We've entered a place in time where women face a constant stream of scrutiny coming from seemingly every direction — scrutiny about the way we dress, the lifestyle choices we make, what we choose to do with our bodies . . . the list goes on. And even if we don't realize it, nearly everyone is guilty at some point or another of participating in this collective dissection of women. Fortunately, figuring out how to stop tearing women down in your everyday life can be as simple as letting down your own defenses and getting real with yourself about your behavior.
As a self-identified feminist, I like to think I empower other women as opposed to tear them down. But if I'm really being honest with myself, I know there have been moments that have contradicted the support and love for women I feel at my core. Inadvertently or otherwise, I have likely made another woman feel bad about herself or doubt her abilities at some point in time. For that, I'm truly sorry. Self-growth comes through accepting that we're not perfect, learning from our mistakes, and moving forward — in that spirit, I look at each day as a new opportunity to avoid the trendy trap of tearing other women down in an attempt to lift myself up.
Here are a few suggestions to enact in your life if you want to be more encouraging to women.
1. Avoid Contributing To Tired Cliches
As a feminist, one thing I hear oh so often is people using "feminism" like a four-letter word: The sentence begins, "I'm not a feminist because feminists believe...", after which point you can usually expect to hear some tired and often untrue narrative, like "men are evil." At its roots, feminism is solely about equality — for everyone. Since we live in a patriarchal society, feminism is important for women and gender nonconforming people because it seeks to put us on level playing ground. As for those who judge others because they "aren't feminist enough," well, that's also incredibly damaging. Supporting equality for all is a fantastic way to empower women — and everyone else, even when their feminism looks a little different than yours does.
2. Resist The Urge To Compete All The Time
As in, don't feel like you have to hoard all the proverbial pie — there are plenty of pieces to go around. If you're trying to climb the corporate ladder, for example, you don't have to kick women off the rungs as you move up. By helping them climb too, you help more women get to the top. That's called progress! Be a collaborator instead of a 24/7 competitor (no matter how much our culture tries to pit us against each other), because the truth is you don't have to tear anyone down to lift yourself up. When you empower women, they help lift you up.
3. Be Generous
In that vein, if you have knowledge, why not share it? If you see a woman who needs help balancing the work-kids-chaos life, why not lend her a hand if she asks? If you have a new young woman at work, why not offer to mentor her? Yes, we're all frantically busy, but if we don't make time to build up the next generation of women, who will? Willfully choosing to watch women fail is a truly insidious form of tearing women down.
4. Give Gossip The Boot
Ah, gossip: The bane of... well, everyone's existence. Here's an uncomfortable truth about gossip — women gossiping about women is practically an epidemic (and again, a lot of that has to do with how much our culture likes to pit women against each other). What we should be doing instead is talking to each other instead of talking about each other. We need to figure out a way to be comfortable saying the hard things to each other so we don't feel like they have to be whispered behind each other's backs.
5. Pay Daily Compliments
Instead of saying something potentially hurtful or subversive about women, try passing out compliments like candy. This isn't a passive form of lifting women up; it's an active one. If you're not in the habit of saying uplifting things to women, it may feel foreign and uncomfortable at first. But as time goes on, paying someone a genuine compliment ("You have an infectious laugh!" "You're such a great story-teller!") will be second nature. There's always something empowering you can say to a woman if you're open to seeing it.
6. Embrace Differences
One of the most wonderful things about human beings is how beautifully diverse we are. There's only one me. There's only one you. It's silly to think that we are all going to share the same values, just as we don't share the same looks. Whether someone dresses wildly different than you do or they don't appreciate your particular passion — whatever disparity between you might lead to you diminishing them — they are a person, and they deserve respect, just as you do.
7. Don't Let Your Insecurities Get The Best Of You
Many things compel people to act in a certain way: Love, hate, curiosity, etc. But the one reason that routinely pops into the picture when women are getting torn down is insecurity. When you have an insecurity about yourself — especially in context to another person, i.e. "She's smarter than I am" — it can manifest in trying to make yourself feel more secure by tearing another person down. Or, if you're in a spiral of insecurity, pulling a woman into that darkness with you. Instead, why not try lifting both yourself and the other woman up?