As a Woman, What Determines My Self Worth?

By now, almost every literate person has probably read, or at least heard about, the book Lean In -- Sheryl Sandberg's phenomenon that caused a revolution amongst women and got us all excited about putting our best into everything. For those who haven't, and you should get a copy, the book is about Sheryl's experience as a woman -- since the time she was young to her time in the big, bad corporate world. Despite a big fan of her work, my goal here is to neither critique nor idolize her words. But the reaction it caused amongst women I know, and some I don't know, really forced me to spend a lot of time in introspection. I also read a lot of reviews on the book; mainly about women's role in today's society. There is obviously a lot of disagreement on the topic, with some women sharing her viewpoint, while others insisting that women need to completely rethink this leaning in business. What almost all of these reviews or articles do agree on, however, is that what a woman does determines her self-worth and more importantly, her worth in society. Because if not, why the hullabaloo?

Whether it is a successful career with a high paying job, or a soccer mom with two perfect kids and an enviable home (and I'm being facetious here), or a combination of both, it is important that a woman's worth is deemed acceptable by the society she lives in. Now, this society is made up not only of men but also other women, all of whom are somewhat stuck between historical and archaic roles that were set forth by our ancestors. The man went out in search of the food, and woman stayed at home to cook and take care of the progeny. To put it bluntly, no matter how many times and ways we look at it, we always end up comparing the self-worth of a woman with our "traditional" understanding of what it means to be a woman. But what does it mean to be a woman?

A woman, being the child-bearing of the two partners, is naturally inclined to taking care of her child. Women are also inclined towards several other things, but the maternal instinct is a given. And this is completely different from how a father is programmed to taking care of his child -- although, I have seen a few fathers who just get it. So, then this "instinct" can definitely be acquired. Now consider the mental make-up of a man; it is naturally inclined to... well, now that is an interesting point. What is a man's mind naturally inclined towards? If a woman were to read this article, she would probably yell out -- sports? Politics? Machines? Money? But for any man, would that not be too gross a generalization? A man would think that he is naturally inclined to several things, including taking care of his family and protecting them. But we know that when the roles are reversed, not only do men make excellent single parents, but women can also be fiercely aggressive in protecting their children.

So what then, is the core of being a man or a woman? Is it our hormones that segregate us -- the estrogen and testosterone -- making us more or less aggressive, or more or less inclined towards rearing of children? Since we know that both women and men perform well when the roles are reversed, although not everyone one of them, our distinction cannot only be determined by our hormones. So then what is the real distinction? Is it the branding by our society? And who makes up this so-called society if not us, men and women? So then it comes back to us a full circle -- each one of us, our families, friends and co-workers -- not the "society" as a whole, decides what it means to be a successful, worthy human being. Wow, then, is it that simple? If we are able to convince those closest to us that we are leading happy and successful lives, we should feel worthy of living these lives, right? Absolutely, not!

The whole point of this exercise is that to think of self-worth as a thing of comparison with any other human being, is moot. What I am trying to say is this -- why is there a need to generalize what a woman's role should be, and for that matter, what a man's role should be? And whether leaning in or relaxing back should be the modus operandi for all women when it comes to dealing with the current state of affairs? Yes, women have been treated poorly by men for several decades, but that does not mean that every woman should feel the need to take on the high mantel and prove that she needs to do something about it. What if a particular woman is perfectly comfortable in her current situation, whatever her career or family life might be, and so are all the people that surround her -- supportively and synergistic in her life? What is the point of making every woman feel pressured to take the high road, or alternatively, kick back her feet and believe that she has done everything for time immemorial?

Why can't we all just accept that we are in a state of transition? That we are finally moving out of the age-old societal definitions of families and couples, and that women are taking an equal role in the bread-earning game? The word should be "equalism" and not feminism. And that no one woman's self-worth should and can be determined by how she performs as a mother or an employer or employee, or as any standard "designation." And that if she is willing and able, she will do all that is in her power to excel in whatever she so chooses. Without any external pressure to lean in. Yes, it is important that we have strong role models like Sheryl who encourage, guide and support us when we have that extra zeal to do something different from our daily lives, and pursue it if that is our passion. But, that is not for everyone -- and that is OK. We definitely cannot let a phrase define our self-worth. Nor can we rest assured that now it is a man's role to take on the responsibility of home and work, even though we have done so in the past.

Every person is able and capable of something, and that which she or he aspires to be is the potential in themselves. This is something everyone, including myself, struggles with; especially when looking at other successful people surrounding us. But "success" should have a different meaning in every person's dictionary, and no one should feel the need to fit into a particular mold -- whether that of a home-maker, career-maker or otherwise. Dream, and fail, but do not let your failures affect you for life -- for that is what would happen if every one of us felt pressured to be a Sheryl or a Hillary. Move on, find a new dream. Be inspired, and try new things, but not for the sake of society or for showing the world that you have it or can do it. Do it for yourself and do it because it makes you happy doing it. Then, and only then, will you really not care what anyone thinks about you or your self-worth. It is your self-worth, you own it and the buck stops there.