On the learned helplessness of being a woman
I have been thinking a lot about what I wrote in my last post. While the grief of changed/lost friendships doesn’t keep me up at night anymore (there are only so many tears you can cry), I have been wondering WHY grown ass, amazing, strong women do this. Why do they not only put a guy at the centre of their universe, but why do they put him on a pedestal and themselves underneath? Maybe this is so strangely fascinating to me because I have watched (and was disgusted by) the way my ultra feminist mother would change her tone from an assertive baritone to a Minni Mouse-ish whisper as soon as a guy would enter our world.
I wonder how much of the above can be traced back to the “helplessness” that women have been conditioned to feel. The taught helplessness, that starts early in families, when girls are raised to be nice, empathetic, and compliant, while their brothers are raised to be bold, risk takers, and leaders. And it goes on later in life, in a lot of subtle and not so subtle way. Women are often made to believe that they can’t do things by themselves, or that they should not trust themselves. Sayings like Women can’t be trusted or Women don’t know what they want are so prevalent in our society, we hardly question them.
If we accept this to be true about women, how can we have trust in ourselves?
We are not encouraged to make bold choices in the same way that men are. How many relationships do you know where women have to ask their partner before they are able to agree on a night out or a weekend away? All the while their male partner merely informs them of their schedule. How many relationships do you know where women don’t make the same financial decisions as their male partners? Where, even if they are equal breadwinners, they have to ask for permission, but their opposite doesn’t?
And it doesn’t stop at relationships. Look at the work place and the discrepancy between male and female applicants for a role – on average, women are 30% less likely to be hired for a position, even if they have the same qualifications as their male counterparts. And this gap widens with lower qualifications. You might have heard about the now infamous HP study where women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. However, men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. The learned and enforced distrust in our own decision making capabilities only adds to the reason why so few women are in leadership roles. To even apply for such roles, you have to be bold.
I have been described as bold before, and it was never a compliment.
I have been called a ballbuster, intense, bossy, demanding, crazy, easy … The list goes on. If I gave you the context and told the story with a male lead character instead of me, I am sure none of these attributes would apply.
Maybe this is why I shy away from the idea of having a boyfriend. I truly value the freedom to make life choices for myself without having to check in with anyone else (within limits, due to kids and co-parenting setups). I love to have the space and time to get to know myself and be very aware of my needs. For example, I passed on a romantic weekend with the words: “I really need this time to be by myself.” I don’t think I have ever said that in a relationship. And as long as I don’t trust myself to be just as true to myself as I am being alone, I don’t want a relationship.
I like being alone. I have control over my own shit. Therefor, in order to win me over, your presence has to feel better than my solitude. You’re not competing with another person, you are competing with my comfort zones.Horacio Jones