Mrs. BBBB is at it again with fascinating, thought-provoking posts. Jubeee at My USA Life has also been talking about feminism.
I have a different relationship with feminism, I think. Despite growing up in the 1980s in America, I did not get the same post-70s messages of equality.
I used to be against feminism.
I was taught, and fully believed, that feminists and women who fought against social expectations of them were pathetic, lonely, overly masculine, and would bring only misery to themselves.
I followed the rules. I was a good girl, ready to be quiet and submissive. I saw that as a spiritual practice. I was taught that if I was a good girl, I would get the things I wanted in life: a husband and children and spiritual enlightenment.
Yet here I am, turning 29 in April and I don't have those things. I did everything right and I still somehow became an independent woman, living on my own, with no family. But, as horrified as younger me would be by my life, I like it. I'm happy with my choices. And grateful to have choices, which I came to realize is what feminism is all about.
It hit me hard to realize that the women who end up alone, who don't marry and don't have families, are not always there by choice. It isn't necessarily because they were too focused on a career and let life pass them by or whatever other lies women tell to make themselves feel better about the sad realities around us. Some women want a husband and a family and don't get it. And it's not their fault. There's nothing they should have been doing differently. That is a harsh and difficult idea to swallow. As a society we like to come up with reasons why they ended up that way so that we can avoid those things and be okay. It's how we get kept in line, too. We hear, if you are a good girl and follow the rules, you get satisfaction and fulfillment. If you are fill-in-the-blank-with-any-non-society-approved-personality-trait you will be miserable and alone. So, you better behave yourself.
I bought into that and I worked really hard at being the good girl. I didn't work on a career, I planned to marry and be a stay at home wife. So, here I am almost thirty and I don't have a career or a family, I have nothing but my dog and my soul-searching (which are certainly not bad things to have!)
You will see the words "I was taught" a lot in this post. I'm beginning to understand some of my upbringing as brainwashing.
I wonder if I would still be the way I am now if I had been married off young. They say that if women go unmarried too long they become stubborn, strong-willed and difficult. And I am those things! I wonder if I had married at 18 as planned if my stronger personality still would have shown up and asserted itself at some point. I'm thinking that's why young marriages fail so often. Because becoming strong-willed and stubborn isn't just for single girls, I think it happens to young married girls too just as part of getting older.
I am no longer in touch with the people who taught me these things and I don't know whether the things I think I want are really my wants or what I was told to want. I was taught that women's experience of the divine is through their husbands. Their husbands are their gurus, their husbands are worshiped as their Lord. This was the best kind of woman, she who devoted herself selflessly to her husband with no thought of herself. Like Yajnavalkya's wife Maitreyi, who followed him into a life of poverty to find spiritual wealth.
Selfless service, humility, lack of vanity, silence, lack of opinion. Those were valued qualities in my world. It turns out that I am too big a personality to fit in that box. I always thought I was fitting in the box and I couldn't understand why I was so unhappy.
I wonder if any one of us actually fits into the submissive, good girl box. Some of us have no choice. I'm lucky that I do have choice, even when those close to me say that I should sacrifice personal fulfillment for a socially acceptable match, even when people I trust still say that is the path to spiritual joy. "People do it all the time. What do you think arranged marriage is? It's learning to live with what you've got, not desire more." Stop wanting more, be happy with what we give you.
A strong personality is emerging in me. This is why I go back and forth so much and feel so torn. I have not fully grown into the new person I am discovering within myself.
There's part of me that wants to be patted on the head and praised for being a good girl. But the fact is, no matter how hard I tried to be that girl when I was growing up, I never did it well enough. There was always something I was criticized for, there were no pats on the head, there were only comparisons to other girls who were better than me.
Another personality is showing up as the brainwashing wears off and I think this strong-willed, irreverent, dark-humored person is the real me.
I've fought it all my life because I thought I should be the other one. "Should" doesn't have a place in my life any more. Everything is about what is, not what should be. Yet I don't fully know what that looks like. I am still a people-pleaser, especially with the people who were a strong presence in my childhood. I can't snap my fingers and make that go away.