I had a lovely cuppa with Emma Sasaru a few weeks ago, and over tea and the inevitable cake we discussed the expectations that women place upon themselves. It reminded me that I had done an exercise sometime last year, as part of my therapy, looking at my versions of the “ideal” wife and mother.
The idea behind this is that all of us have deep-rooted “beliefs” that affect our lives. I don’t mean religious beliefs, although these can be an influence – rather I mean the things that deep down, regardless of what we say, we really believe are true. So we might say that we deserve to be loved and cherished as much as the next person, but deep down we KNOW that we are worthless and unloveable. We might say that we are accepting of all races, faiths and sexualities but deep down we KNOW that some people do things that are just plain wrong. We might say that we are no better than anyone else and that everyone’s point of view counts, but really we KNOW that we are, and always will be, in the right.
I think you have got the idea. Give a moment’s thought and you may realise what some of your beliefs are. They are often at odds with how we presently conduct ourselves, and many of them come from things that were drummed into us in childhood. Not all of these beliefs are a problem, but as my examples above suggest some of them can be profoundly unhelpful. And tackling them is often a way to make progress.
So what did I truly believe made the “perfect” wife? Let’s see what I had written down….
- The wife should be the stronger partner
- She should be quiet and supportive
- She knows her man inside and out
- She is loving and sexually available
- She is soft and voluptuous
- She inspires awe in her husband
- She is someone her husband can be proud of
- She is beautiful, elegant, graceful, discreet and classy
Hmm. That doesn’t sound much like me. I mean, some of those things yes maybe on a good day. But all of them? All the time? Hmm.
Let’s move on to the “perfect” mother. What does she look like?
- Full of energy, running around having fun
- Always willing to play
- Calm and wise
- Dressed in jeans and trainers
- Laid back and capable
- Good cook
- Strong, patient and kind
- Attentive but firm
- Has a bag full of everything her child might need
Again, some of those things maybe. All of them? Well good cook is out for a start! I can manage the jeans and trainers.
Before we look at the contradictions inherent in the two descriptions, let’s finally look at what I believe it means to be a good woman. This is not something that I made a list for, but I know that for me it involves being a feminist. That term means all kinds of different things to different groups. To me it means not allowing myself to be treated as inferior or to be made to believe that I am somehow “less” than men. It also means not allowing the world to view “women’s things” as marginal, less important, weak or pathetic. And it means having autonomy over my own body.
We’ve got a problem then haven’t we? There I am, trying to be a sexually available feminist, who is always willing to play with her children yet elegant and graceful at all times. She is creative, attentive to her children, an excellent cook and is always having fun, yet somehow finds the time to inspire awe in her husband (in some unspecified way). She has autonomy over her body and is a strong woman, yet is classy and discreet, whilst not allowing herself to be sidelined. She is quiet and devotes herself to her husband whilst not believing she is less important than him. She is beautiful but wise and knows that appearances are irrelevant to her worth.
Who is she? Do you know anyone like her? Would you want to know anyone like her? Does my husband want to be married to her? Do my children want to be brought up by her?
I’m not even sure I like the sound of her. She doesn’t sound like she ever experiences negative emotions, which is going to make her pretty lacking in empathy. She sounds like she spends all of her time on how she looks and on creating games for her children, which suggests she is quite possibly, well, boring. She also sounds like she has much to recommend her, no doubt about that.
The point is, she is not me.
I have been elegant in my time. I have been calm on a few, rare occasions. Not sure I have ever been discreet. No matter how much cake I eat I will never be voluptuous. I can be creative, I can have fun, but I definitely don’t enjoy spending endless amounts of time playing with my children. I love them dearly, but pretending to construct a house with Bob the Builder is not how I want to spend hours of my day.
I am certainly not stronger than my husband. Nor would I wish to be. Whether I inspire awe in him I don’t know, but I am certain that on a day to day basis “graceful” is not a word he would use to describe me. Not when I’m walking into the stairgate for the hundredth time, or tripping over the mega bloks on my way to feed the cats. Classy? I’m honestly not convinced I even know what that means.
So it is no surprise then that having these ideals locked away inside my head was making me miserable. I was, subconsciously, spending my time trying to live up to something that I could never achieve. Something that is, in many cases, far removed from who I actually am. So no matter what I did or how I behaved there was a part of me that KNEW, absolutely KNEW, I was not good enough.
That way madness lies.
By writing down all of these expectations in an honest way, it enabled me to see them for what they are. Nonsense.
And then I was able to think about who I actually am. And who I want to be. What do I want to aspire to? Well I want to make people’s journeys in this world just a little easier. Just a little brighter. Just a little better. I want to bring together people who can help each other, and help those around them. I want to share information because knowledge is power. I want to assist in empowering people to lead happier lives. I want to contribute and to make a difference. And I want to love my husband and children with all my heart, which poses no difficulties whatsoever.
I don’t give a stuff about how I look. Classy, graceful, discreet, elegant – someone else can pick up those thank you. I can knock together a decent Bolognese sauce so that’s the cooking sorted. If I’m in the mood I can be creative. If I’m in the mood I can be kind and wise. I can also be grumpy, unreasonable, irrational, moody, opinionated and ridiculous. Because I am human. Just like you are.
I don’t know who that other woman is. I think I will leave her behind. She certainly has too much class to listen to cheesy pop music. But I don’t, I love a bit of 1990s fromage. So I leave you with the immortal words of Chesney Hawkes:
“No one can be myself like I can. For this job I’m the best man. And though this may be true, you are the one and only you.”