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Selina Hardy S. Ingram November 8, 2012 The Glory and Anxiety of Being Female As I enter into womanhood, I have a better understanding of the pressure and stress that older women deal with on a day to day basis. Going away to college, I had to deal with more and more stress, including that of living on my own, juggling social and academics responsibilities, taking care of myself, becoming an independent woman. Women deal with this kind of stress more and more every day. It is a balancing act of career, family, and home, much like a three ring circus but a lot less fun. As a woman, we have numerous amounts of never ending tasks to do, and we feel as if we have to do it all, it must be done perfectly, and we have to look good while doing it. Every woman deals with stress: me, your teacher, your nurse, your mother and, of course, you. But what most people do not realize is that female stress is different that male stress. It has different causes, symptoms, and solutions. First, in order to understand what is happening to the female body and mind, one must have a basic knowledge of what stress is and what Female stress is. According to MiriamWebster Dictionary, stress is a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation (Merriam-Webster.com). Stress is basically our mind giving our body the choice of “fight or flight”. It prepares our body to either defend ourselves or run. Biologically, your nervous system puts your body on alert, adrenal cortex releases stress hormones, your heart beats harder and faster, your breathing quickens, your thyroid stimulates the metabolism, and larger muscles receive more oxygenated blood. This is how stress works in the body.
Female stress is caused by the female body and the female life. Research has found that women take on a whole new type of personality different from your typical male. The typical male has what is called a Type A personality. The type A man has “an action-emotion complex that can be observed in any person who is aggressively involved in a chronic, incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time” (Braiker 9). a combination of society, human nature, and stress has created what Braiker calls the Type E Woman, who “instead of singleminded, one-dimensional Type A personality that strives for more and more and more, feels pulled in multiple directions by a seemingly endless stream of demands from family, work, husbands or boyfriends, and community and/or professional orgs” (15). This leads to many of the side effects that affect stressed women. What is so dangerous about this personality is “the selfperpetuating and ultimately self-destructive nature of the stress cycle it produces. (Braiker 16)” Women feel as if the more they do, the more they have to get done. “Much of the stress arises because women often feel deep conflict between work and love, between competing demands for their time and attention. (Ali 5)” So when your children are screaming, your job is calling, your husband is lost and you are in extreme stress mode, this is what your body is doing. Feminine stress has its own special set of causes, symptoms and solutions. Female Stress can be basically broken down into two different circles of thought for causes and solutions. It boils down to the age old question of Nature and Nurture, Nurture being the mental psyche of women and their upbringing and Nature being the biological happenings and effects of a women’s body. A women’s psyche is a key component to the Nurture side of equation. One must understand how women think and why in order to get the some key causes of Female Stress. Experts on the matter believe that the upbringing of women is one of the main causes of how women think and stress. As Witkin says, socialization begins at birth (68). Studies
done on 110 different cultures showed that 82% of people expect females to be more nurturing, and 87% expect females to be less achieving than males (Witkin 68). So women are raised to be quieter, less assertive and aggressive, and have fewer aspirations for success. This leads to a conflict within a woman. Stress is released through action, fight or flight, but a woman is raised to know that that type of action is not ok for her to express, so stress just builds. According to Witkin, “If girls are treated as though their aggressive, assertive, and achieving impulses are unexpected and even undesirable, we can logically anticipate a high anxiety level in young girls as they struggle to control these natural impulses” (71). Girls are given baby dolls and things to take care of, which leads to women’s “care-focused morality” and tendency to put others’ need above their own (Braiker 192). Also when a woman strives and achieves success outside the female sphere, it goes against what she knows and causes more stress. Women and their achievement is another aspects of stress in their lives. I stated previously that women are raised with low expectation of achieving outside of “woman’s work”, but today, and increasingly so since the 60s, women have taken a very active role in the work force. Experts believe that the need for achievement is ingrained in human nature. “It is an adult expression of our need to gain some control over our environment and solve some of its problems.” Thus women tend to get conflicting and split ideas about success. Success for a woman has become a multi-layered idea. “Success for achievement-orientated women today is defined as achievement in both realms: career and personal. But the success formula is a calculus that often yields enormous frustration and exhaustion” (Braiker 5). This success causes women to be pulled in many different directions by family, work, social obligations etc., and women try to do it all, only at the expense of themselves. It is a self-perpetuating cycle in which the more that a woman achieves, the more she feels she needs to do (Braiker 16). Women begin to fear
success because they believe that they will not have the approval of other women or, more importantly, men if they do succeed. Also women who do succeed often deal with guilt of achievement because of the success they have gained, and because most feel like excess attention to anything outside of the women’s sphere means neglect of their “womanly duties”. All of this just piles the stress on more. So in response, women often put up obstacles in their own path to success, making success harder and more stressful, and continuing the cycle.
