by giving assistance like maternity leave. Men today help in household chores and child rearing. Crches have sprang up everywhere in the world.
The original truth or myth, of children needing the mother at home, is no longer accepted. On the contrary, growing children seem to be proud of a mother who has a designation of her own and brings in the extra dough necessary for material comfort. This appreciation, in turn, adds to her self esteem rather than make her guilty, as was traditionally believed. The negligence a child suffers by having a working mother might still be apparent in the economically backward strata of the society, which cannot afford things like crches. For them, any way, there is not much of a choice.
In her book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America,” author Barbara Ehrenreich details her experiences of working in low paid jobs in disguise. She works as a waitress, as a hotel maid, and with a house-cleaning service, to test the working conditions and survival strategies of women of the low income group. The writer, who has known better comforts, does not appear to enjoy these jobs. But her colleagues in these low paid jobs appear to be proud of their jobs. There is a sense of achievement and a proportionate measure of self esteem in them. When one of these women is indisposed, she is concerned about the inconvenience it will cause to her employer. The real life characters of the book appear to have a sense of self-worth by having these jobs and a sense of belonging to the organization, something that has boosted their self esteem.
A woman, who is successful in her career, is able to cope better with family problems, because they are recompensed substantially by their career achievements. By that same yardstick, women, who are devoid of job satisfaction and resultant self esteem, are less equipped to resolve family conflicts. Mental health of women with high self esteem is also found to be proportionately higher. Husband and children, in short, only benefit by having an earning wife or mother with high self esteem.
There is a school of thought that says that women’s higher self-esteem can lead to break up of families. A self-confident wife might sometimes become an ego-deflator for a less confident husband, but it is a blue that man has to fight himself and there is nothing a woman can do to change the situation. For a woman, a higher dose of self esteem definitely does not work at cross purposes with a successful marriage and motherhood. They complement each other. A higher self esteem, especially one that results from a successful career, and its corollaries, are sheer survival necessities for a woman today.