Women and Guilt


Guilt has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a guilty conscience. Always have. I expect a lot from myself and when I don’t meet that expectation, I feel guilty.

Since I started working with moms I noticed that I’m not the only one. I hear moms express feelings of guilt daily. And what is particularly disturbing to me is that I often see and hear about women/moms CAUSING or contributing to those feelings of guilt in other women/moms.

Here are some examples that I (unfortunately) hear frequently – if you have a c-section, you didn’t have a real birth…if you don’t breastfeed, you’re not a good mom…if you work outside the home and hire a nanny, you’re not a good mom…if you take an hour of YOU time to exercise, get a massage or take a nap, you’re selfish…if you don’t want to have children, something’s wrong with you.

I know that women are competitive with other women. I was a cheerleader and a sorority girl…so I know all about that. But does making another woman feel guilty, sad, or worse about herself or her life actually make the competitor feel better? I highly doubt it, so why do we do it?

Is guilt a feeling that women innately feel? Do we bring it on ourselves? Does society ingrain those feelings in us? Do we perpetuate the cycle by fostering the feelings of guilt in other women?

I most definitely do not have the answers to these questions, and the sociologist in me will keep pondering and exploring. As a starting point, I stumbled across some thoughts from Dr. Cynthia McVey (here’s the link to the full article):

Women worry far more about hurting people and while men shrug mistakes off, women turn their guilt or shame into anger at themselves…Such is the female nature that in the battle of the sexes, even if women were winning, they would feel bad about it…

Historically, women’s behaviour has been under scrutiny. Sexual behaviour, maternal behaviour, drinking behaviour and so on has been monitored by society. That means there’s a history that’s meant women felt shame and guilt.

Men haven’t had that kind of scrutiny because society thought, ‘Boys will be boys.’ Women are the nurturers and have been reared to care and be sensitive to the needs of others. Men have, up until a few years ago, been the ones who were nurtured. They were the breadwinners and women were more responsible for looking after people, making them feel good and feel better…

If a woman fails an exam and you asked her why she failed, she’d say, ‘Because I’m stupid, I just can’t do it.’

Ask a man the same question and he’ll say, ‘The room was too hot or the room was too cold or someone upset me on the way here…’ There’s a very different perception of fault.


To be continued… and I need your help!

Let’s start a dialogue and process these questions together. What are your thoughts about women and guilt?

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