Comfort Zone vs. Stretch Zone: Reframing Women’s Positions

In preparation to teach one of my psychology classes, I was reading about the history of the first women psychologists and I came across Mary Whiton Calkins, who completed her work at Harvard University, where she was a student of William James (the first educator to teach psychology course in United States), but the university refused to award the doctoral degree she had earned because it did not grant degrees to women.

Another woman, the noted researcher Christine Ladd-Franklin “was not considered a suitable candidate for any regular academic position” because she was married.  Similarly, the tradition of the eldest daughter taking care of her aging parents cut short the budding career of Milicent Shinn, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1898.  Doctoral degrees in psychology were not granted to African-American women until the 1930s.

Besides academics, I know another sphere of injustice in providing humanitarian services – the world of Rotary.  Women were never allowed to be part of Rotary until 1989 though Rotary began in 1905. In 1976, the Duarte California club allowed three women to join. Rotary International requested the club to terminate the women\’s memberships but the club rejected the decision of the Rotary International. As a result, Rotary International revoked the club\’s charter in 1978. The Duarte club filed suit in the California courts. Rotary International then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the decision threatened to force them to take in everyone, like a motel. The Duarte Club was not alone in opposing Rotary International leadership; the Seattle International District club unanimously voted to admit women in 1986. The United States Supreme Court, on May 4, 1987, confirmed the Californian decision and, since then, women have been allowed to join Rotary to provide service to humanity.

We have passed those stages and reached a place where women are now more included in the education, research, humanitarian, political, business and economic spheres to contribute their expertise as well as capacities beyond family roles.  It is still a process for some traditional cultures to be inclusive, though the world has come a long way.

Today, I would like to talk about the concept of reframing to apply it in women’s positions.  The term ‘Reframing’ designates a communication technique which has its origins in family systems therapy.  It is assigning another meaning or another sense by reframing a situation or context, thus enabling to see a situation in another frame. A frame can refer to a belief, what limits our view of the world. If we let this limiting belief go, new conceptions and interpretation possibilities can develop.

My focus, here is to challenge women who wore the same frame of incapacity, limitation and imprisonment that once upon a time our world, culture, family or life conditions restricted us.  When the world is progressing to take off the imprisoning frame of mind, it is taking us the same pace to see ourselves in a positive frame.  When the world is changing to accommodate the fact that women have equal rights, are not competitors but collaborators, some of us have hard time to take it that we have the same worth, capacity, power, and energy to contribute to our and others’ development.  We are wearing the old frame that darkens our self-perception.

By no means am I saying that women have stopped juggling with different life roles.  Of course, little has changed in terms of managing family, work place, personal life, faith, community service and social commitments.  In fact, many more additional demands are created for career and business women.

However, unless we see ourselves positively and believe in our leadership capacity, using history of exclusion to frame it as a stepping stone for liberation, we remain in the same psychological bondage of incapacity.  We need to replace the adage “It’s a man’s world” and arranging life to the advantage of men by “It is a shared world” and making life bearable and pleasant to both, not just toughing it out for women.

It is interesting how the systemic problem would remain the same when it comes to practical life situation though there are some structural and legal changes.  Hence we need to start reframing women’s role in new light to increase their influence.  Reframing is both to society for the way to keep on treating women positively and not discriminating in a subtle way, and to women replacing “I am unable” mode to “I can!”  Reframing is needed to come out from the narrow margins society has prescribed for femininity.

I want to challenge some women to take initiative to work on personal development and reach their apex.  To start off with positive reframing means trying to reconsider things in a positive light, and it is a powerful way to transform your thinking and later on your actions.

I want to challenge some men to reframe their thinking that women’s development is wholeness to society; not a threat to men’s ego.  Embracing the multiplicity perspective instead of being one dimensional by seeing the positive parts in women leadership as well as balancing the disequilibrium in male-female roles and leadership.

The unenlightened thinking creates a gloominess and negative energy which can possibly lead to the former status quo of women, affecting growth and development. Having a desire to shun negative thinking in favor of positive one is the first step towards turning your act around and having a more positive result in life.

The Comfort zone may be to remain in the old frame and blame the past, the stretch zone is to reframe our thinking and the way we address women and work towards shared humanity.

In which zone do you find yourself?