The High Cost of ‘Good Girl’: Exploring the Impact of Societal Norms on Women’s Health

I was staggered when I came across a piece of research that stated that  80% of people who were affected by autoimmune diseases tend to be women. Autoimmune disorders are a condition in which the host’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself.


Now I want us to pause and think about this for a minute. Why would women be susceptible to a condition where we are practically attacking what keeps us alive? Isn’t this insane?


I call it the societal narrative. The construct that women are supposed to operate in, in society, is only viable if women are self-effacing and put their lives on hold in service of other lives. Anything else and they are open themselves to criticism and ostracism. Well, now we know the cost of this social construct.


Putting yourself on hold and seeing to everyone else is akin to not looking after yourself and doing the one thing that keeps you alive. Your immune system is what keeps you alive by fighting off diseases. If it is compromised, then you are open to anything so why would women leave themselves open like that? Because they need to be accepted, they need to fit in, so they play the ‘good girl’ part at the cost of their health.


Research shows that women suffer from burnout more than men in the workplace. This is something that has almost become accepted as the norm, but are we going to sit back and watch women suffer such chronic illnesses on top of burnout just to keep the status quo?


Surely it is better for society for women to thrive? Women do 75% of unpaid work, work like looking after the elderly and organising the school and village fete. They type of work that keeps society going. There is also the ‘small’ matter of women allowing new life to come into this world through their bodies, a monumental sacrifice, without which society will defunct, but more on this later. The point is, iff women are not thriving, the fabric of society breaks down.


Additionally, when women thrive in the workplace, they contribute to the economy and help to provide diverse leadership. Organisations with diverse leadership financially outperform non diverse ones. So again why will anyone in their right mind not put initiatives in place to have more women in leadership? Why would you not nurture such a valuable resource?


So back to my opening point as to why 80% of people who suffer from autoimmune diseases are women, something has got to change. Women cannot be expected to sacrifice, hold themselves back and keep going. That is not serving anyone, not themselves, their children , wider society or the economy.


Most primary carers for kids are women. To my mind, apart from physically giving birth and breastfeeding, everything else can be done by others. I am not advocating that women abandon their responsibilities, but what I am saying is that they don’t have to do everything by themselves. They can be supported while they are performing the very important role of child-rearing in a way that does not leave them attacking their own immune system.


Being a mother is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet in every way apart from financially and professionally. Women get put on the back burner why they have kids and without the right skills and support can be condemned to professional obscurity.


So why are we making women live in a way that compromises their immune system and costs them financially and professionally? This is not the way a civilised society should be operating.


Isn’t it about time we as a society sat up and took a long hard look at how we treat women?


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