AN INTERVIEW WITH CHERYL SABAN
1. There are lots of books about women on the market. What makes this book different from all of the rest?
Yes, there are plenty of self-help books on the market that offer plans to achieve happiness, success, and fulfillment — it’s a testament to the fact that so many people are searching for it. But there are only a few books that focus specifically on a woman’s sense of worth and empowerment, and fewer still that describe how a woman should go about acquiring equal participation rights to life’s treasure trove. Frankly, based on the less-than-stellar report card the world has achieved on the overall status of women and girls, it seems pretty clear that more attention needs to be devoted to this subject, and I am passionately committed to raising awareness about it. What is Your Self-Worth: A Woman’s Guide to Validation collaborates with the reader by requiring introspection, and inspiring action. It uses historical perspectives, psychological theories, my own personal experiences, plus the wisdom of hundreds of women from all over the world to deliver the message. This self-help instruction manual-cum-journal provides women with the fundamental tools they need to recover and actualize their own personal power, and to be very secure about their own sense of self-worth.
2. Okay. What is a woman’s self-worth, after all?
Self-worth is the value, respect, efficacy, and positive regard you have for yourself. It’s self-esteem combined with the honor you bestow upon yourself for the positive impact you, as a human being, are having on the world. Your self-worth is related to your self-concept, which is the set of perceptions and ideas you have attributed to yourself. Ideally, we’d all be able to establish a set point for ourselves — the center of our being which is unassailable — an unconditional feeling of positive regard — of worth regardless of outside influences. This obviously isn’t the case. If your center or foundation as a person was built on rocky ground, your self-worth can be fragile and open to attack. For although self-worth is supposed to be the worth we assign to ourselves, we very often discount our worth based on what others say or do to us.
3. Why do you think self-worth is such a pivotal subject for women? Isn’t it the same for men?
Women everywhere struggle with ingrained stereotypes that have been fiddled with and redressed over time, but never fully eradicated. We continue to feel marginalized in many domains of life. Yes, we’ve achieved much in most westernized countries. We can vote, but only since 1920. We hold positions in the government, but only recently and too few. The first woman was elected to the English House of Commons in 1919. The first woman elected to an Australian Parliament was in 1921. The first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives was in 1916 — ironically before we could vote. We’re holding top jobs in large corporations, and universities, but only a very small percentage of them. And though a few of us have broken through the glass ceiling, the cuts and scars we’ve endured are still there. The problem is that we haven’t reached parity with men in any of these gains. Women make up more than 50 percent of the population; do 66% of the labor, yet receive only 11% of the world’s income and own only 1% of the world’s land. We’re not represented in the rule-making arenas around the globe to the extent that we need to be. Women have had to work harder, longer, and worry and sacrifice more to accomplish the gains we deserve. If we don’t have faith in ourselves — if our own sense of self-worth is insecure or tremulous, we won’t have the guts to stand up to the male-oriented mindset that, by virtue of numbers alone, generally guides the decision-making process for the world. So, long story short, this expression — our possession of our feelings of self-worth — is crucial.
4. What credentials make you the right person to write about self-worth?
My life trajectory has included plenty of episodes of feeling totally worthless, humiliated, and second-rate. And I had these experiences despite the fact that I grew up in San Diego, in a lower but comfortable middle-class neighborhood, with parents who loved me. Self-worth, or the lack of it, isn’t directly dependent upon finances, parentage, or place of origin. For even with the assurance of all my basic needs being adequately met, I somehow found myself in a place where I’d nearly tossed in the towel. I’ve been so discouraged and hurt in the earlier years of my life that I even thought I’d been forsaken and abandoned by God. Not so, obviously. I’m here today talking about this subject because I found out (the hard way) that I could overcome my obstacles, difficult as some of them were for me, and rediscover a sense of goodness, of grace, of being worthwhile, valuable, and valid in my own right. My personal triumphs over feelings of worthlessness, along with my interest in human behavior and research in psychology, have provided me with ample motivation and life credentials, if you will, to share what I’ve learned. Also, to be frank, my personal financial situation allows me to contribute significant resources to help make positive changes for women and their families.
