Category Archives: Women’s Human Rights

Patriarchy and pain: A match made in heaven

A rose stem with many thorns and a rose in the background.
Image by Cornell Frühauf from Pixabay.

How many times have we heard “No pain, no gain”? And variations such as “There is no free meal in the universe”? Or “Work is paid because, otherwise, you won’t do it”?

Patriarchy, many religions, and fathers of capitalism such as Adam Smith have inculcated in us that we’re here to suffer, that we’re inherently lazy, and that if we didn’t have pain, we would work.

When we believe we’re lazy without pain

I discovered how much the culture of pain had negatively impacted my life when I stumbled upon the words of the author Marian Keyes

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. […] horrible things damage you. They don’t make you better, or wiser and stronger. Most of the time they hobble you a bit.”

Marian Keyes

I realised that, indeed, bad things hadn’t made me stronger. Moreover, I also became aware that none of those “lessons” had made me a better person, employee, or friend. We have created a mythology around “pain” that doesn’t serve us well as human beings. Instead, it entrenches the powers of oppression. When we believe we deserve pain:

  • We don’t ask for help: I coach, mentor, and sponsor women. Countless times, my suggestion of making a warm introduction to somebody that could help them — or suggesting that they reach out to somebody that could open doors for them — has been met with pushback such as “I don’t want to bother” or “I should be able to figure it out this by myself”.
  • We’re forced to look for “silver linings”: In Venezuela, we have a saying that conveys a similar meaning to silver linings — “When God closes a door, somewhere else opens a window”.

Fired from your job? In an abusive relationship? Lost a family member? Patriarchy doesn’t want us to dwell on it — it wants us to “suck it up” and continue producing as working bees. If you’re in pain because of tragedy around you, you’re simply not making enough effort to “find the silver lining”.

  • We believe that we deserve pain when we don’t conform to the stereotype. Recently, the UN published the Gender Social Norms Index 2023. 25% of respondents thought it is justified for a man to beat his wife. Society is also biased against women’s pain. We either neglect it — “It’s in your head”, we’re told — or we identify it as a mark of “sainthood” — when we worship “natural” births and shame women that opt for alternatives such as C-sections or pain relief.

The reality is that pain becomes handy to keep a tight rein on low-power groups. It indoctrinates us in the belief that being mistreated at work, gaslighted by our doctors, or deprived of control over our bodies is unchangeable — that we deserve it. We’re here to suffer, after all.

From shoulds to letting be easy

How does patriarchy enforce “Pain makes you stronger” or “No pain, no gain”? Through “shoulds”.

  • You should work until the work is finished.
  • You should be a perfect mother.
  • You shouldn’t let your personal life interfere with your professional career.
  • You should go to work even if you experience period pain.
  • You should prioritise motherhood.
  • You should…

What if we’d change a culture of systemic oppression that reinforces “shoulds” for a regenerative alternative of “letting be easy”?

  • We shouldn’t have “exponential growth” but make it easy to distribute the wealth we already have.
  • We shouldn’t have to conform to inflexible work norms but make it easy for employees to work in the way that suits them better.
  • We shouldn’t police women about what they can do with their bodies but make it easy for them to manage their sexual and reproductive health as they see fit.

BACK TO YOU: What “should” can you drop this week?

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Of the patriarchal value of time: Women’s unpaid work

A woman with an expression of overwhelm is surrounded by balls of different colours suspended in the air. She has her hands up like trying to protect herself from the balls.
Too many balls in the air? Photo by Zak Neilson on Unsplash.

I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard women saying that their problem is “time management”. They want to get coached on how they can finally can tick all the items off their to-do list and “don’t feel behind” anymore.

I’d love to tell you that I fix them, that I have a magic wand that makes them “less lazy”, “more focused”, and “better at prioritisation” — their words, not mine. But they’re not the ones that need fixing. 

The reality is that when we look in detail, the problem is somewhere else.

