Gillian Anderson Is Redefining What It Means To Have It All

Women are known to be the hardest workers, but they are dealing with a broken system that often ignores their needs, says Jennifer Nadel, broadcast journalist and activist.

Nadel has teamed up with award-winning actress Gillian Anderson, known for her role as is FBI special agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, to release a book, We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere.

The duo have made it their mission to redefine work and success for women. Anderson says this is critical as the rates of self-harm and depression among women have never been higher. “My own struggles with self-criticism, self-harm and anxiety eventually led me to practices that have had a positive impact on my life and it became important to share them with others,” she says.

According to Nadel, as women “do 75% of the work, earn 10% of the pay" there is an increase in related rates of depression and addiction. Together they are working to break this cycle.

Michelle King: How do you think the system of work is failing women?

Jennifer Nadel: Even when we get "our share" at the workplace, we find ourselves having to slot ourselves into a working world, which was designed around a predominantly male workforce. That male workforce typically didn’t have caring or parenting responsibilities. That system doesn’t work for women and it doesn’t really work for most men.

I felt our focus needed to shift away from leaning into a system that didn’t work towards trying to shift the paradigm. Instead of fighting for half of a broken system, we worked to create a system that really took account of all our needs.

King: What are some of the key challenges you have faced in your career that you think are common to most women?

Gillian Anderson: The challenges are different in that we have been striving to have it all and we can indeed have it all, but once we do we realize that it can be at the expense of quite a lot, including our sanity. Society teaches us that we should be able to juggle without incident and we therefore have such high expectations of ourselves that we can find it hard to admit when we struggle under the weight of all the different parts of ourselves.

King: What is the impact of some of these expectations on women?

Anderson: The messages we have been fed for decades, but now more than ever, are of perfect specimens of women. That is what we are taught should be our goal and therefore anything short of that can feel like a failure. Hence plummeting levels of self-esteem and rising levels of plastic surgery. The messages we need are those that tell us we are ok exactly as we are without the fillers and the latest products and the perfect holiday. That in fact those trappings still leave us wanting more, and that true meaning can be found inside us as we already are.

King: What is the one thing you think every woman could do differently to stop this cycle?

Nadel: We are so used to being carers for others that it can feel selfish to do things for ourselves. But finding time to do so even in small ways really does help to build up the resilience necessary to cope in our multi-faceted and high-pressured lives.

King: Why do you think women need to come together? 

Nadel: Often we feel powerless as if there’s nothing we can do. That’s simply not true. Take for example what we buy, women in the U.S. are responsible for roughly 80% of consumer spending, so we have power on a daily basis in how we exercise those economic choices.

King: How could women better support one another?

Anderson: We have been taught to have a competitive edge over other women as we’ve fought for the limited female roles in the workplace and over time, among other things, it has translated into harsh judgment and criticism of each other. We are our own and each other’s harshest critics and yet our very nature is in fact to be collaborative and compassionate.  Now more than ever we need to work together to make sure that our civil and equal rights are protected.

Nadel: So often as women we find ourselves pitted against each other. We get locked into toxic patterns of competition, criticism and comparison. Our vision is that we replace those patterns with more healthy ways of relating based on compassion, connection and co-operation. That we each, one woman at a time decide to commit to a new way of relating to one another.