5. Aren’t women doing better now than ever? What makes you think women need to do more to feel validated?
Women have made spectacular gains all over the world, but none of them have come easily; most have required unfathomable sacrifices, and we haven’t always had the support of the men, and in some cases, even the women in our midst. Old rituals and culturally embedded schemas are tough to dismantle. It’s not easy, for example, to reconfigure something as important as religion; to apply it to this common era with updated clarification and interpretations that are, perhaps, more feasible for today’s populace, yet religion is one of the strongest motivators for human behavior, and I believe it needs to evolve just as society does or women will continue to dangle between ancient and often deadly rituals, and the realities of modernism and what has truly become a global society. That’s not to say we must all be the same, speak the same, dress the same, deny our beliefs, or grow up in the same culture to have self-worth. Not at all. Our differences are rich with interest and inherent value. Our cultures and societal rituals are a vital part of what makes us who we are, and many of us cling to them for dear life. Homogenizing away our specialness is not the goal. However, though losing our cultural connections and rituals is certainly not the intent, it must be said that some of our ancient cultural habits, customs, prescribed roles, and life schemas are making it very difficult for millions of women and girls to feel and express their self-worth. This has to change, and all women need to be part of that solution.
6. In your book, you discuss many aspects of women’s lives, including motherhood, and personal finances. You suggest that women take responsibility, and become personally empowered. Do you believe women must have an ultimate battle with the male mindset in order to do so? If they have no power in their lives now, what can they really do to change that?
Women have taken on the roles of mother, nurturer, home manager, food gatherer, cook, and community builder since the first biblically recognized couple appeared on the scene. Today, women continue to make a multitude of important decisions for hearth, home, and child rearing, and in fact may control 90 percent of the way a family’s budget is spent. Approximately 60 percent of women also work outside the home, with some bringing home significant salaries. Yet, there are multiple discrepancies in the perceived value of a woman’s work and a man’s work. The fact that a woman may make most of the decisions about how a family’s budget is spent doesn’t necessarily mean she has financial independence, or ownership of those funds. A woman’s self-worth is something she must build and grow from the inside out, it’s true. But if she is forced to carry her building supplies up a slippery slope every day, it’s easy to see how she could get discouraged. Ultimately though, our battle isn’t really with men; it is with a stubborn mindset. We have to learn to reach for more than the status quo. We need to give ourselves permission to do that. First steps can be shaky, but eventually we’ll gain the confidence we need to pick up speed.
7. Is this a male-bashing book? Are you a feminist who blames men for all the troubles women encounter in life?
Not at all! Look, I love men! I have several of them in my life that I adore. Living happily on this planet shouldn’t need to be an “us” or “them” struggle, and actually, I’m on a mission with a higher vibration than that. This isn’t about throwing blame around. A woman’s sense of validity and self-worth can certainly be affected by outside influences — including a history of not having rights and choices — if we let them. But we don’t need to let them. This is an action call to every woman to embark on a personal journey to take more responsibility for her own power, happiness, and feelings of worth. This personal journey and assessment does require taking a hard, honest look at the way things are, however. The way things are for women is a complicated alchemy of the way things were, of thousands of years of rules and regulations and rituals and customs that were predominately devised and carried out by males, who could usually overpower women with brute force. Our civilization grew up in tribal groups that were initially, anyway, migratory. People banded together for safety, to mate, and to share food and shelter. Women were always more vulnerable than men because very often they were pregnant, lactating, and holding, nurturing, and guarding babies and small children. Men needed to protect their territory, their females and their offspring, and females needed their mates to bring them fresh meat, and to hang around long enough to ensure their children’s survival. These are strong instincts that still guide our behavior. It’s entirely possible that back in those days, the distribution of power between males and females was more clearly defined, with women retaining a fairly equal share. But that’s ancient history. Today’s power struggles are layered with nuance. We deal with stereotypes and mindsets, habits and ego. Most people, males and females, still equate power and leadership with masculinity. Our challenge as women is to discover our strong suits, establish our own goals, follow our own passions, and appreciate ourselves for what we bring to the table. And finally, to dismantle the concept that in order to be powerful, one needs to be masculine, or conversely, in order to retain our femininity, we must come across as weak. As we personally expose the inaccuracy of the stereotypes and status quo that keeps us glued to one spot, the more we send the message; we are capable, we have intrinsic worth, and we’re not going to allow ourselves to be discounted anymore. And we don’t need to dress up like a man to show our strength. When women band together to make a concerted effort, the crusty veneer of stereotypical thought will crack, and humankind can finally grow up. It’s about time.
