The Female Double Bind

female double standards

The Double Bind:

An emotionally distressing response as a result of two conflicting messages

Yeah, I think we know something about that.

Call it what you want: Hobson’s choice, a Catch 22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t—whatever figure of speech you prefer, it’s all the same. Society expects one thing, but then demands another. Exhausting.

Even with all the research in the world, these double binds do not even need to be proven by science—we live them every day. Think about something as simple as salary. Women rightfully ask for equal pay, and as a result are then called pushy (or possibly even fired). If we choose to ignore the disparity, we keep our jobs stable and coworkers friendly while we ignore our own self-worth. And that’s just one example.

From personality to advocacy, females are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We found four major female double binds affecting women, however, there are many more lurking in the waters. As women, it’s our job to find them, share them, and fight them. Let’s get started.

1. Lifestyle: Work vs. Home
(The Bad Mom vs. The Moocher)

Before we begin, allow me to share an excerpt Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In:

When a couple announces that they are having a baby, everyone says “Congratulations!” to the man and “Congratulations! What are you planning on doing about work?” to the woman. The broadly held assumption is that raising their child is her responsibility.

I’ve said it. You’ve said it. We’ve all freakin’ said it. And unfortunately, it’s a very natural question. The United States is the last industrialized nation without a paid maternity leave policy, leaving a sticky dilemma that must be addressed. And apparently, we as a society believe it’s the female’s responsibility.

Ok girls, let’s address the pros and cons. Leaving work means more time with our children, less money spent on childcare, and a more “traditional” family. Staying at work means trying to chase the allure of “having it all,” career longevity, and increasing the odds of a promotion. But let’s be honest, the lucky women who have the ability to make this choice at all still deal with the inescapable double bind:

The Bad Mom or the Moocher?


Now, let’s run through the gamete of the stay at home moms. Typically, full time moms fear being judged for various insufficiencies, whether that’s a dearth of practical work skills, an unbalanced lifestyle, or a lack of ambition. Take novelist Erin Almond’s struggle on admitting her full time mom status:

But even though I continue to write and occasionally publish fiction, now that I’ve had my third baby the truth is, for the most part, I’m a stay-at-home mom.
So why do I hesitate to admit this?
If I’m being honest with myself, it’s because that label makes me feel diminished, unimportant, perhaps even a betrayer of that wide-eyed dreamer who went off to California to get her MFA 10 years ago.

So…it seems like the stay-at-home moms are just bringing it on themselves, right? Wrong. Consider the common phrase, “you have a baby, you lose a brain.” Geeze. Yes, the Motherism prejudice is alive and well. Even without research, Google provides the nail in the coffin with the search results of  “moocher + stay at home mom.” I almost shook from anger.

On the other hand, 60% of America believes that children are better off when a parent stays at home to focus on the family, and 51% believes it is the mother’s responsibility. Considering only 9.5% of dads stay at home full time, it’s easy to see which partner deals with the “bad parent” label. And let’s not even get started on the women who do not have children, by choice or not. (How does she NOT want kids? Is it medical…? I mean if not, she must be, like, super selfish or something.)

To summarize what we have covered thus far: Ouch.

Should mothers who wish to raise their own children and devote their valuable time to running the house without compensation really be judged as “moochers” or incompetent? Should working mothers be labeled as lesser parents when research proves their children show no developmental differences?  I don’t think so.

What’s worse is women are judging each other based on these choices. None of us really know how to navigate this landscape gracefully: there’s no handbook for it! Maybe we can ask our moms, but the times are really different. Maybe we can ask our friends, but their circumstances are also really different. And often, we see our chosen female anchors making different decisions than our own, and we panic. We doubt. We judge.

Instead of turning on each other, we can support each other. We shouldn’t be making these decisions alone, and we shouldn’t expect every one else to make the same choices we do. Think about any regrets you may have, and realize the woman standing next to you has them as well.  We all could stand to learn how to reserve judgment while accepting our own decisions with confidence.

2. Personality: Thinking vs. Feeling
(The Weakling vs. The Bitch)

Whether you cheer for team nurture or nature–or both depending on which article is having its five minutes of fame–we can all attest that personality is essential. The amount of personality tests circling around the Internet is laughable (BuzzFeed: Which Teletubby Are You?). But, one in particular jumps off the page due to it’s measurement of a certain personality spectrum that women have to deal with every dang day.

The popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality test that types subjects according to their preference of these four psychological spectrums: Extroversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Feeling-Thinking, and Judging-Perceiving. Basically, after you finish taking a lengthy test, you are assigned four letters: one representing each of your preferred functions that no one ever remembers. For example, I am an INFP (Introversion-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceiving).

