T.H. and Jessica talk to Helen Archontou about those thoughts we tend to have as women, as we question if what we’re doing is ok. Is what we’re feeling or thinking what we SHOULD be feeling or thinking. Are we doing things “right”? We need to know… it’s ok.
What’s ok? All of it. We’re telling you, it’s ok. What you’re going through, what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking – it’s ok. YOU are ok. And so are we.
- It’s normal to question your behavior. Women, in particular, have the habit of internally wondering if what we are thinking or doing, or even if who we are is “ok”.
- There are still certain societal constructs, or social expectations placed on women, or that women feel are placed on them. If you don’t meet them, or behave a certain way, or do certain things, you start to question if it’s ok. If you’re not ok because you don’t behave properly.
- YOU are ok. What you are going through is what you are going through. It is your experience, and you’re “allowed” to react. and feel, and think exactly the way you do.
OUR GUEST – Helen Archontou – CEO YWCA in Northern New Jersey, social worker
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
TH: Today we’d like to welcome Helen Archontou. Did I say it right?
Helen: You got it.
TH: -to our podcast today. She’s the CEO of the YWCA of northern New Jersey, and she’s also a licensed social worker. Welcome to today’s show.
Jessica: Thanks for being here, Helen.
Helen: Thank you.
TH: Helen and I, as with all of our guests, speak with them before we start our podcasts, and ideas come out of those conversations. As part of our conversation, we were talking about the concept, or the thought, or the stigma, or whatever, the habit that women in particular get into of thinking that nothing’s okay. Like, I shouldn’t cry in public, I shouldn’t cry in front of my kids, I can’t spend the day in bed feeling sorry for myself, I can’t do this, that, and the other thing to heal myself. Helen said to me, it’s okay. I was like, oh my god I’ve just seen the light. No one ever told me it was okay.
Jessica: Right. All the things that you’re feeling, it’s okay.
TH: Right. Why isn’t it okay? That’s what we’re going to dig into with Helen today.
Helen: Well, and I think that’s a stigma that women carry, and that is the difference between going through a divorce or an ending of a marriage for a woman vs. a man. Society has different expectations of us, and women always need to have it all together or else we seem crazy, right? If for some reason you’re crying or yelling, a woman is totally labeled as just being hysterical or insane, but if a man is upset, he’s just expressing himself. He can quickly go back into this normal state and the behavior was just accepted, whereas for us, we were labeled, that it’s something that we have to carry. The reality of it is it’s a stigma. Going through a divorce, some people have a mental health issue, to begin with. But going through that level of trauma and the ending of a relationship and the grief and all that you have to manage in terms of the emotional part of that process can create a mental health issue as well. Whether it’s a time-specific one or if it ends up being something that you carry with you from there, but it depends. At the end of the day, we have a double stigma as women though, because not only are we dealing with that hysterical female label that’s being put on us, but then the secondary label is that it’s not okay to have mental health needs and to seek support for them. Women really carry this double whammy I think, that follows us through a process like this that men don’t. I think men just deal with the mental health stigma because that’s just a stigma in our country as a whole that people seek service, but it’s usually the hysterical woman’s fault.
Jessica: What would you say, do you think from the conversations that you have with women who are getting divorced, who are in that place, the stigma conversation is one we have to have around divorce. It’s a continuing conversation that TH and I have to have as part of exExperts in general, to be able to get rid of that stigma around divorce and why women may feel it more than men. But when you’re talking to women, what part of the conversation of it’s okay, or what do you think they mostly feel is not okay in terms of the way that they’re feeling? I hope I’m articulating that correctly. Is it that you feel like most women are saying is it okay that I’m angry? Or is it okay that I’m feeling so sad? Or is it okay that I just want to retreat and not see anybody and alienate myself from all of my friends and family? Which part of that do you feel women are experiencing the most?
