Are you sure you want to be a Woman.
*Note* This is based upon my own story. We all have our own version of the journey to becoming a Woman. I salute you all.
Those two words best sum up growing up female in our culture. They are an understatement. Saying that they are an understatement is, in itself, a gross understatement. You get the gist.
Be soft and feminine, be sporty and athletic, be smart and ambitious, be a caregiver, a leader. Blah, blah, blah.
You can sometimes say "no" but be super polite about it. Ugh.
My family followed a fairly traditional route for the 70s. Dad worked as a teacher and Mum ran the house and wrangled the kids. They both did an awesome job. They had three kids, a house in the suburbs with a pool, a dog and some cats.
Two of the three kids in our family are female. Our closest role model (our Mum) was a housewife, a cook, a Mother, a caregiver. She was pretty stoic, didn't really express her feelings (to us kids at least, but who did back then?!) and put everything into her family. She rarely treated herself. A common occurrence in our house was to see a shopping bag laying wistfully in her wardrobe, aware that it's contents would likely be returned to the store by week's end. Mum always felt guilty about spending a penny on herself. Conversely Dad was a generous and extravagant guy who spoiled us all to his own financial detriment. He lavished us with gifts, took Mum on vacations, we had a swimming pool and a vacation home. He certainly never complained when Mum spent money. He didn't need to, her guilt came from within.
So. Academic, hardworking, studious, outspoken, high achiever, Feminist.
My parents were still encouraging me to study hard and do well at school but there wasn't exactly a career message coming through. The underlying theme was still one of marriage and children. It felt like an either/or scenario.
There was talk of studying law (we come from a family of lawyers on my mother's side) and I definitely had the brains for it. I was expected to be a self-sufficient and independent young woman, all the messages I was receiving were telling me that I could do anything with my life. Yet at the same time it was obvious that I would get married and have kids. These two notions felt at conflict. No one discussed how I would manage to achieve a high powered career and have a truckload of kids simultaneously. In the end I think I felt overwhelmed and confused. I really didn't have a clue what I wanted to do. It was paralysing. Too many choices (seemingly) and child rearing used-by-dates. I wanted to do SOMETHING. But what?
So. Career, independence, Motherhood, marriage, dependence upon a man.
In the back of my mind my career didn't really matter because inevitably I would become a Mother and a wife. And I did. No complaints, though I felt an achingly deep loss of self during the first ten years of Motherhood and regret not having a clearer concept of my own personal goals before embarking upon the great parenting adventure. Still aiming to be the best possible "good girl" I felt pride at the pleasure my marriage and parenthood gave to my parents. I remember very clearly my Dad discussing the relief he felt that he had relinquished the care of his daughter into another man's hands.
I think if I hadn't married he would always have worried about my future. My financial security. How could a woman possibly achieve this on her own?
So, this growing up period, this becoming a Woman was plagued by confusion. It isn't my parents' fault that they encouraged seeking security via marriage and children, this was what they knew. It worked for them and they were happy. My school's ethos was built on striving for success, getting an excellent education and achieving as much as possible. It was very important to be excellent, but one also had to toe the line. That my parents chose this education for me whilst subliminally championing the role of the stay at home Mother made it even more confusing. I genuinely did dream of being a Mother. My struggles with Endometriosis and the possibility of infertility made it a priority for me. It was the only thing I had figured out that I wanted. The rest was just a huge question mark. I loved drama and wanted to do something in that field, I thought, but I didn't even know what sort of careers existed. It was all a bit murky.
I did my best to fit in throughout my education. No doubt I seemed like a regular student for the most part but the effort it took to (unknowingly) repress my true nature daily was exhausting. Whilst I am living a more authentic life at last, being a Woman still means daily repression. It is exhausting to be nice, polite, kind, free of opinion. Combine that with the physical work of carer and housewife, and the emotional labour attached to every single second of all of this and I'm frankly surprised that Women manage to get up every day and do it all over again. But that's where the stoicism comes in.
Of course, the other aspect of being a Woman has gone unmentioned because it makes my blood boil and would really need more emotional energy than I have available as I write this. Make sure you look amazing. There shall be no blemishes or lumps or bumps. No wobbly bits, except inside that bra from Victoria's secret. Makeup, manicures, pedicures, high heels, hair appointments, gym memberships.
So. Fit, attractive, thin, curvy, pretty, sexy, beautiful. Nope.
I am 44, and am just starting to figure out what I want to do with my life outside of the traditional roles of Mother and wife I have been inhabiting (and hiding in) for the past decade or so. I know a lot of women in the exact same position. It is terrifying to wake up one day and realise you haven't been employed for ten years, you have no resume. You don't even know if you want to continue along the path you were on before you gave it all up. It's one hell of an identity crisis and it blindsides you just when you thought you had everything figured out. Who are you, what can you do, what do you want? There is an urgency to find the answers because you are possibly half way through your life and time is of the essence if you are to leave a mark and live up to that education you received.
Let's take another look.
Selflessness, stoicism, houseproud, carer. Reader, gardener, chef, athlete, crafty, fun, friend, daughter, giver. Academic, hardworking, studious, outspoken, high achiever, Feminist. Career, independence, Motherhood, marriage, dependence upon a man. Fit, attractive, thin, curvy, pretty, sexy, beautiful.
I know I've left loads out. Feel free to add your own in the comments. But you can see the confict, right? I need a nap after just writing them down.
The argument to uphold these attributes as a Woman is a compelling one from childhood and it lurks beneath the surface. I have to remind myself that there are other ways to be a Woman which are truer to myself, more rounded and unpredictable. These ways are rough around the edges and often spiky and that's exactly how they should be.
There are, in fact, no rules. There's no map. Why didn't anyone ever tell me this?!
As I work to carve out my true identity and purpose I am watching my own almost-Woman growing and changing. I watch the young Women in the media who are pushing back. They speak of the pay gap, of body positivity, of intersectionality and they get out and speak up. They take up space. They are Nasty and they are loud. Yet they are also soft and pretty, smart, hardworking, fit, unfit, quirky, intelligent, quiet, shy, angry, aggressive, frustrated. They are all so beautiful. All of these attributes can, and do, exist in each of us and there is room for all of them.
This younger generation is teaching us that we get to decide the kind of Woman we want to be.
Just get out there and be one.