Episode 23 - Unmasking Patriarchy & Internalized Oppression
Hey Rebels! Welcome back to the podcast and listen; thank you so much for tuning in. I've gotten so much positive feedback from this podcast, which is exciting to me because all I wanted to do through this podcast was help shift your thinking and perspective and remove any limiting beliefs or obstacles that would prevent you from living your best life, and of course, having an epic meaningful career. So I'm glad it's working and you're enjoying it.
Some of you may know that before I started my coaching and consulting practice, I was in academia as a social scientist for about 10 years. This was after my years as a labor and employment discrimination attorney. As an academic, I conducted research, taught classes, supervised doctoral dissertations, and published scholarly pieces around my area of focus: structural inequity, intersectionality, gender, and racial inequity, and its relationship to human development and organizational systems. I know that's a mouth full, but basically, I studied the impact of the patriarchy and oppression upon both the individual and within society and organizations.
What drew me to this work was my own life's journey. My experiences of growing up in a predominately white environment where my family was the only black family in my elementary school and then being thrust into a predominately black environment when my parents divorced, but never being accepted or felt as if I was truly a part of that community. Kinda living life along the margins and never quite finding my place or my people. And then, as an adult working in a predominately male field and environment (I was one of 2 females in my firm) and how my gender was always front and center when I walked into courtrooms or sat across the table from a multi-billion dollar company's legal teams. So my research first centered on understanding myself and my own experiences before I began to explore it further in relationships to others. As I often tell people, my doctoral studies were more therapeutic than educational at times.
Over the years, I Iearned how these and other experiences shaped how I showed up and what I believed was possible for me. How they either fueled me or limited my engagement with the world.
So that's what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about patriarchy and internalized oppression and how we've learned to embody these systems and live them out unconsciously; and how it impacts the choices we make, or don't make, in our lives and careers. I want to lift the veil and give voice to how these things have manifested and contribute to feelings of fear, imposter syndrome, self-doubt, lack of confidence, worthiness, and more.
Now, before I jump in, I want to say that this is about gaining awareness, NOT becoming a victim. It's not about creating an us vs. them mentality but instead about freeing you from it. The point here is to give you hope. To help you feel informed, inspired, and empowered.
So let's get into it. I always like to start with a definition to ensure we're on the same page.
Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. I'll also add that this system damages both men and women and limits authenticity, creativity, and true liberation.
So many of the women I work with struggle with feeling inadequate, people-pleasing, or being good enough, and it's no wonder because women were raised to believe we were inadequate, that we needed to please others and make them happy and comfortable, and that absolutely nothing about us (at least physically) is good enough. Every fairy tale, magazine, tv show, and movie only served to reinforce that message.
I remember being told throughout my life, both explicitly and implicitly, to "dumb it down," "not show up so much," "not always speak what's on my mind," or other messages "like who did I think I was to do or say, or ask for…" you fill in the blank.
And when you hear these messages enough throughout your life and experience the consequence of not falling in line (or watching someone else be punished), it's no wonder that as you grow into adulthood, you struggle with speaking up in meetings, telling your boss you're not working over another weekend, asking for a raise or negotiating your salary.
It's no wonder you take on extra work and responsibilities, sometimes without being asked, to prove you deserve to be there. It's no wonder you can't take a compliment or are embarrassed when someone praises you or rewards you, and you'd rather "not make a fuss." Or why you focus on what you're missing instead of celebrating all you have. Or why you feel you need another certification or degree or more experience to go after a particular job or career or start a new business.
When you've been breathing in the air of patriarchy your entire life, it's often hard to see or describe why at a cellular level, you feel anxious or fearful a lot of the time. Why pushing back or standing up is so hard and how you've internalized these messages to the point where you think something's wrong or inadequate about you.
It's been that way throughout history for women. For example, I've been watching the series The First Lady on Showtime, and this season, they're focusing on Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Michelle Obama. And even though these women were intelligent and accomplished in their own right and held significant positions of power, the system consistently colluded to subjugate and silence them. Actually, in pretty much any show you watch where there's a woman in power, you'll see a system working overtime to take her down and then watch the toll it took on their psyches.
Kinda makes you wonder if the female villains in stories and movies we grew up watching (like Ursula, Maleficent, or the Wicked Witch in Oz) weren't really ostracized and just fucking pissed because their lights weren't allowed to shine as bright as the boys. And they were cast as villains as a cautionary tale to young girls. It makes you wonder, right?
