Why Are We Still Putting Women in Boxes?

4min read

If you had to pick one, would you rather be smart or beautiful?

To put it simply, I don't want to choose. Call me selfish. Call me crazy. It doesn't matter. As a woman, I should be viewed as beautiful and smart. I shouldn't have to worry about what my work acquaintances think of me when I choose to post a photo of myself in a swimsuit. But I do. I worry about it.

Society tells women to choose. You are either pretty or smart. A mom or a career woman. Sporty or a fashionista. And don't get me started on the rumors when you start stepping outside of these narrow confines. How she must have slept with someone to get that job. Or that maybe she is related to the boss.

But why are we constantly choosing and worrying? Why is it that society thinks it's impossible to be both? Why can't we just be every damn thing we want to be? Why can't we accept that women have great jobs because they are qualified, talented, and hardworking?

As a senior political staffer who models occasionally, people have been trying to put me in a specific box for the last six years of my career. As Senior Deputy Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island I manage community engagement strategies; project manage the City's International Arts Festival that draws over 130,000 attendees over 4 days; and run high-level Mayoral initiatives around education, small businesses, strategic partnerships, and economic development. Additionally, I serve on five boards, mentor young people in urban cities, visit the gym every single week, and regularly walk in fashion shows or participate in photoshoots.

Competing at the Miss USA 2016 pageant, representing Rhode Island

While preparing to compete in the nationally televised Miss USA competition in 2016, reporters or anyone I met with always wanted to talk about how rare it was that I had "beauty and brains," how I had a full-time career while juggling photo shoots, why I was prioritizing my visits to the gym but was already "too skinny" and didn't need to work out.

Reporters or anyone I met with always wanted to talk about how rare it was that I had "beauty and brains"

Some of them didn't know they were putting me in a box. Some of them were just trying to give me a compliment. And this isn't about gender: some of them were men and some of them were women. All of them repeatedly were putting me in a box, telling me that I had to choose, telling women that we must constantly choose.

And in 2016, when I was balancing pageants and politics, I didn't choose. And today, in 2019, while still balancing pageants and politics, I still refuse to choose. I still work 50+ hour weeks. I still visit the gym with my personal trainer every single Wednesday. I still walk in fashion shows. I still participate in campaigns, such as #ThisIsBeauty, which remind people to show the vulnerable yet powerful side of beauty. I still get in front of a camera when I can. And I love it all.

Shot from the #ThisIsBeauty Campaign Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo

You know why?

I can advocate for policy changes. I can be a mentor for young people. I can testify at the State House. I can enjoy dressing up for work. And I can also walk down a runway in a bikini. They all make me feel empowered. They are all my choices.

So, refuse to get in that box, refuse to choose. Because I am tired of people trying to make me be only a small part of who I am. We are all multidimensional and it's time we embrace every side of what makes us who we are!

3 Min Read

Help! Am I A Fraud?

The Armchair Psychologist has all the answers you need!

Help! I Might Get Fired!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

What's the best way to be prepared for a layoff? Because of the crisis, I am worried that my company is going to let me go soon, what can I do to be prepared? Is now a good time to send resumes? Should I save money? Redesign my website? Be proactive at work? Make myself non-disposable?

- Restless & Jobless

Dear Restless & Jobless,

I'm sorry that you're feeling anxious about your employment status. There are many people like yourself in this pandemic who are navigating an uncertain future, many have already lost their jobs. In my experience as a former professional recruiter for almost a decade, I always told my candidates the importance of periodically being passively on the market. This way, you'd know your worth, and you'd be able to track the market rates that may have changed over time, and sometimes even your job title which might have evolved unbeknownst to you.

This is a great time to reach out to your network, update your online professional presence (LinkedIn etc.), and send resumes. Though I'm not a fan of sending a resume blindly into a large database. Rather, talk to friends or email acquaintances and have them directly introduce you to someone who knows someone at a list of companies and people you have already researched. It's called "working closest to the dollar."

Here's a useful article with some great COVID-times employment tips; it suggests to "post ideas, articles, and other content that will attract and engage your target audience—specifically recruiters." If you're able to, try to steer away from focusing too much on the possibility of getting fired, instead spend your energy being the best you can be at work, and also actively being on the job market. Schedule as many video calls as you can, there's nothing like good ol' face-to-face meetings to get yourself on someone's radar. If your worries get the best of you, I recommend you schedule time with a qualified therapist. When you're ready, lean into that video chat and werk!

- The Armchair Psychologist


Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I'm an independent consultant in NYC. I just filed for unemployment, but I feel a little guilty collecting because a) I'm not looking for a job (there are none anyway) and b) the company that will pay just happens to be the one that had me file a W2 last year; I've done other 1099 work since then.

- Guilt-Ridden

Dear Name,

I'm sorry that you're wracked with guilt. It's admirable that your conscience is making you re-evaluate whether you are entitled to "burden the system" so to speak as a state's unemployment funds can run low. Shame researchers, like Dr. Brené Brown, believe that the difference between shame and guilt is that shame is often rooted in the self/self-worth and is often destructive whereas guilt is based on one's behavior and compels us to do better. "I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."

Your guilt sounds like a healthy problem. Many people feel guilty about collecting unemployment benefits because of how they were raised and the assumption that it's akin to "seeking charity." You're entitled to your unemployment benefits, and it was paid into a fund for you by your employer with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you aren't committing an illegal act. The benefits are there to relieve you in times when circumstances prevent you from having a job. Each state may vary, but the NY State Department of Labor requires that you are actively job searching. The Cares Act which was passed in March 2020 also may provide some relief. I recommend that you collect the relief you need but to be sure that you meet the criteria by actively searching for a job just in case anyone will hire you.

- The Armchair Psychologist