"You look tired."
If you're anything like me (and literally every other woman I know), those words are anything but innocuous. They're a reminder that you aren't wearing makeup – and being judged for it. It's like clockwork to the point that it'd be funny if it weren't so infuriating, but the fact is that women are expected to adhere to a very narrow standard for our appearances to even be considered presentable in public. It's not a secret, and it's not a scandal. It is, instead, the basic expectation of all women before being taken seriously and respected. And that is, let's not mince words, abuse.
A few weeks ago, there was a minor flap in the news cycle about an informal ban on women wearing flats or glasses to work in Japan. Everyone was so breathlessly offended, and rightly so, but the truth is that isn't even remotely unique to Japan. Our appearances are policed all over the world, from strict religious mandates for "modesty" at one end of the spectrum to under eye concealer at the other. This isn't to equate these realities, or to deny that there aren't women who find liberation in both – there are undoubtedly many women empowered by making these choices for themselves – because the problem isn't how we present ourselves of our own volition, but what we are obliged or outright required to do.
Which brings me back to "you look tired." Because there's a lot going on there! First is the simple fact that many, many a man is so unaccustomed to seeing a woman without a coat of paint on that he doesn't realize that women don't all have perfect skin, and that any imperfection must be an indication of a problem. Dark bags under your eyes? Must not be sleeping. Are you sick? You must be sick. Or you must not take care of yourself. Or you must not care about your appearance. Or you're a lesbian. Or you're just not trying.
Glasses make us look "mannish," or "unsexy," or even "intimidating," which usually is just a euphemism for too smart.
None of this is news to any of us. Generations of men who grew up on air-brushed, pinned-up, painted-over, half-starved supermodels from Marilyn to Cindy have basic expectations of what a woman is supposed to be that are then imposed over us to our detriment. The informal ban on flats and glasses in Japan may have gotten attention, but it isn't even a particularly stark example; we have all faced the threat of censure for failing to live up to someone else's fantasies.
But damned if you do and damned if you don't, there's the ever-present threat of being punished for trying to do exactly that. Wear too much makeup? Dress too "feminine." You're "asking for it." You're "distracting." You're "unprofessional" and don't want to be taken seriously. The line we have to walk is impossibly thin. Punished for being too sexy, punished for not being sexy enough – the threat is ever-present. So what is there to be done? The connection between appearance and respect is undeniable and must be navigated.
And it's not even just men, although they are themselves the primary beneficiaries; we police each other, and it mostly isn't even conscious. We have internalized these standards, applying them to other women as much as ourselves. "You can't pull that off." "Your makeup is slutty." "She just dresses like that so the boss will pay attention to her." It's ridiculous, but we do it all the same, staunchly defending double standards that hurt us all. I've done it. You've done it. We've all done it. That silent, judgy glare, the back-office gossip, and pointed and whispered accusations. We do it to ourselves.
And the guys? Guys can roll out of bed, run their fingers through their hair, and everyone's happy if they managed to throw on a pair of pants and some ratty sneakers. Even "making an effort" has a different definition; a powder-blue buttonup and some khakis are really all anyone is asking of them, and sometimes they can't even be bothered to go that far. While a sharp-dresser is always gonna be an eye-turner – and let me tell you, I've seen some guys who can wear the hell out of a great suit – that's considered exceptional and noteworthy. A guy with mussy top is never going to be asked if it's windy outside. They never need an excuse.
"You look tired."
Well, I am tired. Being a woman is exhausting. And nothing – not money or success or power – has changed that. Instead, it's been sorority, our willingness to speak to each other and publicly about the ways the informal rules hurt us; heels might "look professional," but they can really mess up your feet. So I'm not here to propose a solution as much as to issue a call to arms: it's okay to look tired. It's okay not to look perfect. And that's something we're obliged to communicate, not only to the men in our lives, but to each other.
This is the great gift of the social media era: it's connected more women than ever before, giving us a megaphone we've never had that can reach women we'd never otherwise meet. It has let an entire generation of women articulate and communicate shared oppressions, fueling commiseration, anger, and yes, change. That's how #MeToo happened. Even before lifting each other up comes the basic work of validating feelings about our lives we've always been expected to tamp down.
I think this might be harder for women my age and older. We aren't as keyed into the digital conversations and have more time "going along to get along" under our belts. We've learned to survive in man's world and often to a degree have internalized its values about us and our bodies. But we should expect better, and I'm glad to see our daughters standing up for themselves. It's like Lysistrata, the classical Greek drama about women stopping a war by initiating a sex strike: things get better when we stick together.
Because it's either stick together or fall apart.
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For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."