Set Up For Failure: Thoughts of a Not-So-Special Woman
I am not an expert. I did not research this topic. I still have so much of life to see, maybe in ten- or twenty-years’ time I’ll be proved wrong. But as of today, this is a messy collection of my thoughts as a 23-year-old woman who is nothing more than all others, but also nothing less. If this doesn’t make much sense by the end, my sincere apologies. My thoughts get to tangle like spaghetti on a carousel. See, even that didn’t make sense. As long as it comes from the heart, right?
It should be mentioned that as women, we’ve come so far. Being able to work, to vote, to feel equal – it's something our ancestors three hundred years ago – hell, barely a hundred years ago would’ve never even thought of. But this is not an essay to preach social justice, at least not completely. This is about the smaller, less noticeable things we face today, or at least I am, or at least what I’m seeing around me every other day. This is about all the little steps we still need to take, and not just us. This is about things everyone should think about.
As a woman, I am expected to do a whole fucking lot (pardon the language). I am expected to want and make a steady living for myself in a career field I enjoy (that’s the ideal scenario). But I am also expected to want and start a family and be a good mother to whatever number of kids I might have. I am expected to do both of these things, and do them well. And if for whatever reason(s) I only settle my imaginary scale of balance to one of them, then I better be exceptional at the one I chose. Seems fairly simple, but that’s not all, is it?
Let’s think about careers. Yes, women nowadays can work in pretty much any field, with varying levels of difficulty establishing themselves (that’s a topic for a different essay). The thing is, we can work in those fields, and we usually rock it, as we’re capable, resourceful and ambitious (insert more motivating words if you desire). But in the background, there’s still that silent lurking perception that in one way or another, women aren’t allowed to enjoy revelling in their work and those who reach the top of their empire are always depicted as sacrificing something in order to get there. The Devil Wears Prada, anyone? Miranda Priestly is a legend. And yet, unsurprisingly, she’s shown not-so-subtly that to be where she is, she had to lose a few husbands to get there. Even Andy, who might or might have not become a bit corrupted, but again, that’s a topic for another essay, was shown to lose her personal life just as steadily as she was getting ahead at work.
There are many, many more examples of this, but since this is a thought splash on paper that I promised myself I wouldn’t think too much upon for the sake of authenticity, I think it gives one an idea. There’s no one stopping women from being successful today, for the most part at least, but we’re always expected to pay a certain price if we want to cross that invisible threshold in our workplace that turns us from a regular employee who does a regular amount of hours to pay the bills and all, to someone who’s striving to get to the top. And even when we are at that top, we still get questions that highlight not our winnings, but the loses we had to make along the way.
Now, the thing is, maybe some women really did make those sacrifices. But for others, perhaps that success really was the thing they wanted and they didn’t care, or want anything else. Yet somehow, those women are still made to have those imaginary losses in the back of their minds. They can’t celebrate being unapologetically themselves and everything they’ve achieved – instead, they’re silently punished for not conforming to the less obvious, but still definitely existing gender norms in our society, at least the Western society that I am a part of it. It would be stupid of me to pretend I have any real first-hand knowledge of anything else. But again, this is not an academically researched social justice piece. It’s something from my life, and that doesn’t make it any more or less valid than anyone else’s experience.
So far, I feel like I’ve been stating the obvious – women will never be as celebrated as men for their success in the workplace. Women will always be the ones people will expect to give up their career dreams in favour of family. Women will always be asked how can they balance everything provided they don’t want to choose and women will always be told they’ll fail at one of them eventually, and considering that she’s the woman and the mother, she might as well let her man be the one to reach for the stars.
Even after so much time and social evolution, one can’t deny that the first thing society sees a woman as, even subconsciously, are wives and mothers. But again, it’s not as simple as that. The kicker here is that even in this ‘field’, the one that has belonged to women since the beginning of time, we’re not allowed to own it. We’re not allowed to unapologetically accept the familial and motherhood role and rock it. Even here, somehow, we’re made to be embarrassed and ashamed. But why is that? Well, that might not be so much about us, but more so about the ones who are with us in a relationship. The men.
I feel like that sounded disdainful. I don’t hate men in particular. Hell, I’m with one. I just think a lot of them have quite a bit growing up to do, in every way. But everything in its own time.
One thing I see all the time, and the thing I’ve been told by quite a few people is that being a mother will be the greatest joy of my life. It’s as if squeezing another human being out of me will grant me some epiphany moment and I will see life in a completely different way for the rest of my days. For all I know, that might be true, but I can’t vouch for that yet. Regardless, that’s what I see being ingrained in women’s minds every day. Some choose to revel in it, and some choose to go against the current. Neither of the options is wrong, but once again, there’s more to it.
While for women marriage, motherhood – all the shiny beacons of commitment that sit on the top of a hill like a golden princess castle in fairy tales – are portrayed as something that is, or at least should be the end goal for us, whether or not we also aspire for a career. Yet for men, our partners, the same things are conditioned to be perceived as the end of their life. Somehow, so many men I knew at some point in recent years (not all, but enough to get the general opinion seem to think that committing to their partner in a tangible way, rather than just cohabiting in the same space is ‘the end of their glory days’ and everything will change for them, but in a bad way. Men are basically taught that getting married and having kids is something they basically need to, in a way, force themselves into for the sake of their partner, but they need to drag it out as long as possible, cause once they do, the fun is over. And to this I say – how fucking messed up is that?
How could society manage to fuck up the one thing they ‘allowed’ women to have without contest? Even though we’re conditioned into seeking those levels of commitment at some point in our lives to feel fulfilled in a way we just won’t from other things, we’re also shamed for seeking out those things, especially if we’re with partners who are in the stage of ‘still got growing up to do’. We’re made to feel like we’re the clingy, insecure ones who just can’t be happy with what they’ve got. But then again, what do we have? If we’re living with our partners, we’re basically silently expected to do all the wifely duties anyway – cooking, cleaning, the works. At least partially, anyway.
But as soon as the topic turns to giving those actions a name, suddenly we’re the bad guys. Then it turns into a waiting game to see if the one we love will get to that point. And what does that reek of? The man being in the control. As the man is expected to be the one to initiate all the big steps in a relationship. The man is meant to propose, the man is meant to decide when it’s time to start a family – for them, all of this turns into a pressure fest, and while women wait for them to make those decisions, they just feel cornered and in some cases, regress out of the intangible fear that making those steps will take all the joy out of their lives.
For women, to initiate those steps in a relationship is almost unheard of, because we’re not expected to take control over them. We’re expected to obediently sit around and give our men that freedom to do as they please and hope that if we hit all the right buttons, they will eventually grant us that wish and need for the family life. Unfortunately, for some, it doesn’t happen. For them, I guess they can either forget about that dream, or try out with someone new and hope for better results. Kind of makes marriage seem like a contract the way I worded it. Well, maybe it is, in a way at least.
There are a lot of things I know and a lot of things I don’t. But what I know for sure is what I want. And that’s a lot, or maybe not. Depends how you look at it. I want to not be expected to do everything, but then shamed for actually wanting those things. I want not to be made feel like an idiot for actually wanting intimacy and commitment in the long run. I want to not have to tiptoe and weigh every single one of my decisions in hopes that one day I’ll get some grand payoff. I want to be seen as someone whose wants and needs are valid and not someone who will eventually force their partner to cave into them because ‘that’s what a man does’. There’s a lot more I want, but somehow, even saying this seems too much.
I will not edit these words. They might be messy, they might not be completely grammatically correct, but they’re how I feel. And at the end of the day, that is the only thing I can do sometimes.