Our lives are composed of many overlapping stories, says Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her extremely compelling Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. Adichie goes on to say that hearing only one single story in a person is limiting and potentially destructive.
It struck me after hearing this talk, how much the danger of a single story applies to women owning and nurturing their economic power.
Women can have so many different stories, and they sometimes seem in conflict. The simplest example might be the single story of woman as mother — self-sacrificing, nurturing, caring. Contrast that with the single story of the same women as ambitious career person — aggressively advocating on her own behalf with salary, in meetings, and on project teams.
There is a single story we might teach our daughters about it being important to be feminine, well-mannered, and liked. But how does that impact them when it comes time to being financially strong and independent? Certainly it does not bode well to be direct, effective, and self-promoting.
There is plenty of research that shows that women who are aggressive at negotiating a raise can be penalized for asking. This is alarming given the ongoing gender wage gap in the US. The question becomes, if you can’t negotiate a raise without hurting yourself, and you don’t automatically get paid an equal wage, how can you own your economic power?
So, as Adichie says, a single story is incomplete. And even more important than the story that others see in us are the ones we tell ourselves. Maybe we need to accept that it is okay to be loving — and loved — at home, and not liked at work. We can sacrifice for our families, and pursue fair pay and other scarce resources at the office. We can love our families, and our jobs, and excel at taking care of both of them.
Economic empowerment for women demands more than a single story.
We can be high achievers in all areas of our lives, and feel whole and true and authentic. And as Adichie says, when we reject a single story, we regain a kind of paradise.