Helen: Well, look, I think that’s the beauty of a platform like this. Women don’t always get to talk about these issues, and if you are talking about them, it’s possibly with just your very, very inner circle. The people that you’re talking to may or may not have had the experience. You may be sharing something that they’re not able to reflect back and empathize with from real life themselves. I think that women need to hear it’s okay. Women need to hear other women’s experiences with divorce and with these life transitions and the challenges that come to it, whether you have children or don’t have children, or whatever your situation was when you were going through it because that normalizes it and makes it okay. The same way that TH had that aha! moment when I said, it’s okay, whatever you go through. I was lucky in my own personal experience when I was going through my own divorce. I had a very close friend who is actually the person that connected TH and me. She is a social worker herself, and I’m a social worker by training. She actually had this moment with me where she said, we tell people all the time that they need to get help because they are in a place where they need support. You’re in that place, and you need to get help. Fortunately, because I loved her, and I trusted her, we had a long history and she had been through the experience herself also, I was able to hear her. I resisted for a little bit, but eventually, I was able to hear her. She was saying things that resonated with me, so that helped propel me to a place of healing – actually, propelled me to a place of getting on the path of healing. I think that it had everything to do with someone else telling me, unfortunately, you’ve been dealt this hand, but what you’re experiencing now is a very normal reaction to it. If we want to get you to a different place than here, this is the way to get there, and just be able to hear it.
TH: It’s just so interesting to me, now looking back. This woman that Helen’s referring to is my therapist who I totally adore and who has helped me grow. She’s the one who told me when I was in a previous relationship, I walk in and I go, what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? Everybody loves this guy, super nice guy. What’s wrong with me? There’s nothing wrong with you. He’s just not right for you. That concept never crossed my mind. I’ve got to fix this. I’ve got to fix that. It’s not okay to not have this work out. Someone giving me permission to walk away from it, I definitely didn’t feel like I had permission to walk away from my marriage because the message wasn’t delivered properly. It was he’s doing this and he’s doing that. It’s not, it’s okay for you to walk out the door. It was more about bashing him and not what I could do for myself.
Jessica: But that also goes to the conversation of stigma around divorce. It wasn’t okay for you to walk away from him because you had a good looking successful guy, who on the surface to other people who weren’t living with you behind closed doors, could offer you whatever you needed financially, materially. Listen, a lot of people are focused on a lot of that stuff. People are looking in through your window, and they’re like, she’s got it all. How could you leave that? Let’s just talk about that for a second. Why is there still such a stigma around divorce, Helen? And why do you think that it’s affecting women so much more than men? Because I don’t think a guy, not that a guy wouldn’t think twice about walking away from his marriage, but I don’t think that guys would look at another guy and be like, dude, you walked away from that? Whereas women would be like, really, you had to leave that? You couldn’t make that work? It’s like it’s on us.
TH: But women carry guilt. I feel like men really are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Jessica: Maybe, but it is other people projecting that stigma onto women that I’m asking about.
Helen: But those are the social constructs. What you’re describing are all these social constructs that are layered over us, right? We talked about how mental health support is one of them, but something that TH just said was another one, is the fixer. Women are fixers. I’m a mom, and who do our kids run to when something’s imploding? You know, mommy fix this, right? We are, just by the very nature of our gender, considered to be fixers, and helpers, and caring, and supportive. When something goes wrong, the fixer is clearly the one that wasn’t able to fix it, so we’re at fault there. I think you take all those social constructs of the hysterical female, which we started talking about, you layer all of these on top of each other, that’s why divorce is still difficult. Then there’s also a whole other, which may seem antiquated, but there is still something that is in people’s minds is that women become tainted. Once you were with someone, you’re carrying your that person’s – they’ve had you already. Can you reclaim your virginity and reclaim your purity to be able to start over with somebody else and have someone else not look at you through that lens?
Jessica: Guys, it’s like they’ve had all these women and then you’re like they’re manly.
Helen: Right. That’s another notch in their – Right. Right.
TH: He’s a player, she’s a ho.
Helen: Right. Again, women have layers of social constructs on us and stereotypes and perceptions that we’re battling. This does become more challenging for us to navigate because –
Jessica: I think with the stigma too, maybe this is just one of, I feel especially when it comes to people who’ve been divorced more than once, particularly with women, and maybe it’s just me projecting it out there, I could be totally wrong, but I feel like a lot of the judgment, and I’m using that word around that, is she must be really difficult. She’s gotten divorced twice. She must be a real bitch or she just must be such a difficult person to be able to get along with.
TH: What’s wrong with her?
