Butterfly Cauldron

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gender Roles -- Second Verse

I'm afraid to be 'feminine'.

I don't mean I'm afraid to be girly, because I'm not -- I just don't like being girly. That's not true to who I am. I mean 'feminine' -- vulnerable, nurturing, forgiving. All those stereotypical things I was taught a woman is supposed to be. For the longest time, that didn't bother me. But lately, I'm beginning to feel cut off from parts of myself that I know, instinctively, will make me stronger, more complete.

I'm better than I used to be, with being 'feminine'. (And I realize, the word may not mean to others what it does to me. That's fine. I'm just dealing with my own issue here.) I'm learning there's a very specific sort of peace in being able to forgive people for the hurt they've done to me, even if they don't realize they hurt me or even if they never realize they've been forgiven. I've begun to realize my capacity for nurturing and helping people heal is actually a gift, not a burden I'm forced to bear because I was born with two X chromosomes.

I had never considered my inborn sense of justice and fairness to be nurturing before. I'd always assumed it was something...different. Because I was always told that, for a woman to be nurturing, she had to have children or tend a home or be a nurse or a teacher or something stereotypically feminine.

I've never really doubted I was strong. Or smart. Or capable. But I've never thought of myself as a nurturer. Is that strange? I don't know. I know I grew up wanting my life to look nothing like my mother's. Not that my mother's life is bad. In fact, her life is pretty sweet. She's been married to my father for 35 years, they're happy, her children are both responsible, productive adults. She has friends, a job she likes, a granddaughter she absolutely adores. I'm sure she'd say she's got just the life she wants, and I'm glad she does. But when I was growing up -- things were different.

I think we learn most from the people closest to us. And when I was a girl, my mother had a problem saying no. Not to me, unfortunately, but to everyone else. She taught Sunday School, she was the head of the Social Committee, she was always, always, always cooking for...someone. Anyone, really. She did all sorts of things at our school, whatever anyone asked her to do -- she did it. She felt that she could not tell anyone no. (I understand her motivation. She wanted everyone to like her, because her own father was an abusive asshole who was disappointed she was a girl, not a boy, and never let her forget it.)

And she was miserable. Completely, totally, miserable. She was also very depressed, but I couldn't know that as a child. So, what I saw, was my Mother giving all her time and energy to these projects and people who never told her they appreciated what she did, who often times didn't even ask her to help, just assumed she would and I never, ever saw her stand up to them and tell them to stop. She would cry at home, but she'd be all smiles around them. The stress would get to her and she'd snap at us (my brother and I, although mostly me since I was the one expressing the most disagreement). To a child, it seemed an easy situation. She was unhappy, I wanted to be happy. Therefore, I would do the opposite of what she did.

My father worked offshore until just before I graduated high school. He would usually work two weeks away, then be home for two weeks. It was like I lived two different lives. When Dad was gone, my mother was less stressed. We'd have ceral for supper, or cinnamon rolls or pancakes or whatever we wanted. We'd watch movies or cartoons or go visit my grandparents. She wasn't as concerned about having the house look Just So. She wasn't concerned about what we were wearing, so long as it was clean and covered everything. It was just much, much more relaxed with my father away at work.

When Dad came home, the world flipped. Suddenly, my mother was all about making sure everything was perfect. The house had to be clean, supper had to be hot every night, we had to dress better, we had to go and do whatever my father wanted. The stress level jumped about a dozen notches. Suddenly, we couldn't watch what we wanted on t.v. Suddenly, we were going to visit my father's friends, who didn't have kids and I'd never meet before, so I'd sit there bored out of my mind for hours on end. For a child, that's a big deal. I saw my mother as two different people. On, when she was with us, I liked. She was fun. The other, when my dad was around, eh. She wasn't all that much fun. Partially, I'm sure it was because I was a child and wanted all my mother's attention. That's pretty normal. But partially, I felt that I was supposed to immulate this behaviour. Like I was supposed to drop everything and mold myself to fit his (and by extension, any man) expectations of his family.

So, again, following kid logic I decided -- this did not make me happy. I want to be happy. Ergo, I'll do the opposite.

Unfortunately, it's been that way the rest of my life. Even as I get older and realize the compromises necessary in any relationship, somewhere inside me I'm that little girl, thinking she doesn't want to mold herself into someone else to make someone else happy. A little girl whose mother was held up as what it means to be feminine and a woman.

So, this all makes me angry. I've got this block inside me, keeping me from parts of myself that I want to get to, dammit. To parts of me what I'm not afraid of anymore, and yet....it's still there. I know life and relationships are about finding balance. That's what I'm trying to do, I suppose. Find the balance between who I really am and the assumptions I've been engrained with.

(Frankly, I'm starting to feel like a basketcase when I read what I'm writing. I don't think I'm really that messed up, but sometimes? Eh. I'm not sure.)

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posted by Zan at 5:22 PM


For what it's worth, you don't sound like a basket case to me.

Wouldn't finding someone who likes you as-is show you you don't need to fit a mold? Or, no matter what (s)he says, you'll feel like you need to be like your mom in order to be a proper companion?

I was the same about my parents' relationship, and I wished they would get a divorce. I've only recently seen that only the people in a marriage know about their marriage. Still, I figure I shouldn't be aggravated in my own home, I don't want to share anyone's debt, and I certainly don't want the jerk yelling at me, especially about money.

I used to swear to myself I'd never be a secretary. Not even in a college organization. And I thought it'd be horrible to cook for someone. I like the part in The English Patient when Katherine say: A woman should never learn to sew. But if she does, she shouldn't admit to it. I guess the stereotypically feminine doesn't have to make me gag, but I don't know that there's a way to make it okay, to have it mean no more than it does/n't.

6:53 PM  

I grew up damned sure I didn't want my mother's life. Before my father died, it was good, but then it was helpless and she had to depend on pleasing a man to be able to make a home for her children -- this was not because of who my mother was but because of the unhappy accident of when she was born and her widowhood. I knew I didn't want to be beaten down by life like she was and I made certain that I could support myself. And that wasn't all my virtue -- it was also partly due to when I was born and the results for me of my father's death.

And part of that was learning to be as assertive as the stories of my mother's childhood tell me she started out to be.

7:32 PM  

Some T.V. drama series had a nun who said: "Forgiveness is the best revenge." I initially liked that, but now I think it's a corruption worse than being at either extreme.

9:17 PM  

Some T.V. drama series had a nun who said: "Forgiveness is the best revenge." I initially liked that, but now I think it's a corruption worse than being at either extreme.

9:17 PM  

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