But I digress.
It's important to know where these thoughts and behaviors originated and how they're playing out in your everyday decisions and choices both in your life and career.
In the Career Rebel Academy, we work to create a safe place for you to unmask the patriarchy and step into your power and brilliance without fear of repercussions or reprisal. We actually give you the tools and tell you what to do in situations where fear and doubt may raise their ugly head. And that works when you understand how it's playing out for you, how to spot any patriarchal thinking that's holding you back, and how to conquer the real fear of what will happen if you don't comply.
How to stop settling for good enough.
How to stop people-pleasing.
How to stop playing small.
How to own your genius, gifts, brilliance, and significance.
How to stop looking at what you don't have and celebrate all that you do.
How to go after and get whatever you want regardless of the bullshit happening around you.
To be able to notice that when you're struggling with these things, it's just patriarchy or how you've internalized it in your life. To be able to identify where these things are coming from so you can overcome them.
So, I've talked a lot about patriarchy, but I want to expand this and discuss internalized oppression. So, again, let's start with a definition.
Internalized oppression happens when people who are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, internalize (believe and make part of their self-image – their internal view of themselves) the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group. Then, the oppressed group starts using the methods of the oppressing group against itself. Because it's internalized, it's been incorporated mostly subconsciously within yourself and how you operate in the world.
It's an "acceptance" of negative societal beliefs and stereotypes, and the repetitive and negative psychological exposure creates feelings of self-doubt and even disrespect for one's own group or self. It's truly a "hidden injury" or an "assault on self" that places limitations on what you believe can be possible for yourself or others.
It fuels imposter syndrome, making you strive for perfectionism or cause burnout because you're trying to overachieve and prove the societal beliefs or stereotypes wrong. Perfectionism is the oppressor's voice that makes you feel that you're not good enough and never will be. It's psychological slavery that imprisons your mind and damages motivation, aspiration, and self-esteem.
Audre Lorde said, "To be whole, we must recognize the despair oppression plants within each of us…and we must fight that inserted place of self-destruction that lives and flourishes like a poison inside of us until it makes us turn on ourselves and each other."
Internalized oppression comes from believing the myths and stereotypes about gender from the patriarchy and internalizing the myths and stereotypes along the intersections of race, sexual orientation, ableism, age, class, culture, and ethnicity.
One of the most notable myths is that of the strong black woman. The phrase was created to deny the humanity and emotion of black women, create division, and justify working enslaved Black women as hard, if not harder, than the males. But it's been internalized as a badge of honor that causes black women to overwork, isolate (claiming I can do it alone and don't need help), reject emotion as weak and frivolous, and therefore never learn how to process them appropriately, and burn out. And when we're rewarded for this self-sacrificing behavior, designed to encourage us to continue to deny ourselves, we label it a success.
We can also see it in how we wear our hair, our thoughts about patronizing other businesses owned by those in the same racial, gender, or ethnic group, or how we code-switch in certain environments.
It creates a duality - a desire for freedom and liberation and a competing desire to be accepted and fit in.
Paulo Freire's work on the impact of oppression says that at its worse, there's a surrender, a perception that your condition is a given, an unchangeable reality. That leads to a rationalization that "that's just the way it is," or that's our fate, and ultimately victimization and limitation on your life and career. It's like believing that even though there are 50 sandboxes on the playground, you can only play within one of them.
Sandra Oh talked about this when she got the part for Killing Eve. She said, "When I got the script for "Killing Eve," I was quickly scrolling down the script, and I can't really tell you what I was looking for. So she said to her agent, "So Nancy, I don't understand, what's the part?" And Nancy goes, "Sweetheart, it's Eve, it's Eve." In that moment, she said, I didn't assume the offer was for Eve. I think about how deep have I internalized this? [So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. I didn't even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, "Oh my God! They brainwashed me! I was brainwashed!"
So, ask yourself, how has this played out in my life? How and where have I seen this manifested?
When have you not asked for money or benefits because you felt you should be grateful they even offered you the job?
When have you been afraid to leave a "good job" because you thought you wouldn't have it "this good" anywhere else?
When have you rejected or sabotaged a promotion because, deep down, you felt you weren't really qualified.
How often do you look at other women or women of color that look like you as competitors instead of collaborators?
How often have you told yourself they won't pick, hire, promote, work for, or work with someone like me?
How quickly do you see how things won't work instead of how they will?