Patriarchal brainwashing

Our brains are rotten by patriarchal conditioning:

  • Women have been trained to people-please — As women, we’re “human doings” not “human bodies”, so our value resides on what we do for others. How does that work in practice? We’re taught that “good girls” don’t say no. In the end, the happiness of 4 billion on this planet depends on us making their lives easier.
  • We’ve been indoctrinated in the idea that “women are innate multitaskers” — which we often showcase with pride as an advantage over men. Really? And all that in spite of scientific evidence that our brain is made for processing tasks one after the other and not in parallel. Often, when we think we’re “multitasking”, we’re simply task-switching: spending 1 minute on one task, 1 on another, coming back to the first one, and so on. This is extremely taxing — and takes longer than performing the tasks sequentially — as task-switching has a cost for the brain that each time has to stop, remember where it was previously, and restart.
  • The mental model that our body shouldn’t be a hindrance — It’s up to us to catch up. Do you have menstrual cramps? Hot flashes? Excruciating pain from endometriosis? Heavy bleeding from fibroids? Or are you breastfeeding? Keep working and ensure you make up for the lost time so nobody can say that you’re not as reliable, hardworking, and valuable as your male colleagues.

Gendered tasks

Not all tasks are created equal:

  • The tasks bestowed upon women because… they’re women — Household, childcare, and eldercare simply “suit” our “natural” abilities.
  • The “give back” tasks — If you’re a professional woman, you’ll be expected to give uncountable hours of your time towards free mentoring, coaching, and inspirational speaking to younger women. The more successful you are, the more hours. In the meantime, the men around you will focus on their careers.
  • Women are the joker for any unexpected task — A child gets sick? You’re the mum. Catering didn’t arrive for the company happy hour? You’re the one to go to the supermarket and save the day. Your manager doesn’t have the time to onboard the new trainee? You’ll take one for the team.
  • The non-promotable tasks — Office housework, glue work, and weaponised incompetence. After all, women are inborn team players.
  • The tasks inherent to being “seen” as a professional woman — It’s a job in itself to dress professionally — get the perfect sartorial choice that exudes confidence, “good” taste, and feminity —  and look professionally —  makeup, nails, and hairdressing. However, not all women have the same experience… for some, it’s even worse. For example, Black women “professional” hairdressing is especially taxing. Countless number of hours and money towards straightening their hair to mitigate the discrimination they suffer against Eurocentric stereotypes around what “professional” looks like.

Living in a world that is not made for women

Our own resignation at the fact that some tasks will take us more time because we’re women:

  • Toilet queues — I bet that if I add up all the time I’ve spent queueing on public toilets during my life, it’d amount to at least half a year of my existence. And that’s even worse if you have children — it goes without saying that the burden is on you to take them to the toilet/changing room with you.
  • The duty of moving as fast as the slowest person in the room — Welcome to the misery of public transport: underground and train stations without lifts for when you take your old mother to the doctor, buses that require folding pushchairs, and toddlers with a mind of their own.
  • Getting the same pension as a White man — because of the gender pay gap and unequal pay, women should work longer if they want to cumulate the same pension pot that White men. Again, not all women are created equal. Ethnicity, disability, and LGBTQUIA+ identities have a compounding negative effect on the gender pay gap.
  • Maternity leave — no need to expand on the well-documented harm of the #MommyTrack to women’s career prospects.
  • Male medicine — Women are at the mercy of a healthcare system that doesn’t want them. The 4 billion women in the world are extremely inconvenient with their hormones. The solution so far has been to ignore women’s pain altogether, perpetually underfunding research on their illnesses and how the same health conditions affect them differently than men. As a consequence, when we go to the doctor, we never know if our symptoms will be addressed or will be diminished with an “it’s probably in your head” or if the medicines that we consume will come with terrible secondary effects — and even life risks — because they haven’t tested in women.
  • Women’s bodies don’t belong to them— They are units of production vulnerable to the whim of those who decide when and how they should get pregnant and how and when they become mothers.

Outrageous acts and everyday rebellions

Why seizing control of our time is important?

Because whilst we’re blaming ourselves for our lack of time management skills and spiralling towards burnout, our writing, painting, sculpting, researching, volunteering, and leading go to the back burner.

That’s the true reason that most best-selling authors, CEOs, artists, and researchers are White men. They are not smarter. They simply have more time to focus and work on their areas of interest. They also have a room of their own.

What do women do then? My answer comes in the form of the title of an excellent book by Gloria Steinem “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions”.

