Women’s History Month

Written by: Caroline Sebren, Senior student at USC

For women’s history month, I took the time to interview women and AFAB (assigned female at birth) people in my life to gain perspective about what it means to be a woman and have a female identity. I also wanted to show the many different ways women experience the world of mental health and counseling, and how women’s liberation affects their lives. All of the interviews have been made anonymous to respect the privacy of those involved. 

Retired teacher, 77, she/her

What does being a woman mean to you?

For her, being a woman is very linked to her roles as both a mother and a grandmother. They are very special parts of her life that she finds great meaning in. They are fulfilling bonds that are full of joy. The second most important part of her life is her high academic achievements. Among her accomplishments are an undergraduate degree and two master’s in education. 

Being a woman to her feels like the confidence that she could have done anything with her life, shaped by the example of her mother. When she was young, she wanted to be a surgeon, and felt it was possible for her, even growing up when she did. She was a teacher for many years and impacted many young lives in positive ways. She is happy and glad to be a woman. Whatever she tries to do in her life, she feels she can do. For the last 50 years she’s been so happy with her life. And when asked what she likes to do now, she responded, “Nothing makes me happier than helping others.” She feels a sense of purpose in serving her church and community and is proud of the life she has had. 

You mentioned your mother shaped your view on women, how so?

Her mother worked as an executive secretary for 20 years for a grocery chain before she was born. Women did not usually work full time jobs like that during this time period. She has always thought that it was very interesting that her mother did that job for so long, and she was the only woman in the family to work. None of her mother’s sisters did anything like that. She has always been proud of her for working. Looking back on it now, it made her feel like she could work like that too.

Her mother died in 1958, when she was only 13 years old. She did not see a counselor when her mother died, her support came from family. As an only child she suddenly felt a huge burden and felt like she had to repress some of her feelings. She wants to say that even though it has been so long since her mother died, the grief of missing someone never stops. 

How have your experiences in mental health been, if you have had any?

They have been very good experiences, she has seen counselors through the years, through the time when she was going through a divorce. The only thing that bothered her after the divorce was that her counselor only asked her how she felt. The counselor was a woman who’d come recommended by her school’s counselor. She felt she needed suggestions from her counselor for how to move forward. When you’re in such emotional states it’s harder to see the big picture, and she really needed some perspective. 

However, overall, it was a good experience that was needed, because she had no family in Georgia. Her counselor was a positive part of her healing journey. She also saw a counselor before she and her current husband got married to see if she was ready, and it was a very positive experience. It helped her to learn how to let go of some of her impossible standards based in her past that so she could have fair standards for others.

What does women’s liberation mean to you? 

It’s very important movement, and she supports it. But she doesn’t want it to become toxic femininity, much like how toxic masculinity can harm men. Everyone should have the right to jobs they are qualified for, and no one should be discriminated against for being a woman.

Do you wish you had seen someone?

It certainly couldn’t have hurt in her opinion, but most of her support came from her family because they were all right there. They all lived in town and she never felt anything but deep love for them and felt like those bonds filled the hole a counselor would have filled.

High school English teacher, 48, she/her

What does being a woman mean to you?

It means celebrating the things she can do that are special, like being a mother. She always wanted to be a mother and have a family, so it is a very big part of her life. Forging connections to other women is also very important to her. Appreciating the different challenges that they have as women together, supporting each other, and having fun together. Friendships are important, the relationships between her and her female friends are very strong and important. They bonded through shared experiences of growing up, having health changes, marrying, and having children. There is nothing like someone who can truly relate to and understand you in a way that male friends/husbands can’t, like childbirth and menopause, because they haven’t experienced it. 

Her work also holds a special place in her identity. She has had careers as both a stay-at-home mom and a teacher. She always appreciated how she felt connected to being a part of society and a working environment. It felt good to have her own money and her own independence to form an identity outside of her kids, just for her. 

How have your experiences in mental health and counseling been?

Very positive, it gave her support needed to get through challenging times. She saw counselors once or twice and didn’t feel the connection, but the third counselor felt like a good fit for her. Worked with her for about a year during a difficult time. Liked that she didn’t make judgmental statements, unlike the first two people. They made snap judgements that weren’t based in science or reason. She felt a severe disconnect, and very much disliked the approach. 

She also had a great experience with a short-term counselor who was a man and very lovely, but she couldn’t stay with him long term. The person she ended up choosing was an older woman, who listened a lot and would ask follow up questions. She asked questions that caused a lot of self-reflection and validated all of the feelings she expressed. She was very accessible in high stress urgent situations. Initially she felt like going through a whole week without her was really hard, but naturally on her own was able to taper off services. She felt like everything she said in session was very sacred and kept confidential. 

The message she wants to leave the readers is that sometimes it takes time to find the right person. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the right person right away, there are many providers. It’s okay if you don’t connect right away, be open to try again and stay open to counseling. 

What does women’s liberation mean to you? 

From a historical perspective, lifestyle choices for women are different now. Society has changed and we are able to see that even so, there is still a journey ahead. It is a long-term goal that doesn’t stop. But she can still be appreciative about the generations before that have broken down barriers and advanced history. As a mother she hopes she has set her own children on this path to make a positive contribution to society and go even further, to be a part of the continued cycle of growth. 

University student, 20 years old, she/they

What does being a woman mean to you?

As a blanket term, living life assigned as the underdog. She has been told many times that she can’t do certain things or like certain things. There’s a lot of expectations placed on being a woman, and they do exist for men too, but they’re different. Trans women and women of color have it even rougher. It’s also starting off with a struggle and coming to understand how your genes and how you were raised affect you and impact your identity. 

However, being a woman is also about learning to be comfortable in your body and denying other people’s judgements. Understanding that your body is different and beautiful is very important as is being free to express and feel your emotions how you experience them. “Woman” also does not always mean being biologically female. It is a feeling and unique to an individual. 

How have your experiences in mental health and counseling been?

As a person who is biologically a woman, she found it difficult at times, because in her personal experience, her emotions have been dismissed by others as being period related or as her being overdramatic. It’s personally harder for her to connect with male therapists because there’s a learning curve for some of the issues she faces. She found it easier to connect with female therapists who understand her experience more intrinsically. 

Positive points?

Therapy has saved her life. It really helped her to recognize the negative self-talk going through her mind. Previously undiagnosed issues came to light and allowed her to get proper treatment. Treatment for the negative self-talk is a big one, and for her self-subscribed negative expectations. Therapy helped her to pursue a higher quality of life, learn to self-advocate and suffer less. 

What does women’s liberation mean to you? 

A continued movement. Separating women and AFAB people from years of oppression and experiencing life to the fullest where they are able to have the same opportunities as men. It’s financial, psychological freedom, and absolutely necessary, or else we will be setting up ourselves for failure. It is an ongoing thing that started with voting and now it is about the right to bodily autonomy and continued fight to express ourselves without being judged. AFAB people on the non-binary spectrum and trans women are an important part of this movement because they suffer from these problems through their unique intersectional identities and have important unique perspectives. 

_______________

My first two interviews were my mother and grandmother. I learned so much from them, more than I could put into this blog post. I encourage all of you to talk to the important women and AFAB people in your lives to learn more about how they experience the world. 

Live well! 

This article was written by Caroline Sebren, a senior at the University of South Carolina and current volunteer writer for Carolina Assessment Services, LLC. Caroline is a current Psychology major with a minor in Counselor Education and hopes to pursue work in the future as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

If there are certain topics you are interested in hearing about, please email lanitaashleyad@gmail.com.

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