As it turns out, this kind of perspective is omnipresent not only in terms of how people think about women but also in how women limit themselves. Indeed, it seems like women might be our own worst enemies because we really and truly are never satisfied with ourselves, what we have done, where we are going, or anything else. For example:
A woman with curly hair wants straight hair.
A woman with straight hair wishes she could have curly hair.
Short women wish they were more “statuesque”
Taller women wish they were more “petite and doll-like”
Some women want to be more skinny. Other women lament that they are too skinny and can’t seem to put weight on.
Some women are outspoken and worry they are too aggressive. Other women are soft-spoken and lament that they are shy or “weak”
Can we give ourselves a break? Where does all of this disappointment and frustration come from?
Maybe society is to blame
Are women so hyper-critical of themselves and of other women because society sort of molds us that way? There is certainly plenty of meat to support that argument. Society at large has created a general idea of what the “ideal” woman is like. Certainly she is 100% perfect at balancing work and home. She is gorgeous all of the time (however society defines “gorgeous,” which seems to be synonymous with utterly flawless). Indeed, society’s ideal woman is impossible – not just in a nice way but like, literally impossible. This sets up women for disappointment right from the start.
Another obstacle in the way of female self-esteem might be that we are surrounded by conflicting messages. I think this is particularly true for women starting in Generation X and on into the present. Our grandmothers, for the most part, are traditional women. They bake, they clean, they come of the generation of WWII, where women worked to support the men during the war and then went home to make homes and babies. Martha Stewart has made her fortune based on today’s woman wanting to reach back to get that “domestic goddess” status, right?
Then we have the generation that came after that-our mothers and aunts. They came of age during the tumultuous 60s and 70s, when protests were the norm and women were rebelling against all that had come before.
What do you do when these two modes of life sandwich you? It gets confusing. When I was in high school and was teaching myself how to crochet, a lot of people made fun of me. “Oh, you’re such a grandma,” they said. Then in college and grad school, when I suggested that there was rampant sexism in the Ivory Tower, I got looks of disdain and rolled eyes, as if I was just too radical for my own good. Like many women, I love the idea of being a domestic goddess who not only brings home the bacon but also cooks a delectable dish made of that very same bacon. But that’s extremely difficult. Again, women may set ourselves up to be disappointed.
Is this really just a woman problem?
Of course, if we talk about the fact that women are never satisfied, we must also note that men seldom seem to be satisfied these days, and for similar reasons, I’d venture to say. Look at the difference in messages between, say, Midnight in Paris and Fight Club. On the one hand, men are supposed to be soft and romantic and in-tune with their lady friends. On the other hand, men need to get back in touch with their masculinity and take hold of that old-fashioned machismo. Men, like women, are pressured to excel at work but also take a lot of flack for not spending enough time with the kids. Society seems to naturally set men up for disappointment, too.
Blaming society kind of seems like an easy way out, doesn’t it? It’s like blaming the “guvvermet” for all of your personal problems or blaming “the culture” for your drug use. Maybe the answer is a little more complicated. Maybe we all, regardless of gender, set the standards of achievement so high that none of us can reach them, and so we beat the crap out of ourselves. Now why do we do that? Are we lusting after something we can’t have anymore, like a life without electronics? Is exposure to what is going on elsewhere in the world making us feel guilty for any contentment we might experience?
I’m just not satisfied with any answers I’m coming up with.
Why don’t you give it a try?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27534776@N07/2569248372/ via Creative Commons