It’s important to step back and examine the myths that infiltrate our thinking and behavior, recognizing that for most of us, this infiltration occurs without a good deal of conscious awareness.
I will always fight for equality and equity in all settings for all people. I will fight every bit as hard to protect what makes us different. We are not all alike. We do not share identical values. Each of us sees our individual world differently. Each of us has our own dreams and aspirations. How do we make claim to our individual desires and passions without treading on the desires and passions of others? How do we respect each other and also make sure we are coming from a place of self-respect? How do we define ourselves without our definitions being drenched in brainwashing and socialization? What’s real and true in what we seek? What are the myths that often confine us and create the barriers to our true progress?
These questions are particularly striking for women who push ahead every day to lead better lives for themselves and their children. There are so many thoughts we have and behaviors we choose that are ruled by images we’ve observed every day, and thoughts and messages we’ve heard others express throughout our lives.
As I am writing these concepts, I keep thinking of Pink who brought tears to my eyes when I heard her speaking to her daughter in her acceptance speech at the VMA MTV awards:
I also think of Maya Angelou who wrote, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
There are many ways we acquire our beliefs. Some of these are sacred to our human heritage. Some of these need to be reevaluated or simply tossed away.
When my son J. was entering fifth grade, we arrived at a dilemma; his school was no longer providing school busing service. Their policy was that fifth graders were old enough to take public transportation to and from school. Most of his classmates lived in neighborhoods full of children who would be traveling together, taking nearby public transportation. There were no other children living in our building or on our city block going to his school’s destination and we were several blocks from public transportation access. Neither J.’s father nor I felt like he was ready for those travel routes on his own. Getting him to school in the morning was going to be easy. He could be taken to school before the beginning of our workday. Picking him up at 3:00 PM presented another challenge.
So one evening, I sat down with J. to have a conversation with him about our challenge: “Your father and I are trying to figure out how to manage your getting home from school next year. You know there is no more bus service provided by your school once you are in fifth grade. Dad thinks I should pick you up every day.”
J. immediately stopped the flow of my communication, jumping in and proclaiming, “How can you pick me up? You work.”
My perceptive nine-year-old did not see my work as unimportant or secondary the way his father (and I) did. Since my income was minuscule next to my ex-husband’s, and since I was a woman and “The Mother” – I had bought into the burdened duality of my professional and maternal roles. J.’s father (and I) had never considered any other option. The mother should be the one picking up her son after school.
I had felt extreme pressure about this situation. My “identity” was at stake. My son’s proclamation was astounding. He saw my role on a completely level playing field with his father’s. I was stunned. I was appreciative. I was relieved. It was okay to look for another solution. Finding another solution would not make me a bad mom.
Why would I have been surprised at my son's fair and balanced view of his father’s and mother’s work obligations and responsibilities? After all, this was the same child who came home from nursery school at age three one Thursday - when I had a final exam in graduate school that night - accompanied by the babysitter and a playmate. As he and Jeremy climbed the stairs to his bedroom and the toy stash, I heard him say to his friend in almost a whisper, “Shhhhhhh; my mommy’s studying.”
The solution turned out to be easy. The school had after-school activities and provided transportation home from those. We were able to create a Monday through Thursday transportation schedule around those activities and I picked up J. on Fridays, when school ended at 1:00 PM and when I didn’t have work obligations.
Being an ideal female while simultaneously being an ideal successful professional person can feel at odds with each other. This is the duality women face that men do not feel split in two by.
I present a call to arms to all women. Create your life without being limited by the confinements imposed by others. Find your TRUTH and live it. Recognize and abandon MYTH.
With empowered words and in solidarity, Cindy
Here is an excerpted chapter, The Impossible Ideal from my book, Gagged – The 10 Mistakes that Stop Women from Being Heard at Work, demonstrating the origins of how we limit ourselves as women and how most of us live a duality that creates ambivalence and stress and yes, often pain.
The Impossible Ideal
The Good Girl / Ideal Female pattern is interwoven and reflected in surveys, repeated over the years, reflecting how women face certain self-identity challenges that men mostly do not experience.
In this revealing survey, people of diverse gender, age, and socio-economic backgrounds were given three pages of adjectives with check-boxes. Each of the pages contained an identical list of adjectives. There was a different instruction on each page:
Page 1: Check the adjectives that describe the ideal female.
