Failure as a Female

Failure is an inevitable part of life. Success is unattainable without it, and yet we run from failure. We see it as a weakness, something to hide from others, to shame ourselves with.

I have failed.

I have failed with relationships.

I have failed with jobs.

I have failed in parts of my educational schooling.

I have failed as a daughter.

I have failed as a partner.

I have failed at keeping my anger under control.

I have failed at loving people.

I have failed at loving myself.

I have failed at keeping anxiety at bay.

I have failed. Countlessly. Consistently. And this isn’t the end of the list. It’s hardly the beginning.

But I am not a failure.

So what does it mean to fail as a woman? We know there are a lot of expectations on women to ‘prove’ themselves in the workplace, as well as in society. To succeed we must become an ‘Alpha Female’, meaning failure is not an option, or that failure shouldn’t phase us. If you’re not the Alpha Female then you’re the ‘Carer’. The woman who is expected to look after everyone around them; have children, care for their parents, be full of empathy and nothing else. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but this is how it feels. And when we fail, because it is ‘when’ and not ‘if’, the consequences fall down on us tenfold. The shame and judgement mothers face when they make mistakes, and the pressure businesswomen deal with as representatives of the capabilities of the female race, make failure feel much more threatening. Then we see these failures on the pages of our magazines- not in a constructive nor positive way, but in a damning way. Instead of supporting our sisters, we objectify them into examples of everything we will try to not be. But one day we WILL be them. One day, and many days thereafter, we will feel the crushing weight of failure. Our stomachs will flip, our hearts will sink, tears will form and the self-doubt will settle. We’ll be knocked down and sometimes it WILL take a while to get back up again, because strength doesn’t always come immediately. And that doesn’t mean you’re not strong. It means your other emotions need some time to recoup.

But here’s the thing - although there may be more to lose as a woman facing failure, men seem to fear failure more. When I typed into Google ‘facing fear as a woman’, these 2 sites came up first:

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Women (generally speaking) tend to utilise their failure. Upon reflection & self-critical thinking, women will assess the ways in which they failed in order to be better, do better. Whereas for men (generally speaking), failure can feel apocalyptic and can become a constant state of mind. Ultimately, no gender welcomes failure, but it is important to recognise how we deal with it differently. The most important thing we can do for everyone is talk about it. Support each other with our own failures & the successes they led to. Because the transformation from failure to success won’t often happen quickly - it could take years of what feels like relentless time & effort. By being open & honest about our weaknesses, we create a space available for people to embrace the rocky parts of life.

This past summer I found myself consumed in preconceived conceptions of my own failure. Why? I’d graduated with a 1st, I was constantly celebrating my loved ones around me and their own achievements. But none of that mattered. My body had failed me, my mental health was failing me, I was failing myself. There’s something to be said for when I was told my uterus was basically a failure, I began to feel like less of a woman; a Female Failure. Drink after drink, I wanted to be somebody better. I wanted to be that success story where I achieved monumental things right out of university. I knew finding a job after Uni would usually hard - after all, I’d seen it with my own eyes as I witnessed my brother, my friends, take months to find a full time job. But that wouldn’t happen to me, surely…

And of course it did. I started counting my weaknesses instead of embracing my qualities. My motivation to succeed plumented before it had even fully formed. Even the fact that I live with my parents (aged 22) felt like a failure - when in fact it is largely due to London failing its young people with affordable housing. So eventually I started to talk about it - feeling like a failure. People started by telling me I wasn’t, but that meant nothing. Then they started talking about their own failures. Some of the most successful people I know got rejected from job after job and still feel Imposter Syndrome on a constant basis. The fog didn’t clear, but it lifted. They failed, and so can I. They succeeded, and so can I. The fact that it took months for me to find my feet again is okay, because I’ve found them, and I’ll use them to run now. Even though I know I’ll fail and fall and stumble again, I’ll make sure I talk about my failure openly and unashamedly. Because I am not a failure, and neither are you.

Article by VERVE Operative & blogger Helena Burton-Jones

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