This week, I invite you to commit an outrageous act — or an everyday rebellion — against patriarchy. Some ideas

  • Intentionally dropping the ball on any of the gendered tasks mentioned above.
  • Taking a paid sick day because you feel unwell — even if you’re not dying.
  • Resting as a form of self-care.
  • Reading a book for pleasure whilst there is a pile of dishes in the sink or the laundry pile is looking at you.
  • Shutting up when your brain screams at you that you should volunteer to bring a birthday cake to the office, take the meeting’s minutes, or carpool the neighbours’ children to a party.
  • Ignoring the emails of that colleague that’s trying to make you do that non-promotable work for him.

BACK TO YOU: Email me — or comment below — about your plan to impose your own agenda on the patriarchy this week. 


Do you want to get rid of chapters in the “good girl” encyclopaedia that patriarchy has written for you? Book a strategy session with me to explore how coaching can help you to become your own version of success.

Motherhood and the patriarchy: How society profits from judging women without children

I don’t have children. That has always appeared to be a problem for many people around me. They have

  • Tried to justify it: For example, indirectly trying to get a reason out of me or make one up by throwing at me versions of “Not everybody can have children”, “There are so many IVF treatments that fail”, “Adoption is not for everyone”.
  • Judged me: I still remember the father of a colleague at work that after a brief intro directly asked me if I had children. When I said no, he announced that I was the “kind of woman” that prioritised her career.
  • Kept track of my fertility timeline: As I was getting older, countless times I received reminders from those around me that “I was running out of time” to have children.
  • Reminded me that it’s my duty: For years, I was told/suggested/demanded that I should provide continuity to our bloodline.
  • Called me selfish: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that women that don’t have children “only think about themselves”.
  • Diminished my pain: As I wrote in the article Levels of pain, often doctors have disregarded my pain because they judged that either it was not comparable to birth pain or I should endure it because it was somehow related to not having children.
  • Assumed that I don’t have other responsibilities: Others have thrown at me pearls of wisdom such as “it should be great to be so carefree” or “you must have plenty of free time”.

But that’s not only people, it’s also how I was socialised:

  • The Bible — I was raised Catholic — is a constant reminder that pious women’s obligation is to breed more souls.
  • Typically, wicked female characters in children’s stories — like witches and stepmothers- don’t have children.
  • We are indoctrinated in the belief that motherhood is selfless and birthing is the experience that makes you “a real woman”.
  • When we assume women should have children, we imply there is something wrong with women without children and we should fix them through advice and coercion.
  • We believe that women need a reason to not have children. We play with terms such as childless and childfree that are centred on the word “child” to categorise those women.
  • Abortion bans are easy to justify.
  • We believe that “no children” means no caring duties. For society, family caregivers don’t exist and therefore often they are not supported financially or otherwise by governments. 
  • We sugarcoat motherhood, so we don’t create the space to discuss issues like post-partum depression, miscarriage, lack of childcare support, or the professional penalty to have children.

What if instead, we thought that women that don’t have children

  • Have reflected on the fact that we’re already 8 billion on the planet and that not having children is a good remedy for overpopulation.
  • Have exerted their rights over their bodies.
  • Know what they want.
  • Don’t need your or anybody’s permission, blessing, or pity.
  • Have caregiving and financial duties that — although may not involve children – involve parents, siblings, and other family members that have physical or mental disabilities, cannot live on their own, or don’t have the financial means to support themselves.
  • They may still like children, just they don’t want to have their own.

Bottom line

My challenge to you is that the next time you learn a woman doesn’t have children instead of feeling pity, disdain, or empathy, you shift to respect.

PS. Are you stuck on your career?

You know that career conversations with your manager are key to professional growth but you struggle to get to the task. You procrastinate and wait for your manager to do the work.

If you want to interrupt the cycle, join us on May 22nd for a week where I’ll coach you to write a powerful career assessment and how to have a career conversation that gets you to the next level.

Childbirth pain: Ignored, revered, and deserved

In her article article “At long last, some recognition of the pain after childbirth. Why is women’s suffering so ignored?” published in The Guardian on March 17th, Agnes Arnold-Forster brings the much-needed awareness about how pregnancy and childbirth pain is diminished and ignored by society under the premise that is natural.

She also mentions how that’s been the case for centuries: “The routine diminishing of pain in pregnancy and childbirth has a long history. For centuries, reproduction was seen as women’s divine and natural purpose. As the theologian Martin Luther said in the 16th century: ‘If women become tired, even die, it does not matter. Let them die in childbirth. That’s what they are there for.'”

