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Tomgram: Mattea Kramer, When a Voice Tells You You'll Never Be Enough

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

Women make up more than half the population of the United States, about 51%. We women are 55% of college students and we take more degrees than men. About 44 million of us between the ages of 15 and 50 have children, but only 5 million or so are stay-at-home moms. That's because we go out to work: this year 74.6 million of us over age 16 make up almost half (47%) of the labor force. Forty percent of us work in fields thought to be ours by tradition: we are 90% of nurses, 93% of dental assistants, and 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers. But we are also more than half of the nation's pharmacists, a third of its physicians and surgeons, a third of its lawyers and judges, and a quarter of its computer programmers. We are the majority owners of 38% of U.S. businesses, employing millions and annually generating revenue in the trillions of dollars.

But here's a problem: as workers, we don't get fairly paid. For every dollar a man earns, we average about 79 cents. These days, young women may get closer to 90 cents, but by age 35, if not before, they hit a wall; for older women, the wage gap only widens. Due to that gap, the average full-time working woman over the course of 40 years will be cheated out of $418,800; she would have to work 10 more years to make up the difference. If she's black, she will be shorted $840,040 and need to work 23 more years. If she's Latina, she will lose $1,043,800 and need to work another 34 years. Then there's the special case of the financial and insurance industry: there, women make only 60 cents to a man's dollar. All this despite the fact that Congress passed an Equal Pay Act more than 50 years ago. In addition, most of us run into a low-hanging ceiling. Take K-12 education, for example. Women are 76% of its teachers, 52% of its principals, but far less than a quarter of its superintendents. Similarly, women are 73% of medical and health care managers but only 4% of health care CEOs.

You'd think we women could turn for justice to our political representatives, but they're in short supply. In many of the world's parliaments, between 40% and 63% of the members are female, while in the U.S. that number hovers at about 19%. And it's a peculiarity of our Congress that congressmen feel entitled to interrupt, rebuke, and silence our congresswomen. (Think of Senator Richard Burr lecturing Senator Kamala Harris, or Republican Majority leader Mitch McConnell officially silencing Senator Elizabeth Warren.) Then, of course, there's our demented president tweeting a doctored video of his big, fat self driving a golf ball to knock Hillary Clinton to the ground, a clear incitement of his woman-hating fans to violence against the first woman to be nominated by a major party for the presidency. (Lock him up!) And this long after 70 other countries around the world have been led by women, just as 20 are today, including our allies Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Switzerland, and Estonia.

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Living in such a backward, misogynistic, and violent country as the United States can make strange things happen inside women's heads, as TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer explains. That's what gender discrimination is meant to do. But at long last it made Hillary Clinton rightfully angry. It makes me angry, too. How about you? Ann Jones

Trump Is in Your Head
Women and The Donald in Everyday Life
By Mattea Kramer

Back in 1992, a certain New York real estate mogul told a reporter from New York magazine that you have to treat women "like sh*t." That was a perfect summary of his philosophy, but it may be an even better descriptor for the way many women treat themselves -- or, rather, how they're treated by a persistent, harping, critical voice in their head. That critical voice, as it happens, is a fixture in the minds of an astonishing number of women, myself included.

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You'll never be good enough, the voice often whispered to me, making it difficult to focus on my work. Sooner or later, I began to wonder how this voice-that-won't-stop got inside my head and into the minds of so many other women I'd talked to. It turns out that such an "inner critic," as it's called, has everything to do with what women hear around them all the time, including the sorts of messages spewed by that real-estate-mogul-turned-president. It's a phenomenon that matters a great deal at this political moment and should get far more attention than it does -- but I'll get to that in a minute.

Trust me when I say that I derive no pleasure from quoting our current president, but in this case I shouldn't avoid it. He's a veritable fountainhead of the sort of unsavory and unsettling messages that women encounter as they go about their regular lives. To take but one example from an apparently limitless source, Donald Trump has a penchant for lambasting women who don't look like models. (The horror!) When New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote critically of his finances, for instance, he clipped the article, circled her picture, and mailed it to her along with a note that said, "The face of a dog!" Decent he may not be, but he does give unambiguous voice to the (usually more subtle) ways in which women are judged for their looks and often dismissed as incompetent because of them.

This is a big deal because we humans naturally absorb our environment and often inwardly rehash stuff we hear around us. In other words, what we take in from our surroundings influences our "inner speech," the conversations we have with ourselves in the silence of our minds. According to psychology professor Charles Fernyhough, author of the acclaimed book The Voices Within, our inner speech is shaped by the social worlds we inhabit. "Other people's words get into our heads," he explains. We absorb an assortment of verbal cues from others and those cues turn out to influence the way we talk privately to ourselves.

This unconscious process of sponging up messages from our environment explains a whole lot about why women develop such wicked inner critics.

Men, too, can suffer from inner criticism, though it appears to affect women more profoundly. While researchers can't directly measure the negativity of people's private thoughts, they can measure self-regard and evidence shows that women persistently sell themselves short, while men tend to overestimate themselves. Starting at a young age, people instinctively absorb the words of family members, peers, teachers, television shows, and Facebook posts; everything, in short, that's around them. In the process, girls and women tend to glean certain messages about their gender and themselves. Then they develop that inner critic that sounds so convincingly like what they've been hearing.

"Why Would They Love You?"

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"Your thighs are ugly and they color all of you ugly," said the inner critic to a white woman who counsels adolescents, one of dozens of women I queried about their experience with this interior voice. "You put on so much weight and that's why he's leaving you," the critic said to an African-American woman busy juggling work and school. "Your hair is just not right and your feet are too ugly for sandals," it said to a woman who came out as gay only after living most of her life as a straight person.

Such voices reflect the negativity regularly directed at women in the everyday world -- negativity that spotlights our supposed shortcomings, like Trump's "face of a dog" comment. Yet even as women absorb perpetual disapproval regarding how we look and constantly worry about our appearance, the inner critic also faults us for spending so much time dwelling on something so trivial. "What's wrong with you? Why can't you just accept yourself?" it said to a tenure-track professor. "You pretend you don't care about your looks but actually you do care and you care so much it's pathetic," it said to... well, me.

Trump lambasts women who don't look like models, yet he also attacks ones who do, as when he feuded with former corporate defense attorney and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Finding her questioning disagreeable at the first Republican debate, where she served as one of the moderators, he took to Twitter to use her looks against her, diligently retweeting people who called her a "bimbo."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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