Page 2: Check the adjectives that describe the ideal male.
Page 3: Check the adjectives that describe the ideal successful professional person.
Each time the results were gathered, the findings were the same. The men (with or without jobs, young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated) saw the ideal male and the ideal successful professional person as one and the same. The women also checked the same boxes for the ideal male and the ideal successful professional person. When asked to check the adjectives that describe the ideal female, both men and women checked different boxes from those for the ideal male and ideal successful professional person.
When males assign descriptors to women that differentiate the ideal female from the ideal male, it presents zero conflict in the self-image of those men and possibly even heightens their sense of identity and strength. Men’s sense of self may even be artificially heightened from these perceptions, causing potential condescension and sexism.
These views of success and the optimum male provide a basis for male self-identity, self-awareness and self-confidence that is defined and solid.
The female, in contrast, is left somewhat torn. What if she wants to be the ideal female – the Good Girl – as much as she wants to be the ideal successful professional? How can she combine these two easily if she, and the rest of the world, sees them at odds with each other? How can she succeed in embracing and desiring both?
If, for example, “nurturing” is one of the adjectives consistently checked for the ideal female (by both men and women) and is never checked for the ideal male nor the ideal successful professional person, there emerges a natural duality that a woman will experience that a man will not.
This duality is reflected in the ages-old debate: “You can have it all!” … Can I? There are arguments on both sides. Ivanka Trump would argue that it’s all about “architecting” your life. I would contend it may be tightly connected to financial circumstances. Having the funds for support services and domestic help can certainly alleviate some of the pressures of trying to achieve "having it all.”
I see this duality as being more about the struggle to achieve the right balance between how a woman sees herself as a woman and how she sees herself as a professional woman in business. The duality comes down to how a woman views herself.
The adjective checklist exists in all of us in some hidden subconscious way. We’ve all created the boxes that make up our view of what’s ideal. The only way to break out of the “ideal” trap is to change the adjectives we check for the ideal successful professional person.
We must make sure we’re striving for our own ideals and not those we’re unconsciously brainwashed to fit into.
Years ago, I attended a career planning seminar in New York City that included a guided visualization workshop. There was wonderful Yanni meditation music with relaxation guidance to take us to a transcendent introspective state. With our eyes closed and our shoes off, enveloped in pillows and blankets on the floor, we were guided through a day five years in the future. We were asked to visualize our entire day, starting with waking up in the morning. This was supposed to be a typical day in our everyday lives down the road.
My day started out with seaside sunshine streaming in through ceiling-to-floor glass surrounded by 270 degrees of Pacific Ocean views. After breakfast, I sped down the 405 Freeway (with nearly zero traffic) in a convertible with the top down, wearing a full-length fur coat. (It may have been a Maserati and the fox fur I was wearing didn’t match my value system or the 80-degree temperature of the California air.)
I felt completely comfortable and confident as I headed to work. I parked my car and arrived at another glass-walled space. I walked into my corner office and began answering phone calls. Many people were seeking my input. I was important and vital, excited about my work and my success.
Suddenly my guided visualization transformed. The sky darkened as the sunshine faded. I felt warm tears streaming down my face. All I could feel was disappointment and sadness. The visualization stopped. The words that remained, repeating over and over in my lingering meditative state were, “If I’m successful, I won’t be nice anymore.” “If I’m successful, I won’t be nice anymore.” “If I’m successful, I won’t be nice anymore.”
At the time of this visualization experience, I hadn’t yet learned about the checklist survey. I may have had a different understanding of my experience if I’d been able to recognize that my desire to be a successful professional was in direct conflict with my comprehension of what’s required to be an ideal female.
When I shared my visualization with the other women in the group, I was able to experience some humor for and appreciation of my struggle. It has stayed with me all these years, showing how our subconscious can interfere with our truest feelings and our grandest ideals. The socialization brainwashing we aren’t even aware of can take control of our perceptions and our choices.
When you experience duality and recognize the ambivalence is out of sync with your core truths, step back and recalculate. Examine the precepts that are controlling your feelings. Challenge yourself to a new view.
The ideal female and the ideal successful professional person can have limitless versions that work for individual women and that buck the stereotypes and the research. You have to know where the struggle is coming from and understand its main ingredients before you can carve out and live your own version of ideal.