Friday, October 5, 2012

Still Not Ourselves

Almost fifty years after The Feminine Mystique, we still haven't solved women's identity crisis. Today's post by Jessica Valenti reminds us that our identities aren't our own - we are wives, future wives, mothers, girlfriends, daughters, and friends, but we are not ourselves. Who we are is primarily based on our relationships to others. What we do is expected and assumed to be in relation to others - which explains the constant accusations that so-and-so is just doing that for attention, just wearing that to attract men, just claiming to be what she is to impress a guy, just going to see that movie because her boyfriend wants to, etc.

This reminds me of an article I read years ago about how a stay-at-home girlfriend spends her day. I may have written about this before, in fact I'm sure I have. My problem wasn't that she was trying to stay in shape or picking up extra chores around the apartment - what she did could have made sense practically speaking - my problem was that she was doing it all for her boyfriend rather than for herself. Nothing she did, apart from sending out a few resumes in the morning, was for her own benefit, but because her boyfriend deserved it. He deserved to come home to a clean apartment, dinner on the table, and a pretty, energetic girlfriend ready to cater to his every whim. The justification that that should be her attitude all because he was paying the rent is also a reason why I'm not comfortable with men being the sole financial providers in this culture. Whether he's paying for every date or paying all the bills, the one who signs the checks has a lot more power than the person who benefits from it.

But I digress.

I get that our relationships are important, some more than others, and some of us value those relationships more than others. No woman is an island. But when women are expected to sacrifice their selfhood to please and accommodate others, there's a problem. When women feel like they have to prioritize outward appearance over inner wellbeing, there's a problem. When women are told that they are not good unless they are selfless and endlessly giving, there's a problem. When we are made to feel as though our comfort and sense of safety in any given situation comes second to being polite and accessible to others (see: the emergence of so-called "creep shaming"), there's a problem.

Suggested reading material:
"The Feminine Mystique" - Betty Friedan. Dated, of course, but touches on the problems women still face today.
"Reviving Ophelia" - Mary Pipher
"The Curse of the Good Girl" - Rachel Simmons