I posit that there are also other two complementary angles that make the pain during pregnancy and childbirth such an explosive issue to address: Reverence and deservingness.

Last year, I wrote the article Levels of Pain about the world’s contempt for women’s pain. In it, I highlighted how – unlike other kinds of female pain – childbirth pain is often revered. Society sees it as yet another painful rite of passage for women, who are expected to embrace it and feel proud of it.

As an example, I shared the case of a relative of mine who, after enduring an exhausting and painful 23 hours of labour with her first baby, she decided to be sedated during the childbirth of the second. The carers at the hospital didn’t miss the opportunity to reprimand her whilst breastfeeding her newborn for “being selfish and only thinking about herself” for choosing anaesthesia over “natural” birth even if she delivered a healthy 4.35 kg baby boy.

In the article, I also draw attention to the fact not all groups of women have the same experiences. Notably, pregnant Black women and women with disabilities. Their pain and needs are often diminished with negative repercussions for their physical and mental wellbeing.

As Stephanie H. Murray points out in her article describing her epidural ordeal, nobody questions a woman getting anesthesia to get a tooth extracted but everybody has an opinion if that same woman decides to get pain relief during labour: ” these conversations made me wonder why society treats labor pains with such reverence. The questions of whether and how to relieve them are subject to deliberation and scrutiny that would seem absurd under any other circumstances. I certainly didn’t consider forgoing anesthesia when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. And no one asked me about it either.”

And then, there is deservingness.

For more than 2 millennia, the book of Genesis has taught billions of Christians and Jews that women deserve childbirth pain because of Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 3:16): ‘To the woman he said: “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.”’

Moreover, for some religions like Catholicism, this punishment through labour pain is so central to women’s experience that they have explicitly asserted that the Virgin Mary was spared of it as a consequence of her immaculate conception.

No wonder medicine prefers to stay away and let pregnant women suffer.

Personal invitation

We often read that there are no more women in leadership because women are less confident.

But what’s confidence? Why does it matter? And what can we do something about it?

I’m running the webinar From inner criticism to inner wisdom on Wednesday, April 26th at 18.30 BST. I’ll share

  • My journey with my feeling of confidence.
  • Common myths about how to “cure” our insecurities.
  • How we can leverage our inner wisdom to achieve our professional and personal goals feeling lighter, supported, and proud of ourselves.

Join me on Wednesday April 26th at 10.30 am PDT 1.30pm EDT 18.30 BST 19.30 CEST to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with your feeling of confidence.

Join the conversation: How has mansplaining impacted your life?

Cartoon of a woman absorbed looking at a man that is telling her "Let me explain..."
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay  adapted by Patricia Gestoso.

By now, the term mansplaining – to explain something to a woman in a condescending manner that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic – has become mainstream. It was even incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018.

It’s also a kind of “inside joke” among women. Our bosses, peers, and even direct reports “mansplain us”. Our family and friends too…

Sometimes we just sigh.

Sometimes we try to “kindly” point out to the mansplainer that we know better than them.

Sometimes we fight back, like the time that during an evaluation of scholarships for funding,  I had a disagreement with another juror regarding a research proposal to develop new tools for materials molecular simulation.

I found the proposal weak, partly because not enough details were given about the methodology that was to be implemented. One of the other evaluators countered that he had found the proposal outstanding. When I pointed to him the list of “holes” in the proposal, he retorted that although he was no expert in modelling he insisted the proposal was excellent. I replied that – unlike him – I was an expert on that kind of materials modelling so that my feedback should prevail.

And even last week, I was mansplained when I shared among colleagues that I was writing a book about how women succeed in tech. I mentioned that I was collecting answers to my short survey asking those women what has made them stay and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years. One of them – whom I’d never met before – volunteered that this was not the right focus for the book. He shared that instead I should write about how STEM is taught in the schools…

Even The Economist has found use for the word in their article The battle for internet search: “ChatGPT often gets things wrong. It has been likened to a mansplainer: supremely confident in its answers, regardless of their accuracy”.

But mansplaining can be life-threatening too, as Rebecca Solnit – who inspired the word with her essay Men explain things to me – wrote in The Guardian last week.

Mansplaining occurs too when

  • The police explain to us that the partner violence we experience is not rape.
  • When doctors explain to us that our pain is imaginary rather than uncovering that it’s caused by endometriosis.
  • When we denounce sexist, ageist, racist, or ableist practices in the workplace and we’re told that it’s only banter.

