3 Stress Reducing Benefits of Feminism for you Mental and Physical Health // Marlene Williams

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There is much push back against the idea of feminism by the general public. Understandably, feminism can be a difficult concept to grasp because it goes against the inconsistency between our nations belief in equality and what it actually does to insure that we are not all equal. It is for this same reason, among others, that we should all, (men, women, and everyone on the gender spectrum) should take part in feminist action. Not only are feminist ideals fundamentally rooted in the same ideals of equality that we claim our nation is built on, but engaging in feminist ideals is also a lifestyle that can have positive mental and physical health outcomes in the face of adversity and oppression. Psychological research has demonstrated that there are significant mental and physical health outcomes that people experience in response to discrimination (i.e. increased heart rate, heaviness in chest, sadness, thought rumination, slowed task completion etc). Living a feminist lifestyle can help improve our wellbeing by allowing us to live a more fulfilled life with less stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms associated with our negative reactions to society’s restrictive expectations. These benefits are outlined below.

1. More self-expression, Less stress Part of identifying as a feminist means that you have an awareness of how systems of oppression operate on the societal, global, cultural, and individual level. Having this awareness allows you to see the world for what it really is. Suddenly, the inequalities around the world are understood from an objective point of view and you recognize that the pressure you feel to conform to a certain type of gender role or identity is coming from societal messages. Then, you realize that there is freedom in knowing that you do not have to live up to societal standards. Because you experience less pressure to live up to these standards, you may experience less stress and anxiety associated with things such as body dissatisfaction, self-confidence, creative expression, non-traditional gender roles and much more. Having this awareness is only the beginning; once it is obtained, one can make their own well-informed decisions about their life, free from the confines of society’s expectations. For example, when deciding what to wear or how to express yourself, your decision is no longer made based on what society will think of you, but rather on your knowledge that society has placed boundaries on you and that you are not obligated to uphold those stereotypes. Even if you do choose to express yourself through social norms, it is your decision to do so rather than it being imposed on you.

2. More life fulfillment, Less stress A life without societal pressures on self-expression leaves plenty of room to live a more fulfilling life, living out goals and aspirations. Under feminist ideals, one can live a life where the proverbs such as “live unapologetically”, “love yourself”, or “all people are created equal” are actually obtainable. For example, that career you really want that society says you shouldn’t have because it is “incongruent” with your gender, you can go get it. Or that feeling inside of you that wants you to outwardly express yourself, you can let it out. Society narrowly defines masculinity and femininity, ascribes them to one’s sex, and judges when someone does not engage in the “normal” behaviors associated with their gender, which keeps many individuals from exercising their full potential. Traditionally, all of the responsibility is put on men to be the sole providers and many men feel pressure to uphold this standard, but feminist ideals relieve some of that pressure and say that it is ok to expect equal contribution from genders. Similarly, women can be empowered by being working, assertive women who also provide for their family. Additionally, in this process of living a more fulfilled life, you have the opportunity to reach back to the people around you by becoming an ally and advocating for justice.

3. Improved interpersonal interactions, Less stress Often people get frustrated with feminism and argue that it is just a way to be overly “politically correct” which requires more energy or that it restricts freedom of speech when in actuality it does the opposite. Feminist ideals actually support the freedom of expression that goes against what is deemed politically correct, but in a way that is not oppressive towards others. Furthermore, once you are aware of the negative mental and physical health outcomes associated with using certain words, derogatory ways of interacting with other people, and the historical and cultural, painful histories they are connected to, it becomes much easier to not use those words anymore. Feminism essentially enforces that golden rule we were all taught as young children: treat others as you wish to be treated. Discrimination and oppression prompt negative mental and physical reactions in the receiver that are associated with stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms and when accumulated over time can contribute to poorer health outcomes and health disparities. By putting a little effort into being aware of what we are saying or how we are treating others, we can help reduce these negative health outcomes for all of us.


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