Symptoms of female stress include all the symptoms of stress as well as special symptoms that are only associated with female stress. These symptoms are physical, leading to damage of the body, as well as mental, leading to damage of the psyche. Stress symptoms include ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, heart attack, high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, hyperventilation, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, skin disorders, headaches, swallowing difficulties, heartburn, nausea, stomach “knots”, cold sweats, neck aches, chronic fatigue, dizziness, chest pains, backaches, urinary frequency, muscle spasms, memory impairment, panic attacks, constipation, diarrhea, and insomnia (Witkin 17). Additional female symptoms are amenorrhea (loss of menstruation), premenstrual tension/ headache complex, postpartum depression, menopausal melancholia, vaginismus (painful intercourse), frigidity (inhibited sexual arousal), anorgasm, infertility. More frequent in women are anorexia, bulimia, anxiety neurosis, and depressive psychosis (Witkin 19). These are things that most women feel every day and think little of or credit to physical disease. Few consider or are aware of how their stress affects them and is a mental disease.
Just as there are two circles of thought for the cause of female stress, there are the same circles for solutions. Doctors and therapists believe in medicinal cure and therapeutic cure respectively. Braiker belives the “type E stress is a cognitive-behavioral syndrome. This means that really to get a grip on her stress problems, the Type E high-achieving woman must first understand the underlying roots of the problem in psychological terms- how she thinks. (17)” Doctors stand strongly behind the drugs that they believe are effective and advancing everyday. They have a firm belief that these illnesses of the mind are caused by medical and biological reasons and should be treated as such. So basicallly stress is how creatures deal with the challenges in their lives. Female stress is an expounded version that, in which females are under more and different types of stress, without the knowledge and preparation to handle it. On top of the biological stress that women have to handle, society has added extra stress while at the same time conditioning women into an ill-equipped mentality to handle the stress. The changes and processes that women’s bodies go through and perform affect the hormone levels which often affect stress, which is a hormonal response. Society conditions women to care more about “woman’s work” than themselves, their husbands, children, appearance, while at the same time telling them the natural ambition and drive for achievement that they have is wrong. This leads to a women striving to accomplish everything, causing extreme stress, and feel guilty about the accomplishments that they do achieve, adding even more extreme stress. All the extra stress, biological and social, causes physical and mental side effects, which cause women even more stress as they struggle to do everything while in pain, or mentally distraught, and feeling like something is wrong with them.
Ali, Alisha, and Dana C Jack. “Introduction: Culture, Self-Silencing, and Depression: A Contextual-Relational Perspective.” Silencing the Self Across Cultures: Depression and Gender in the Social World. Ed. Ali, Alisha and Dana C Jack. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 3-17. Print. Braiker, Harriet B. The Type E Woman: How to Overcome the Stress of Being Everything to Everybody. New York: Signet Press, 1987. Print. Gordon, Richard A. “Drugs Don’t Talk: Do Medication and Biological Psychiatry Contribute to Silencing the Self?” Silencing the Self Across Cultures: Depression and Gender in the Social World. Ed. Ali, Alisha and Dana C Jack. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 47-72. Print. Witkin-Lanoil, Georgia. The Female Stress Syndrome: How to Recognize and Live with It. New York: Newmarket Press, 1984. Print.
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