Out of the four spectrums, Thinking vs. Feeling is the only function correlated with gender

The female population are 75.5% feelers and 24.5% thinkers (as opposed to 43.5% of men who are feelers and 56.5% who are thinkers). The rest pretty much match down the road. Also, did I mention that the “feeling” and “thinking” descriptions are eerily similar to the cultural gender stereotypes defining women and men? Read on my loves.

Regardless of gender, “feelers” prefer making decisions with their heart, and are naturally more sensitive, empathetic, warm, and communal. Asking for promotions or putting themselves first ain’t their jam. In contrast, “thinkers” prefer using logic when making decisions, and tend to value fairness, justice, and reason. Considering others’ feelings or embracing a sense of community probably isn’t their forte. Sounds like the stereotypical descriptions of females and males to me.

The women who fall in line with the stereotypical gender expectations—basically women who are “feelers”—are super well liked, but are seen as weak or incompetent. The female “thinkers” on the other hand are deemed as super competent, but aren’t asked to sit at the lunch table (cue the words “bitchy,” “bossy,” or “domineering”).

So, ladies, line up and pick your poison: Weakling or Bitch! Who’s first?! Come claim your prize as a crazy-emotional hot mess of a human, and or a nonsexual she-man boss hog.

Yay. Another gem of a choice. Except, wait a minute.

Even if we wanted to choose from those glamorous nametags, we don’t really get to choose. This is our personality we’re talking about. And how many times have we desperately tried to mirror society’s expectations, only to fall short in a puddle of inauthenticity? It’s exhausting and humiliating all at the same time. Oh, and as a side note, the MBTI has nothing to do with intelligence. Literally, nothing.

It feels like no matter what we do, we’re labeled as incapable of making the tough calls, or too bossy to be loveable. How the heck are we supposed to thrive at home, school, or in the work place, if we can’t even be ourselves?

In the heat of the anger, there are a few steps that can help us come closer to cutting off the legs of this giant double bind.

1) We can pay attention to our audiences’ preferences (i.e., a feeler speaking to thinkers on a daily basis) and learn how to better effectively communicate our messages.

2) We can find positions that showcase our abilities while still exercising and developing on our weaker functions.

3) Above above all, we need to support each other, even if we come from the opposite ends of the spectrum.

As women, we should applaud each other’s strengths at home and in the workplace. Strive to understand your friends, coworkers, daughters, and moms—because they are being judged just as harshly for their firm decisions or sensitive approaches. We’re all in this together, so let’s act like it.

3. Marriage: Early vs. Later
(The Dependent vs. The Diseased)

In my own life coaching practice, I have noticed a common thread weaving its way through so many relationships. Girls come to me and talk about their boyfriends, and the decisions that are tied to the partnership’s success. Should they go out of state in order to be closer to their boyfriend’s new occupation? Should they plan their life around someone who isn’t their husband? Should they demand a ring before they make any big choices? And if they do so…are they now “that girl”?

Wait, wait…who is “that girl”?

You know.

The girl who absolutely 100% MUST have a man. She got married young, she’s dependent, and she’s needy. Her Facebook is plastered with engagement albums and sonograms. She is everything the successful, ambitious 20 something fears. And apparently, prioritizing a relationship is a hop, skip, and a jump away from this diminishing, dependent label.

 Dang. Ouch, again—and to BOTH parties.

A 2006 Gallup poll announced that Americans believe the ideal age for women to be married is 25 (and for men, 27). Almost 10 years later, the average age for females to marry is 27, and 29 for men. So, it’s probably safe to say that America believes women should be married in their mid twenties.

But what about the women getting married before their mid twenties? Should women be punished for finding the love of their life early and beginning adulthood hitched? Does this mean they are horribly tragic, and unable to function without a partner? I doubt it.

Ok, well let’s focus on the other end of the spectrum—the women out there who don’t find their partner until after their mid twenties—or even, dare I say it, in their thirties! The horror! They’re pegged as too crazy or too desperate to even function in the dating sphere. Super harsh.

And let us please not forget about the Queens of Exile: the divorced and the abstainers! Society slams them as TOTAL nut heads violently ripping apart the fabric of American society before our very eyes. SHAME.

{Insert long exasperated sigh.}

Aside from the fact that we can’t win no matter what we do, the “ideal age for marriage” research is rather conflicting to say the least. Many sociologists claim getting married in your early twenties is the key to a satisfying marriage (live your journey together!), while others firmly believe it’s the perfect recipe for divorce (get to know yourself first!). And, if our marriage does inevitably fail, it was obviously because we had poor timing or didn’t do our due self-discovery diligence. (Yep—it is your entire fault.)

