feminism, Intersectionality, Pop Culture and Feminism

Inner Happiness Is Not a Luxury: On Feminism & Mental Health

By Crysteaux Sun, Social Media Intern

Everyone can use this reminder: one major function of feminism is to keep us sane in a world where gender equality isn’t yet where it should be. Although it might seem ultra-progressive, feminism ultimately seeks to guarantee something pretty basic: healthy, happy lives for people of all genders.

You’ve probably seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk about body language, where she stresses that the way you carry yourself affects your mind, and she finds that lots of women curtail their potential when they assume closed off stances. It’s a physical act of self-censorship we’ve been conditioned to perform. Searching “shy” on Google brings up images of mostly women; searching “feminism” on Tumblr conjures up loads of motivational messages along the lines of putting oneself first.

Selfish: how anti-feminists and cynics might describe those messages. 

Empowering, spunky, assertive: words we might use ourselves.

Right, but first and foremost, such motivation is preventativepreventative against the tendency to hold ourselves back women have been conditioned to have.

All women suffer from unreasonable societal pressures, which can control  us, whether we know it or not. Eating disorders are a visible and all too common example. As women we receive a huge number of conflicting societal messages about how we should live our lives. One antidote is to get to be our own best advocates, but it’s hard work. We have to put ourselves first. We have to know who we are.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime. But mental health issues don’t exist in a vacuum. It seems extremely likely that a society which constantly lets women down and limits our autonomy holds some responsibility for our mental health struggles.

“Women have low self esteem.” This has become a dominant paradigm in our culture, as evidenced by the success of ad campaigns from Dove and Pantene that operate on the idea that women don’t think much of themselves. We accept this paradigm as a given. Our society is comfortable with it. But we shouldn’t be. Luckily, the intersection of feminism and mental health may hold an answer – after all, gender equality is about more than counting women in the boardrooms. It’s also about making sure all of us have a fair shot at happiness and self-respect.

Crysteaux Sun is a Social Media Intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.


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