Jessica: That’s right. Versus if a guy got divorced twice. I think it’s still like, god, who was he married to that made it so difficult that this seemingly great guy had to get divorced twice? I think that that also goes to all of it that somehow it’s her fault.
Helen: It’s a different standard, but I mean, we see this. We see this with women in business. We see this with women leaders. Why wouldn’t we see this with women in a marriage role? Women are held to a different standard. The expectation, we know this, if you take a – I’m a female CEO. If you take my actions as a female CEO and a male’s actions as a male CEO, and we do the same thing, it will be interpreted differently, just by the very nature of our gender. I may likely be seen as a bitch for taking a strong stance on something where he would be seen as assertive, right? It’s really no different. If a woman stands up for herself in marriage and says, you know what, this isn’t working for me. I’m not tolerating this behavior anymore, and I’m moving on. They’re seen as a bitch and difficult when the reality of it is they’re just having self-worth. They’re being self-protective, and possibly protective of other family members if there are children involved, but that’s not the lens that it’s seen through. That woman in particular probably would be seen as abandoning her marriage and not giving it enough. But again, it’s just the gender stereotypes that exist and all the social constructs around women that we’re fighting when you’re going through this experience and not only the experience itself.
TH: I also think though that I can’t just blame men, and male vs. female, because females also contribute to this guilt. There are more women gossiping about what she did and didn’t do and why he actually left than the men. I feel like the men are like whatever, but the women are stirring the pot so much. It’d be nice if the women were actually supporting them instead of stirring the pot. I’m not saying all women do either one of those things, but I know for me, it was a scandal in my town –
Jessica: That does happen more in suburbia though I think. I don’t feel I experienced that in the city.
TH: Right. You get lost in the city, but if you had a group of friends who you normally both hung out with wherever, for me, it was a scandal, but I didn’t look at it that way. I was like, I’m free! People who I didn’t even really know, they’re like you are handling this like a lady. You’re coming out of your house. You’re with your kids. I’m thinking why wouldn’t I come out of my house? Should I not be coming out of my house? I shouldn’t come out of my house? I think that women also play a part in reinforcing the negative bullshit around this.
Helen: Our stereotypes are our stereotypes. That’s not to say a gender stereotype is only created by men. Women reinforce them as well. But quite frankly, women reinforce them because again, that’s how we’re raised. We have to be raising the next generation of women to be making sure that they’re not buying into any of the BS around the stereotypes, not only for themselves but for other women around them. We have to change the narrative so that women are supportive of women. Creating platforms like this and creating relationships and places like the YWCA in Northern New Jersey, opportunities for women to be able to stand up and support women and not feel like one of us has to knock the other one down to be able to feel better about ourselves.
TH: Right. We’re so much stronger together than feeling threatened by one another. We can do so much more together. Through exExperts, all the women that we meet, it’s a trickle effect. It’s really fantastic to see all these women – yes we want to be part of it. That was easy. That was great. We just feed off each other and become more engaged and more powerful and more impactful, like you said, to change the narrative. This is the time. It’s an opp. It’s just an opp.
Jessica: Yeah. Well, that’s a perfect place to end for today. Again, always so much more conversation to be had, but that was such great information and your perspective Helen is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that with us and everyone in the exExperts community. For people who want to reach out to you directly, what are the best ways for them to find you?
Helen: They could find me by going to the YWCA in Northern New Jersey’s website which is www.ywcannj.org. There’s a page that says contact at the top of the website. Click that and my email address is right there and you can reach out.
TH: Just so you know, Helen has created a tremendous resource through the YWCA and has expanded to cover Northern New Jersey. She and I had crossed paths many years ago. She doesn’t even remember it, but I do. She started a women’s empowerment group and then they have resources for sexual violence and domestic violence and equality. If you’re going through a divorce and you need a job, she’s got all those resources to help you get your stuff together, move forward, learn something new, find a community. Hats off to you Helen because she has done this, and as CEO, continues to grow this amazing resource really for women in particular. Please go and visit it.
Helen: We need to lift each other up for sure. It’s great that there are communities like yours and ours to be able to do that and that we all work together because we do have to create a safety net to be able to catch us all. We all have a down moment, and we just need that net to help us bounce back up.
Jessica: So true. So true. Thank you so much, Helen. We will definitely be talking to you again soon. Thanks for listening.
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