What we do know is that there is no right answer. However, the real question is, SHOULD there be a right answer? Women should be able to marry whom and when they wish, statistics-free. We shouldn’t have to fear the label of the dependent divorced-bound leach for marrying young, or the stigma of the crazy diseased workaholic if we haven’t found Mr. Right yet.

So, how can we get to that place?

For one, we can ditch the judgment of others who do not follow our same path. Second, we can learn how to cultivate our autonomy whether or not we are in relationships. Women can easily continue to develop and grow with or without another person by their side. We can learn how to be confident in our direction, our choices, and our goals. Our marriage choices do not justify the belief that we are any less of a human being. It doesn’t matter if we’re single, engaged, married, or divorced: this is our life, and we can choose how we live it. This being so, we must learn how to love our choices fiercely so the fascination with marriage statistics will be taken out with the rest of the garbage.

4. Advocacy: Public vs. Private
(The Bra Burning Man Hater vs. Ignorant Girl Traitor)

noun: feminism fem·i·nism, feməˌnizəm: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. 

As all of you have heard a thousand times, Time Magazine recently asked Divergent star Shailene Woodley whether or not she considered herself a feminist. Here is segment of her answer:

No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.

Ooook. I am not here to pummel the poor girl for her remarks (even though my jaw totally grazed my faux hard wood floors), but instead, I want to thank her. Whether or not she secretly understands the actual definition of feminism, Woodley gracefully articulated the current state of female empowerment.

If you admit to being a “feminist,” or as sociologist Marianne Cooper coins, “The F Word,” you might as well yell from the highest tree top that you are a BRA-BURNING, MALE-BASHING, POETRY-READING, LIBERAL-CRAZED, ESPRESSO-DRINKING, GRANOLA HIPPIE WHO WANTS NOTHING MORE THAN TO CUT OFF EVERY MAN’S PENIS!!!


But, if you don’t admit or consider yourself a feminist, you are bashed by any female advocate known to existence and might as well hate your own kind. Yikes.

It took me YEARS to admit that I was a feminist. I hated the word, I hated the stigma, and above all I hated what I thought it meant. After years of education, research, and soul-searching, I am proudly coming out of the closet. And, I kind of hope that other women do the same (fingers crossed!).

So, to fight off this wicked double bind, I am going to ask you to do the one thing you probably don’t want to do. But it’s necessary. Girls, we must speak up. Each of us has our own personality, style, interests, and lifestyles. Think about if we ALL proclaimed that we value equality of the sexes through the label of feminism! We could eliminate the stigma of the word, the meaning, and above all, that we hate men!

Ready for some Solutions?
Good. Here’s what Blush thinks:

We shouldn’t face these double binds alone. And we shouldn’t let our daughters face them alone, either. For starters, they become draining and exhausting after awhile, and we need each other’s support. Plus we can’t create a movement without all of us in it together. So, what should we do?

1. Educate our youth

We need to consider the messages we are sending to our younger girls. Sandberg’s #banbossy is one example of starting a revolution to protect our daughter’s from this minefield, and we need more of it. It’s totally ok and expected that not all of us have a catchy media team or the social clout to start a hashtag frenzy, but we can match our daughters with feminist life coaches or mentors. Beginning on an individual basis is a great way to start a movement. Instead of our daughter seeing her reflection in society, she can learn how to understand herself, and reflect herself onto society. And that can be done through the power of personal discovery, goal setting, and coaching. We must make sure our girls are exposed to women fighting off the double binds early in life so they do not become entrapped in them later.

Let’s make sure our daughters have the ability to walk across all of the barriers we are breaking down today.

2. Spread the word

We need to talk to our friends, moms, coworkers and partners about the double binds and cultural standards as-much-as-possible. Read and share articles like this one to increase awareness. Start the conversation. Ignite the fire. The more people are talking about them, the more social currency they have, and the more prepared and ready we are to slap them around. Get ‘em, girls.

3. Surround ourselves with support

And most importantly, make sure to surround yourself with women and coaches who understand and challenge the female binds. We need motivation to reach our goals while keeping in mind the cultural obstacles, and we need it every day. Our social group can foster and nurture the inspiration and energy we need to fight back, and you can do the same for them. And, just like your daughter, get yourself a life coach or a mentor who will push you to not accept closed doors. We need to be told that barriers can be broken, we need to be encouraged to go for it, and we need guidance to help us get there. Not only must we “lean in”—we must lean on each other for support.

Looking for a place to start the movement? You’ve found it.

Welcome to Blush.

free self-love

starter kit.

fall in love with yourself again in just 15 minutes.