My mouth gets me in trouble. Like a lot. I seem to have strong opinions about most everything, and I tend to stray away from popular opinion. Worst (or best?) of all, I’m prone to blab on about these things with no filter.
This was true about me from early on. As evidence, here’s a photo of me as a toddler in all my feminist glory:
Note the artistic expressions I displayed on the wall. I was bursting with things to share with the world. 😅
I began my life as a loudmouthed, opinionated woman. However, the world wasn’t ready for this version of Marie. I received feedback from my immediate circles of family, school, and church that I wasn’t supposed to act that way.
Over time, I learned to put a lid on my opinions. As I entered adolescence, I started to feel shame for even having my own unique opinions and belief systems. I thought, I’m supposed to mirror what others tell me to do, so why do I keep feeling like I want to go against the grain?
This unhealthy dynamic took years of hard work to undo. And to be fully honest, there is a daily battle of external boundaries and internal mantras I have to utilize to feel like all of me – loudmouthed and all – is welcome in the world. The world can be hostile towards women. Especially those that allow their strength to shine on the outside.
I love counseling women to help them find their voice and reclaim it. In particular, I love working with women in tech in the Silicon Valley. From my experience as a therapist working with career women in the Bay Area, it seems the higher a woman’s status in her company, the lower her self-esteem and the greater her sense of shame for who she is.
It’s almost as though being in a position where we are meant to exercise our voices loudly puts us on a pedestal, inviting others to offer their critique. And it’s not only criticism from men. Sexism is an equal opportunity player. Women in positions of high authority also find themselves feeling challenged by their female superiors, peers, and supervisees.
Don’t get me wrong, sexism is at play for all women, no matter how you utilize your productive hours. However, there is often an exaggerated response from the world when women put themselves out there in ways that are more visible.
How to Deal with Sexism
We live in a sexist world. The more we tap into our strength as women, the more pushback we are likely to receive. So how do we exist within this reality? Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful for myself and the women I counsel:
- Find fellow strong women. If you’re a female CEO, find other female CEOs in your area. Find other women in your field. Find other women who are passionate about advocating for the same things you care about. Surround yourself with a support network of peers who can validate your experiences and deflate any shame you may carry.
- Find female mentors. Find a woman who is a bit “ahead” of you, whether she has progressed further along in your field, has a bit more experience than you, or is simply a bit older than you. Develop a relationship where you can reach out for support when you need it.
- Find male supporters. We need the support of individuals of all genders in order to thrive. Sometimes it can be tempting to cut men out or to be completely untrusting of anyone who isn’t a woman. This is an incredibly dangerous model and can ultimately perpetuate sexist dynamics. Find people whom you can build trust with and who support you – regardless of their gender.
- Seek the help of a therapist as needed. If you’re having trouble identifying people in the above categories, or if you’re needing additional support, finding a good counselor can be incredibly powerful. I encourage you to ask around and talk to several psychologists, MFTs, and other qualified therapists before you make a decision to schedule an initial appointment.
No human can embrace life in isolation. We all need the care and support of others in order to succeed and be our best selves. I encourage you to advocate for yourself and your needs.
If you’re interested in further support, here are some additional resources you may find helpful:
-Read my article: Navigating Sexual Misconduct
-Get support from other women or participate in initiatives related to advancing women such as equal pay and sexual harassment support through Lean In
-Meet other women in leadership and be inspired at the Women of Silicon Valley conference
-Find support for domestic violence and other needs through WomenSV (in Los Altos)
-Further your career competency and skills with support from Silicon Valley Career Women (events throughout the peninsula and San Jose)
As always, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
Dr. Marie Fang is a licensed psychologist offering therapy and counseling services to individuals in the Silicon Valley. Her office is located in central San Jose. Learn more about Dr. Marie Fang’s services.