We’re all too familiar with the negative stereotype of the Angry Black Woman.
We know what it means, this perception that black women have had to deal with, similar to how women in general are criticized for being assertive and aggressive.
With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, we’re seeing a refreshing change. We are watching women of every race and ethnic background united in freely expressing their anger, talking about toxic aspects of our culture that have been swept under the rug for too long.
What’s been on my mind is how the concerns of this movement point to a more fundamental problem—the difference in power between men and women. There are a variety of ways in which women are silenced and held back, in the workplace, in the community, at school, and at home. These range from life-threatening violence against women to daily microaggressions in which women are disrespected.
Ultimately, our voices are about about acknowledging and confronting inequalities in the balance of power between men and women, and the ways in which that imbalance limits opportunities and creates dangerous and stressful situations for women, affecting our wellbeing.
The truth is the imbalance of power between men and women is bad for women’s health.
One in five women will be raped in their lifetime. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in America, and one of the main causes of death for pregnant women in America is murder by their spouses. These are the extreme realities at one end of the spectrum.
Most women I know have been on the receiving end of some mild form of sexual harassment, where the spectrum starts. Think of the harassment women experience walking down a sidewalk, and the message it sends to women about being worthy of respect. As women, we have a different sense of safety and danger than men do—we have grown up looking out for potential threats, and have incorporated this into our unconscious behavior..
According to the Center for American Progress, women make up no more than 10-20 percent of leadership positions across a broad range of careers, from law to medicine to corporate CEOs. And women make up only 18% of the voices heard in our media and centers of power—from newspaper bylines to TV pundits to Hollywood writers, producers, and directors, and members of Congress. Without gender equality among leadership positions in business, government, and in our communities, women are too often treated differently than men.
I have experienced this in my career when my abilities and credibility have been questioned in ways that my male colleagues’ have not. I’ve watched certain men talk down to women, be disrespectful of women, question the knowledge, authority, and credibility of women—while giving men respect and deference.
In the African American community, we’re familiar with and comfortable talking about racism and how racism impacts us, but we don’t talk as much about sexism and how sexism impacts us. It’s time for that to change.
Right now, we’re hearing from women across the country and across the world. Anger has bubbled over into the public sphere at a volume that is impossible to ignore. It’s ignited a global conversation about inequality of power and how women are treated.
The #MeToo and TimesUp movements are a time to reflect on the experiences of all women and the ways in which being a woman in our society and culture create stress for us and affect our wellbeing. We have an incredible moment—an opportunity for reflection, for speaking up, and for dialogue.
The simple act of speaking up can be therapeutic. The only things worse than having a difficult experience are repressing our feelings about what happened and feeling powerless to effect change. Those feelings cause stress and eventually harm our long-term health.
It is important for our psychological health to allow ourselves to be angry and for our voices to be heard. We are now seeing an opening, a kind of permission and platform in our culture for women to do that in a way that is unprecedented. I hope we use it to good effect.
This is an opportunity for all of us to join the dialogue about the ways in which the power differential between men and women constricts opportunities, distorts relationships, and impacts us all. As you share your stories on social media, please contact me. How have you experienced this power imbalance?
Dr. Elaine Batchlor is the chief executive officer of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Watts.
Share your comments and stories with DrB@mlkch.org.