Rediscovering Virginia Satir - and fighting for self-esteem
Are women who choose to breastfeed their babies seen as less competent?
The surprising answer is yes, according to the latest research. In the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Researchers Smith, Hawkinson, and Paull report findings that suggest prejudice against women who choose to breastfeed their children. The research findings report that women who breastfed were viewed as less competent, capable and intelligent. They were less likely to be hired, to be viewed as competent in analytical disciplines, and more likely to be viewed in a sexualized manner.
Furthering this research, researchers Schooler, Ward and Merriwether found a link between risky sexual activity, decision-making processes and feelings regarding women’s reproductive capacities. Published in the Journal of Sex Research, researchers found that greater societal shame and ignominy regarding natural menstruation cycles led to higher levels of sexual risk taking. Essentially, the shame a woman has regarding her body increases her willingness to take risks in sexual activity.
We have a big societal problem. Women’s natural reproductive and physiological functions have become the scapegoat in society’s messed-up psyche, causing the self-esteem of individual women to plummet.
We need to take action: but we don’t need new tools. A pioneering psychologist has already developed them.
Known best for her contributions to family therapy and the human growth movement, Virginia Satir, spent her life’s work researching and working with people on issues of self-esteem, communication, and the facilitation of growth and transformation in individuals and families.
Satir’s writings focused on the significance of self-esteem for women and ways to encourage its development in everyday living—and in the therapeutic environment. Satir’s model of working with people was deeply humanistic, experiential and systems oriented; recognizing the interplay and effect of each on daily functioning. In years preceding her death, Satir incorporated existential and spiritual dimensions to her work.
In The Satir Model: Yesterday and Today, John Banmen describes Satir’s theory and therapeutic structure with families and individuals as four-fold towards the goal of transformational change. This structure includes: the raising of self-esteem through experiential means, facilitating a tri-fold paradigm for decision making, activating greater awareness and responsibility for internal feeling experiences, and working toward harmonious congruence in the external and internal environments of any given person.
The spirit of Satir’s perspective and therapeutic work on systemic and individual issues of self esteem is captured in her writings on Self Esteem. In her deeply personal, encouraging and resolute manner, Satir wrote what all women need to hear, want to hear, and should hear—in a society that devalues the profundity of feminine existence.
I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it -- I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself.
I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know -- but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me.
However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do.
I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.
With these courageous words, women everywhere can begin to disentangle the iniquitous stigma of society on their bodies, self-esteem, and reproductive capacities. The revolution towards a balanced and holistic view of the female-- body, mind and spirit-- is on the horizon. Satir is leading the pack.
-- Liz Schreiber