Mansplaining and epistemic injustice

At the root of mansplaining there is a bigger issue: Who we believe is credible.

In the end, what we believe is conditioned by who’s the messenger. Is it a White male in a coat or a Black trans woman? A Venezuelan immigrant single mother or a wealthy Indian man that studied at Oxford?

Dr. Miranda Fricker – a Professor of Philosophy at New York University – coined the term epistemic injustice, the concept of an injustice done against someone “specifically in their capacity as a knower”.

There are two kinds of epistemic injustice.

Testimonial injustice is when somebody is not believed because of their identity. Like when women are mansplained about their pain being imaginary because they are women.

Hermeneutical injustice is when somebody’s experiences are not understood so they are minimised or diminished. For example, before the term was introduced, the experience of being mansplained had already existed for centuries. However, as there wasn’t a word for it, it was difficult to recognise it as a particular form of patronising women and even for women to discuss the experience among themselves.

How to counter epistemic justice?

We need to get bolder at sharing our experiences of injustice, even we don’t have a name.

As I mentioned in my post What words do we need to invent to embed systemic change?, we must give ourselves permission to create and discard words to be able to build new futures.

And that also includes creating words to describe our experiences. For example,

  • The constant state of alert that we immigrants experience because the laws of the countries we live in can unexpectedly change affecting our right to work and live in the country.
  • The sense of dread people from older generations experience when they go to a job interview and they feel they need to reassure the prospective hiring manager that they won’t steal their job.
  • When your boss boasts about being a female ally because he has a daughter but doesn’t do anything to advance gender equity in the workplace.

BACK TO YOU: How has mansplaining impacted your life? Let me know in the comments.

Article Levels of Pain by Patricia Gestoso as displayed on the Certain Age e-magazine website. It features two old pictures of a woman's head and torso with the shape of some internal organs painted on her skin in black marker.

Happy New Year! I wish 2022 brings all of you tons of professional and personal success.

For me, 2022 started with a bang! I got an article published on Certain Age, an e-magazine that showcases a wide array of ideas from modern women. Topics range from big ideas to small wonders with a sense of voice and an uncompromising commitment to factual accuracy.

This piece (8-min read) is my answer to a question that I’ve been pondering for 40+ years: Does contempt for women’s pain justify substandard healthcare for half of humanity? Asking for a friend…

I’d love to read in the comments how the article resonates with you!

“No black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much’. Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’…No woman has ever written enough.”

bell hooks

Ensure your ideas and experiences get exposure in 2022!

Instructions to submit your contributions to Certain Age can be found here. The editor, Jean Shields Fleming, provides thoughtful advice and she’s very respectful of the author’s voice. She’s been an absolute joy to work with.

Intersectionality, Data, and AI: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women November 25, 2021

Close up of a field of blossomed orange tulips. Image from pixabay by anujatilj.

(3 min read)

2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Global 16 Days Campaign. According to UN Women, the global theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which will run from 25 November to 10 December 2021, is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”

Violence against women is messy. Year after year, reports, statistics, and think tanks remind us how bad the situation is and how to address it.

Still, we fail to make this planet safe for half of the population. Moreover, some groups of women are especially let down by our society.

Let’s have a closer look.

Continue reading

3 things we should unlearn from COVID-19

Finger clicking on a button that has the inscription “31 December 2019”.

Figure adapted by Patricia Gestoso from this image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay .

(7 min read)

Imagine you go into a one-week change management training with the expectation is that when you are back to work you’ll reassure everybody that there is no need to change. How does that sound?

Actually, this is what’s happening right now. We’ve been in a change management boot camp for 3 months now, at the cost of $2-4 trillion US$ (UNCTAD, Asian Development Bank), but most leaders keep using sentences such as “back to normal” and “resume”, or simply they have gone hiding. Do they really believe we can all go backwards in time to 31 December 2019? Are they lacking the creativity and energy to be the catalyst for a different future miles away from their vision four months ago? Or are they simply patronizing their citizens and employees by thinking that if they keep insisting on going forward to the past, we’ll all close our eyes to our individual and collective experiences during this crisis?

If it’s the latest, it’s not working.

Continue reading

25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women


Some resources to understand the massive scale of the problem worldwide:

Continue reading