Freire said, "the oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom." But Martin Luther King said, "freedom is never voluntarily given; it must be demanded."
Now again, this isn't about creating an us vs. them in your mind. This is about releasing you from an us vs. them mentality.
Not to blame or feel defeated, but to understand, gain awareness and free your mind. To engage in mental acts of liberation so you can indeed achieve what you want in your life and career.
As I often say to my clients, and I'll say it about this work too, it's simple but not easy. While it only takes a decision to say no more, that decision has to be made every day, sometimes every hour of every day, because these things are so deeply ingrained, and none of us are immune.
I sometimes find myself spending days lamenting over how I can't do something or how something won't work for me because of my age, gender, or race. God knows there's enough evidence of the pushback we get, but then I have to challenge my thoughts and ask myself, "how is it helping me to think this way?" Or go a bit deeper and ask, "what am I afraid will happen if I do XYZ?" Because psychological safety is real.
Once we can get clear on how the patriarchy and internalized oppression manifest themselves in your life and career, you can start to manage your mind and engage in acts of liberation.
Resist alienation and isolation and learn how to use moments of pain to connect rather than separate.
Learn to accept and engage in your emotions and not see them as weaknesses or an inability to cope. The trope about women being "too emotional" has been exceedingly damaging to women's ability to embrace their full humanity and for men to be able to embrace their own as well.
Find circles and communities of support to break the myth that asking for help is a sign of weakness. To see that going it alone is a patriarchal myth.
Stop overtaxing and engage in more self-care.
Stop entertaining negative socialized messages and start training your brain to focus on what's uplifting and possible.
Accept that things will be hard and that you can do hard things.
Learn how to tap into your authentic strengths, gifts, and talents and start operating in spaces that value and accept it.
Stop deconstructing parts of yourself to "fit in" and fully stand in your own significance while gaining support and encouragement; every step of the way.
Stop rejecting help and ask for it…and then take it!
Stop believing that your worth and value come from what you do and not who you are.
I'm fully aware that we live in a male-dominated society, and the world's wealth is held in the hands of a few, and the rules of engagement are not only fuzzy but seem to change consistently, but that's not what you should focus on. Instead, focus on what you have control over and what you can change….YOU, your thoughts, feelings, actions, and results.
Understand where patriarchy and internalized oppression are at play and when you may find yourself acting in accordance so you can shift your thoughts, beliefs, and mindset and engage in different actions or a new way of being.
Doing this work alone is hard for anyone, and you may find yourself indulging in some of these limiting behaviors without even knowing it. But, as I said, I can spend days in these thought loops, and I understand this stuff personally and theoretically. Also, the past few years of COVID and the isolation of the shutdown have impacted us in ways that we're still trying to process and understand.
That's why we've created space for this work and these conversations in the Career Rebel Academy because these things have impacted the decisions you've made in and throughout your career. It would be foolish to think otherwise and incredibly detrimental to you stepping into the work you want or are meant to do in the world. It's one of the truly unique and extraordinary things that I bring to the table and offer to you in this program. The ability to release yourself, rise above, and actually get what you want.
It may be hard to believe right now, but as Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done!"
Well, all right, Rebels, that's it for today, and I know it was a lot. So take some time to digest it and think about it. I also want to offer you an opportunity to join me for a monthly roundtable where we'll have a chance to talk about this topic and so much more. That way, we can have a conversation, you can get your questions answered, and leave not only with new insights but steps you can take.
It's called The Boardroom, a monthly facilitated discussion on how to successfully navigate the key issues facing midlife career professional women, particularly those who are senior leaders, rising executives, and experienced high-achievers. Our May Boardroom will be on Thursday, May 26th at 10 am PST, and if you can't make it, you'll be able to get the recording, but you have to register. In the future, The Boardroom will meet on the last Friday of the month at 10 am PST. We're meeting Thursday this month because it's right before a holiday weekend, and most people take off on Friday.
You can register at www.carolparkerwalsh.com/boardroom, and I'll also add the link in the show notes for your convenience.
Also, come find me on the socials! I'm most active on Instagram and LinkedIn, so if you want to share with me what new things you learned today, I'd LOVE it. Or even better, if you want to share on your own social and tag me, that would be equally great!
I leave you with the words of Audre Lorde, "When I dare to be powerful, to use my voice in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether or not I'm afraid."
Until next time…have an amazingly rebellious week!