Personal Journeys with Gramma

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When Women Accept a Back Seat as Their Due

“If you are lonely, then you will know/when someone needs you, you love them so…” (“As Long as He Needs Me” by Lionel Bart). In the musical OLIVER! the barmaid Nancy realizes her criminal boyfriend Bill Sykes treats her badly, but she ignores the warnings of her friends and sticks by him…until he kills her.

How is it that women have unwittingly (sometimes wittingly) agreed to accept a secondary role in society? On April 10, 2018, we “celebrated” Equal Pay Day, originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity back in 1996. This date represents how far in the year women had to work into 2018 to earn what men earned in 2017.

The reason we sigh and say “what can you do?” is that women have implicitly accepted their subordinate role in American society. Without the pre-birth burst of testosterone in the brain that drives males to greater competitiveness and sometimes aggression, females naturally fine-tune their skills for cooperation and communication. Because women generally have little appetite for open conflict, we tend to compromise (often giving in) when the stakes are high. We may prioritize that we lose too much if we win. We may decide that scrapping doesn’t suit our style.

Like Nancy from OLIVER!, women often have higher needs for affection than for control—even over ourselves. So it’s relatively easy to persuade a woman that she deserves her secondary role in society—perhaps that she’s earned it by being a “good” woman or wife. Ancient societies or traditions that honored and sometimes even worshipped female leaders were overwhelmed and, in certain cases, deliberately wiped from cultural memory by male leaders. Strong women were subject to suspicion. And we believed what we were taught.

Traditionally, western men portray their female counterparts as fitting two main character-types:  women of easy virtue and mothers—and never the twain should meet. (Nearly naked women are desirable, but a woman nursing her baby in public is obscene.) Mother’s Day is a wildly popular holiday with both men and women. “Mom’s in her place; all’s right with the world.” How many young women are desperate to have children, whether or not they have the resources or personality to be a good parent? Why? Because of an innate hormonal imperative and because women who don’t have children are described as “barren”—at least in the Bible. They are objects to be pitied—or scorned if they’re judged to be lesbians.

When I was young, my school counselor pushed girls into limited professional avenues:  nursing and teaching. She told me I should opt for a private college since a university would probably be too much for me. I attended both, by the way, but I did believe her enough to become a teacher. I liked teaching, so I didn’t realize until many years later that I had ignored other possibilities. I was afraid to push myself too far from my comfort zone. I created my own limitations by accepting what I was told.

Many women enjoy the “good manners” men show them by opening doors, etc., but we pay for those courtesies when we’re treated as lesser—lesser leaders, lesser thinkers, lesser workers deserving lesser income. When we speak, we’re frequently ignored or interrupted. Often, men feel the need to do “mansplaining”—taking care to explain to us what we probably already know. No wonder we may subconsciously absorb the idea that women are less capable and should be subordinate.

The movements that began with #MeToo may represent milestones that shake the apologetic image we women hold of ourselves. How often do we act as enablers to those who would keep us pigeon-holed? I love the film HIDDEN FIGURES for depicting real women who had the courage and individuality to defy conventions.

Being a person before a gender means women have a right to stand and be heard. But we need to honestly appreciate and listen to ourselves first. We don’t need treatment that’s either special or the same as that given to straight white males. Like members of minority populations within the country—including the youth, we aren’t the same as straight white men and don’t aspire to be. We need to be treated with the same level of respect—by others and ourselves. That’s all.

One comment on “When Women Accept a Back Seat as Their Due

  1. Frances Sullivan
    May 2, 2018

    Brilliant – simply brilliant. Gonna repost and quote freely. You’re amazing.

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