As I progress into my young adult life, and further, into my womanhood, I find myself more and more aware of the need to be validated in my every day, whether in the workplace, academically or socially.
I can only speak from personal experience, but hopefully by writing this I can begin to uncover the truths of my experiences. What I know is that, through various conversations I have had with fellow women, the feeling of needing to be validated is not a singular experience. The quest for validation, specifically under a heteronormative, cisgender light is commonly referred to as “male validation.” I am sure this term is not necessarily new to everyone, but what it truly means and feels like to experience, and the dissemination of such a specific form of validation in my life, is complex and has shown itself in a multiplicity of ways. Seeking validation in men, and not finding what it is I expect or think I want and need, can be disparaging when trying to cultivate a fulfilled and empowered self. When all systems point to and are socialised in childhood to finding success and happiness through men, when we are denied the “privilege” of male attention, what is the outcome?
I have always felt this strong sense of competition growing up. Between women, this manifested itself as a need or desire to be the “better,” more attractive girl to get the guy. This, in itself, is an evident and deep-seated form of ingrained, internalised misogyny, wherein we are taught to fight against each other and for the attention of men. I have seen this time and time again, whether in social interactions at school or in friend groups, and even online through performative practices on various social media platforms. This from a young age, instils a reminder to many girls that it is through competition, rather than working together towards a common goal, that we will be afforded worth or value. Additionally, I have been taught that I must work twice as hard to be afforded the same attention and praise as men, which is especially hard in a post-secondary setting. I find these settings privilege the voices of, predominantly, cis white men, enabling them to take up as much space as they like. If I have only known and seen academic and social validation afforded to men, is it not reasonable that I should seek recognition from them? Evidently, there are various forms in which this phenomenon takes place, but the recurrent take-away is that I must somehow achieve the same level of success or the same privileges that a man is afforded but which I, unfortunately, will never be able to fully grasp. It feels like a pre-deterministic affair with failure, and so the outcome is failure; failure to accept the self, failure to accept others, failure to feel whole.
There are many reasons young girls and women feel this intense pressure to be validated. Often times, there is some type of familial or societal pressure to conform to that teaches us, over and over, that we are to assume a lesser social status. It is where, as women, we learn that we have no choice but to be submissive. We are taught to submit and be complacent when faced with the opinions of men, if we want to be considered as having worthy ideas or opinions of our own. During my adolescent years, I often experienced this type of socialisation, and found it particularly significant. I felt dependent on attention or approval from boys my age, and most complete when I received it. If a friend of mine told me I was beautiful or complimented me, but the next moment a boy called me ugly, it is his words that I would consider most valid. On the flip side, friends could tell me I’m beautiful, but it still wouldn’t have the same impact as it would, were it to come from a boy.
I am desperately trying to understand these systemic structures that constantly destine me for failure, and market men as the only vehicle toward ultimate acceptance of myself. I know, in part, that under the guise of the postmodern woman, I can aim to be successful, have a career, money and “happiness,” but ultimately getting married to a man and having kids with said man is where I will achieve most of my success. Even if I decide not to settle into a relationship, the concept of not being attached to a man is, at times, still highly stigmatised. I am ostracised and seen as abnormal for wanting to prioritise myself, or simply wanting to be single. Because of this indoctrination, even most “modern” women believe that what a man says and does carries more weight and significance than what they might. Subconsciously, women believe that men have more power and authority than they do, and whatever the latter says has pre-eminence over what they say, think and believe. As a result, many women will give their power away to men, whereby male approval becomes more important than approval of the self. Women thus struggle to consider themselves whole, significant and valuable.
One of the worst feelings is to be invalidated; we all seek comfort, safety and acceptance. Unfortunately, young women and girls have been taught that we will find this acceptance through someone else – specifically a man – rather than being taught the essence and foundations, moreover, the importance, of finding acceptance and prioritising love through the self. I can remember very clearly constant feelings of invalidation through my first and only relationship. To give your all to a man while being taught to be accepting of his abuse as it is conceived of as your primary source of happiness and validation, only for him to ultimately end up with someone else, reifies dangerous structures of toxicity and of co-dependence.
My solution to fighting against male approval was through learning more about feminism and engaging in feminist praxis. If I was not afforded the resources and space to engage in these discussions, which many girls and women aren’t, I would be lost and, more likely than not, struggling with myself and self-esteem. The constant need for me to feel that I need a man to tell me I am beautiful to feel beautiful, that I am smart in order to feel smart, that I am worthy of love to feel love, is inherently damaging. I can sit here and preach about self-love but, at the end of the day, getting complimented and affirmed by a “cute” boy is something I, along with many other women, in and outside my life, continue to struggle with.
Coming into my own has been a process. It’s taken a lot of work, especially without the reassurance of others, reassurance I was taught to need. Nevertheless, I will continue to deconstruct societal and patriarchal impositions that have been ingrained in me since childhood. I will continue to try and find love, acceptance and happiness from myself alone. I will continue to reaffirm myself as worthy of being seen for more than just looks or intelligence, as a complex being. Slowly but surely, I achieve this more and more every day. I hope more women and men will raise their girls to know what they are worth, and that that is everything. Women are worth everything. They deserve everything and are just as powerful and great as men.