Biggest barriers are from within

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Shout out to all you women today, and feminists of any gender. International Women’s Day 2018 is time to “Press for Progress” — in pay parity, career mobility, political power and access, medical research, relationship and domestic violence, community and cultural stereotypes — in all those areas statistics reveal we lag behind.

Many of these were tackled Saturday in the Human Rights Education Institute’s lively panel “Strength of a Woman” (which I regret illness prevented me from joining) in advance of IWD2018.

But that’s not where women tend to find their biggest barriers.

Yes, like my sisters I’ve experienced these outer hurdles, beginning in childhood. And yes, “MeToo.” But to focus only on the external experience paints an incomplete picture.

The biggest barriers tend to lie within.

Whether what shapes the inner voice is based on gender or anything else, that voice becomes one’s own responsibility to confront. And if need be, change. That, in my case — and that of so many of the women I’ve been close to, has been the biggest barrier. So while society presses for continued progress in all those other areas, we must not neglect to press for progress within. Perhaps, most of all.

How often does “I can’t do that. I’m not (smart, likeable, attractive, capable, courageous, talented) enough” get in the way of setting or achieving a goal, personal or professional? That insecure inner voice is a universal experience. It never completely leaves us, whatever the stimulus or experience that put it there.

Yes, you can. Yes, you are. If it doesn’t work, try a new approach with a confident humility. Skills can be learned. Opportunities can be identified. Personality characteristics can be improved — that’s true for every human being.

“What if I fail?” What if I do? So what? Failure informs — unfettered success teaches nothing and stagnates growth. What If I don’t fail? Then I succeed this time, and possibly fail next time, and learn more. Isn’t that the nature of life?

These are the words to add to the inner voice and, hopefully, to make the loudest. The humility to take failure not as an indictment, but to confront it analytically. The confidence to see it as opportunity to learn and do better next time. To accept no inner labels, despite failure or success.

To expect the negativity in one’s inner voice to silence entirely is unrealistic. Outer voices and experiences imposing messages of inferiority or vulnerability, and lifelong mental habits, make it that much harder. But without focusing on the inner voice, without tirelessly working to tear down that potentially biggest barrier (by creating that inner, positively focused reply), there is no true empowerment.

I realize that’s a luxury not all women can afford. We Americans are so much more empowered than sisters in Yemen or Syria, Honduras or Morocco — among the worst nations for women’s rights. And some women here live such oppressed lives they must first focus on the external, with help. This does not mean Americans should settle for anything less than equality — for all people.

As we continue to work toward that goal, we need to keep the bricks from stacking up inside. If the inner wall gets too big, it’s hard to see anything beyond it.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at

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