Guilt. Pure Catholic? OR Female based? Or, heaven forbid, a combination of the two!!! I’ve always wished that, for just one day, I could be a man and think like they do, make decisions based solely on my own notion without considering the feelings and judgments of others or the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” I carry with me or any of the usual worries I have in making most of my decisions!
I have always wondered – is it nature or nurture? Were we born with this innate desire to please, to mold ourselves into whatever is needed by the situation? Or did the situation mold us into this caretaking creature? I suppose it is a combination of both — exacerbated by a lifelong history of male domination, female submissiveness.
Here is my take: in the beginning, it WAS nature. Women had the gift of reproduction – they needed to be protected, fed, valued for their contribution of keeping the species going. Somehow as life transpired, instead of being valued they suddenly became demeaned as weak, helpless, useful only as a sexual gratifier and child “rearer” as if they had no other contribution, no intelligence or strength. Women became a commodity, like breeders. They were bargaining pieces, for sale or trade. In turn, women became reliant on men out of necessity. They had to modify their behavior constantly, to maintain the status quo or to be desirable on the open market. They had little choice or liberty. Sometimes, they were given for marriage to a far-older man – the highest bidder with the best offer. Often times, they were given over into cruelty and abuse. Bear in mind, these were women of intelligence. They had to use their wits to survive in the worst of conditions.
Conversely, there were women during the same period who lived easier lives. Those who were given over to more comfortable surroundings and significantly better financial means. However, they were under a different lock and key – limited to “female” pursuits; child bearing, sewing, taking tea and dressing for dinner.
Gratefully, through time, women have evolved. Women began to take a stand, to exert their will. It was a long hard climb and it was fraught with much difficulty. To this day, there is no clear path for most women. True, we are now more likely to be educated, strong, intelligent and many have specific and fulfilling careers. But we are still the breeders. We still WANT and LOVE our children. In most cases, what has happened is that women have merely taken on an additional role – breeder and bread winner. And despite our best efforts – we can’t do it all. Who would want to?
Women evolved and took on whatever we were given. Men sat back and let us do it, waiting for us to fail. In other words, the men DIDN’T EVOLVE. (Side bar: I must qualify that statement. Some men did evolve. Some only partially. There are men who DO fully support their partners, who are present and focused on making an equal contribution to a familial relationship. Some men “try” but are still men, after all…). There were men who didn’t believe that women could ever be capable or “equal”. They were perfectly happy to sit back and let them roll in, work hard and sometimes surpass them because they knew they were in control of the purse strings and that is all that mattered. The glass ceiling is their secret weapon and secures their dominance for eternity. This is their way of thinking.
Even in the best of times, as women, we continue to modify our behavior to accommodate our situation. As a gender, we will always be encumbered by our traditional roles. Motherhood, caretaking, teaching, guiding…these are our strong suits. It isn’t that men are not capable or can’t excel in those suits, if the need arises. But to their way of thinking, the need never arises. SOMEONE has to step up, 9 times out of 10 it will be the woman.
As an example, I will site my own case. My husband is a good man. He is strong and loving. He loves children and is good with babies. When our children were little, he fed them, changed them and took care of them while I worked or had other pursuits. When we met, we were both working at jobs that we enjoyed, our dream “career” jobs. As our family grew, it became more and more difficult to work these jobs because we were both working shifts. Finding babysitters became difficult and we were struggling to keep a decent schedule. We decided that I should get a “day” job so that at least one of us had a steady, reasonable schedule. The truth is, I had no choice in the matter because he was making twice as much money as I was and it made more sense for me to take a cut in pay and work as a secretary. This also meant that I would now take on 85% of all household duties, and childrearing responsibilities because he continued to work shifts and was either working or sleeping during regular family “living” hours. It wasn’t that he wasn’t willing to help and participate, he did what most men do in that situation — he figured if I needed his help I would ask him. I did what most women do — I figured, if he were paying attention, he would see that I needed help without request or instruction. Therein lies the rub.
If you are in a partner relationship – married or no — you know that there are definite differences in the thought processes of the gender roles. (I wonder what it is like in gay relationships? Is it the role or the gender that defines the process?) Men don’t worry. They don’t watch, listen or ruminate. Women wear down the carpet of worry. We read body language like a romantic novel, absorbing every detail. Not only do we listen, we rehash every sound, word, inflection. The focus for each gender and the means of dealing with each circumstance is, by nature, very different. It becomes far more obvious in a relationship when childbearing and childrearing begins.
“It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas and thinking….” Gaston, Beauty and the Beast Women think so much. Too much really, because we are ruminating over the SHOULDS, feeling judged, judging ourselves (far too harshly), anticipating a need….frankly, it is exhausting. At any given moment, you can ask any man, “What are you thinking?” He will never respond with a worry or any thought in connection with an emotion. It will be a thought about a mechanical process or about the weather (what is their obsession with the weather?) or a physical process — calculating or building something inside their head.
Logically, we have to be different. In any relationship, there is never a 50/50 split of duties and responsibilities. We each have different strengths and weaknesses. Generally, one partner provides more income. One partner is responsible for keeping the finances. One partner vacuums, the other one mows. One partner remembers to send birthday greetings. So on and so forth. Each partnership will execute the dance of compromise, deciding who will undertake which duties. As the partnership evolves and transitions into various stages of growth, the dance changes as well. It is the responsibility of each partner to clearly state their needs and desires AND they must be willing to compromise or there will be resentment and balance will be lost.
Awareness is key. It is too easy to fall back into traditional roles — men will pull back and wait to be “told” what to do and women will let them, feeling angry that they still aren’t mindreaders even after all this time…. While there are times that I do wish I could think like a man, cast aside all of this guilt and insecurity; most of the time I am glad that I don’t. Who would take care of all those little details, feelings, and sustain life as we know it?