|Posted on September 14, 2015 at 10:40 AM|
9/14/15: "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man, because I'm a woman". Does anyone remember that commercial for Enjoli perfume? If you do you may be "of a certain age". It not here is a very brief history of what was going on at the time: the sexual revolution was in full swing, women were joining the work-outside-the home force in increasing numbers, Billie Jean King had beaten Bobbie Riggs in a tennis match that was both historic and silly (historic because it drew attention to the women's equality movement, silly because, let's be honest, it was a young woman in her prime playing an old guy long past his), and women's lib was all the rage.
So I am going to ask a possibly conflict producing question. Did we win any liberation at all? What have we gained? We seem to have little leisure time, and when we try to do things for ourselves we tend to feel guilty about it because we are taking time away from children or jobs. If we spend too much time at work we feel like we are not a good enough parent, if we spend too much time at home we feel like we are not good enough at our job. I have read studies that sugget that the lion's share of child care and household chore responsibilites continue to fall on the female, even when both partners are working outside the home. On top of that we are bombarded with images of physical perfection and ubersexuality. Women are lauded when they lose weight quickly after having a baby, and criticised for gaining weight ever. Bottom line, we are expected to bring home the bacon, cook it, and do it all while constanly validating our partners.
So where do these expectations come from? Well, our beliefs come from many places... our family of origin, our peer groups, school, television, or social media. The key to identifying beliefs and expectations is asking yourself what your "shoulds" are. If you say "I should have a clean house", then that is your belief or at least what you think your belief is supposed to be. How you act on your "shoulds" depends on other beliefs. For example: If you say, "My house should be clean", how you make that happen is dependent on your other "shoulds". You may let it get messy all week and then clean on weekends, or you may clean as you go all week long. The belief that your house should be clean was likely formed by how your parents did things when you were growing up, and also may be influenced by what you have seen in the world around you, including on tv, or at the homes of family and friends. We can tell a person's beliefs by their actions. If I go to work everyday then it is a fair assumption that I believe that work in important in some way and that I "should" be working. Expectations are very much like beliefs in that we have expecations for ourselves, for others, for situations, for jobs, for kids, for partners; and those expectations drive our actions and influence the choices we make.
So back to that Enjoli commercial. Can you see the expectations inherent in that jingle? Can you see how the beliefs and expectations are infuenced by the world around us? Many saw our mothers try to live up to the unrealistic expectation. Many of us continue to try to do it all. And what has been the result? If the reality is not living up the expectations then the result can be unhappiness, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, feelings of being not good enough. It throws off our balance and our ability to achieve that balance between work, family, and leisure.
The worst part about this for me has been the realization that we women are putting the unrealistic expectations on ourselves and we women are often the harshest critics of eachother. We question and second guess our own choices and then we either openly or passive/aggressively challenge the choices of other women. For xample: I stayed at home with my children when they were young. I would go to work or social functions with my husband. Invariably the conversation would turn to "what do you do?" When I stated that I was a stay-at-home-mom the women would typically make a comment such as, "I wish I could stay home all day", and then they would walk away. The men typically, (at least in my experience), stayed and asked questions about my day. I can tell you, from my experience, that I have worked full time without children, I have stayed at home with the children full time, and I have worked outside the home while having children, and it's all hard work folks. And it is made much harder if we live by the expectation that we have to be good at everything all the time.
I want to end this on a positive note because I was given a gift by my mother. It is a gift that I did not appreciate when it was presented to me as a teen. The gift was a simple recipe for achieving balance and it came in the form of these words: "You can do it all, but not all at the same time". It was radical, it was life changing, it was liberating, and it flew in the face of the message that society was giving me as a young woman in the making. Why was it so important? My mother was giving me permission to make my own choices, to be free to not have to do it all, to set priorities how I wanted to, and to have realistic expectations for myself. You see the belief that we can do it all and do it all well sets up up for failure. IT sets us up for unhappiness. The belief that we can do it all, just not all at the same time increased my chances of being able to set a course for happiness and balance.