Last month, I started a series on the roles women carry, what I learned about them growing up, and what I am learning about them now. It started with a post on lessons I learned from my Mama. You can check it out here. This post is a continuation of that series.
Sometimes I don’t know which haunts me more — the dissonance between my present and past views of what my primary role as a woman should be or my fear of failing as I take a different way forward.
For many women in America today, the pressures we all face concerning our roles are each different, but they still worry us just the same.
Maybe it is the wife or mother in the workforce feeling the pressure to be great in her career and be a full-time family member. Somehow we never question whether men can balance a career and family, instead we expect them to. However for that woman out there who is trying to do it all, there is an underlying assumption that she will be unable to or that one of her roles will somehow inevitably suffer.
Maybe it is the single woman who is happy pursuing education or work, and yet she finds herself trying to ignore the questions and comments that indirectly make her feel she is somehow less for not having found a partner in life she is willing to settle down with yet.
Maybe it is the married woman without children, who is happy where she is at in pursuing education, or work, or community involvement; and yet she has actively chosen to not have children. No matter how many times you try to explain your reasoning for your choice to wait to have kids, the fact that you have to justify such a personal decision to the world around you eats away at you every time the topic comes up.
Maybe it is the mother-at-home, who loves being there and doesn’t quite understand how anyone could not want to make the same choice because suddenly the beauty of motherhood and the preciousness of a child seem utterly paramount. Or maybe you are glad there are other women out in the workforce championing an example for your children to know that there are many choices and roles for them to consider growing up. Yet despite how supportive of women in the workplace you might feel, you still feel like you have to defend your choice to stay at home in a world where women defending their right to be in the workplace seems to scream at you that motherhood is no longer enough of a calling in life.
Maybe it is the mother in a job that she appreciates for the needed financial stability it brings, but finds herself wishing her situation in life were far different as she would rather be at home. So she finds herself reluctantly defending mothers who work out of a desperation to let the world of stay-at home mothers know that she too loves her children and will do anything for them, including giving up time with them to work and make sure they have everything they need. And yet in doing this she finds herself feeling angry and alienated stuck between women who work because they want to and women who stay home. Neither seem to understand how unfair life can be in that they both seemed to have a choice in where they are, and you do not. Add to this, is the fact that neither seem to understand you as one pities you and the other judges you. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I am sure there are so many more expectations and pressures around our roles as women that I haven’t even mentioned. I just tried to think of some of the ones I have experienced and heard friends and loved ones express on numerous occasions.
I know for me I often find myself stuck in this pressure cooker of expectations and fears and prescriptions. Maybe its expectations others place on me, whether perceived or vocalized. Then there are also the expectations I am placing on myself. Add to that are the prescriptions we daily hear in people’s thoughts and opinions on how life as a woman, or as a wife, or as a mother should be lived out.
For me it is not just the expectations and prescriptions I face in my roles now, it is also the fear of the ones I know that will come when I take on other roles.
As a woman who has not entered the role of motherhood yet, I have a glimpse of what battlefield lies ahead and it is not exactly encouraging.
All you have to do is watch videos like this to know what is really out there.
Have you ever noticed that as women we are really into one-size-fits-all prescriptions?
I think that sometimes people don’t realize how pervasive and isolating this defense mechanism is. If I were to venture to guess why criticism, judgment, and equating different with bad is our go to defense mechanism, I would have to say it is because of how much it saves us from questioning ourselves.
Growing up in the world that I did, early on I absorbed the lessons that different equals bad and similar equals good. Anyone who thought differently or lived differently was distinguished as somehow worse, on a sliding scale of unfortunate to evil. Anyone who was similar was good and to be sought out.
This is why going to public school was bad, because too many people there were different, raised differently, and made different choices that would be varying degrees of bad. Ultimately it would be too much “difference” to handle and thus it was better to avoid it all and to seek out others who were more like us in our small homeschooling world..
For a long time my family was really good about toeing the line. We were in the right community and we knew all the rules. We had life long friendships and a good life ahead of us. When someone else was judged, or alienated, or kicked out we didn’t think much about it, or sadly we participated in the collective judgement, as after all we were “in.”
The few family members and friends we still let into our lives that we’re not “similar” we chose to agree-to-disagree with and silently judge by “praying for them” behind their backs for being different. We had no idea at the time that those few friends “different” then us would ultimately teach us a greater lesson in unconditional love, forgiveness, and humility — traits in our faith that we were supposed to have but we’re so blind to how devoid we we’re of them for anyone different from us.
They would teach us this, because in the end they would be the only ones left loving us and supporting us when we suddenly found ourselves being the “different” ones kicked out by the community we so heartily ascribed to.
The thing is even though today, I am far away from that isolated and close-minded community, I still find myself and others around me, unknowingly and actively, participating in this mindset of equating “different” with bad.
I think perhaps it is a human thing to do with our fear. We don’t like feeling anxious, or fearful, or uncertain, or ignorant, or questioned, out of control. We like certainty, being informed, and having control. So when we encounter someone who makes different choices than us, whether it be in lifestyle, career, motherhood, parenting, faith, clothing, eating, exercise… you name it, the list keeps going…in varying degrees we start equating different with wrong or less or bad.
This is because whenever we encounter someone different, we feel fear and questions hit us. We feel uncertain. We think to ourselves,
maybe my way of doing this or my choices or where I am in life is somehow bad or less because they are doing it differently, because it seems to be working for them?
Chagrined for even thinking that, our defense mechanism kicks into gear and suddenly we feel the need to justify our choices and find a weakness in their choice.
I know why I still find myself doing this. It is a habit I have to intentionally work on from having participated in it all my life. What I have found that helps the most to counter this mindset, is to learn to embrace all those things that I instinctively or habitually want to protect myself from.
Just look around you. Look at who loves you, and look even deeper. Why don’t we try asking ourselves:
Who am I shutting myself off from?
Who do I distance myself from?
What pain is underlying my discomfort for someone else’s different choices?
Why am I trying so desperately to protect myself from that?
Where and why do I spend more energy on trying to change them or persuade them of why that “different” equals bad?
Is there something deeper in myself that I could possibly be working on?
Through embracing the painful experiences in my life, I have found a way to become a stronger person and learned a lot about the kind of person I want to be.
Through seeking to surround myself with people who are different than me and allowing myself to be the inquisitive person that I am — I am learning that difference and diversity of opinion and experience bring far more beauty and wisdom than similarity ever did.
I think for us women it is possible to be more than our roles and more than our fears, but to do that we have to be really honest with ourselves and allow others around us to be different.
Maybe instead of fearing our differences, it is time for us to start equating different with good.
- What role expectations or prescriptions weigh on you the most?
- What part has your childhood role-models and faith played in shaping your thoughts on what role’s women carry or should carry?
- How are you afraid of “difference” in your life? Do you find yourself more often equating it with bad or with good?