8. What inspired you to write this book now?
Women are so close — so near the tipping point — you can feel it. There are strident reforms taking place all over the globe, yet the process of women gaining power seats, owning their own wealth, having access to safe and female-centric healthcare, occupying an even share of political positions, affordable higher education for women and girls across the globe, and putting an end to sexual violence is arduously slow. We need to pick up the pace, because the future for generations of kids is hanging in the balance. Women need to feel their own self-worth first, which, granted, can seem an impossibility if they have been marginalized in some way. But the continuing stratification and marginalization of women is precisely what makes my purpose that much more urgent. Girls need to learn early how to discern between the hype pitched to them by their individual cultural propaganda machine, the overarching zeitgeist of the era, and their own inner sense of truth. The high prevalence of depression, eating disorders, and other psychological and mental illnesses in our youth should be setting off alarms for all of us. Think about the kinds of seductive, persuasive messages we’re exposed to on a constant basis. Girls are objectified as sexual vessels, and trained to crave certain body types. Does one really need to be dreadfully, life-threateningly thin in order to be considered pretty and accepted in our society? Is female genital mutilation a foregone conclusion for millions of girls in some African countries? Are baby girls as wanted and valued as baby boys? The truth our kids learn must include a strong woman’s perspective and a powerful woman’s voice — spoken, by the way, as loudly and with as much resonance as a man’s. We are more than half of the population of the world. Our voices should not be a whisper. We should be the boldest, most beautiful choir on the planet. I intend to help pull that choir together, one note at a time if need be.
9. Okay, let’s say I’m a woman who feels validated and worthy, and completely comfortable in my skin. What can your book add to my experience?
If that’s your situation, it is especially important for you to read this book. There is a danger in complacency — when you are feeling groovy, have all your ducks in a row, money in the bank, food in your belly, a community that recognizes your abilities and value, and relationships that are harmonious, you may be tempted to think that all women have access to these things and therefore, there’s no need to advocate for change. Don’t be fooled; that isn’t the case. Read the paper, go on the Internet and research the facts; you’ll be stunned. The realities for most women around the world are harsh and not at all modern. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve made significant gains, but many of those advancements have stalled — and in some cases, are slipping backwards. In 2006 in the U.S., women earned 78.7 cents for every dollar men earned, which represented a decline from 2005, which was 79.4 cents on the dollar. Our visibility on the boards of Fortune 500 companies is also meager; women hold 14.9 percent of board seats, while men hold a whopping 85.2 percent. These are the power seats, ladies — this is where decisions are made. We need more representation in those playgrounds. We need to continue to advocate for parity; find more ways to make our voices heard, and more importantly, listened to. I need a taller soap box and a bigger microphone, and for those of you who are perfectly happy, validated, and secure in your sense of worth, you need to vocalize what you know!
10. Talk about what women today can do to help bring about a paradigm shift for the girls and women of tomorrow. And what are you personally doing to help make the changes that clearly need to be made?
We can make shifts in our own personal power valuation and establish our self-worth like a force field around us. We can express our sense of worth and validity to the people we come in contact with, in big and small ways. We can be examples — role models to other women and girls, by respecting ourselves and others, and sharing our wisdom. And when we have the means, we can contribute to the growth and development of a healthy society by using our time, talent and treasure to do so. I am personally committing millions of dollars to this effort in conjunction with the publication of this book. In addition to some surprising, yet-to-be-disclosed multi-million-dollar gifts, all of my author’s proceeds from book sales will be used for charitable projects around the globe that benefit women and their families. The world is growing by more than 70 million people a year. I’m going to do all I can to make sure the next generation is born into a world where women and girls are honored and respected, and never question their self-worth.