A week has past since Women’s Day, and it seems the chatter has died down — some were about grander issues as rights and equality, and some were more sensationalized: Chinese retailers called it “Goddess Day” for discounts and sales. How many of these conversations or calls for actions were sustainable after a week? Or do we have to wait till 8 March 2018? Amidst the cacophonous calls for equality, women leadership, women’s rights, respect, and all that riff raff, is there space for some difficult conversations?
I had lunch with a friend yesterday because she would like to know what it was like to have a child since she was thinking of building a family. It reminded me of another conversation with someone else when she found out I was pregnant again. She said, “Try to enjoy your pregnancy!” I blurted out, silently in my head, “Which bit would you like me to enjoy – the waking up every hour at night to pee, the cramps in my legs, the heartburns, the infections, or the backaches?” Of course, I smiled, and kept my lips sealed. In contrast, with the friend at lunch, I gave her my rant; though I qualified my complaints with how I know they are all normal symptoms and I have it pretty good.
I cushioned my messages, stating how anxious and resentful I felt but finished the sentence with “it will be okay” or something of that sort. Was I comforting myself, or those listening to me, as if they would judge me to be too negative, too ungrateful, too demanding, too unreasonable, had I not said something that met their expectations? Or society’s expectations? Or my assumptions of what their expectations were?
I found it arduous to admit, even though I tend to be more opened with my experience, that I hate being pregnant, or say upright things as “I nearly threw my daughter out the window fwhen she was an infant because I was so anxious,” or “I felt so overwhelmed that my body was paralysed with pain” – and leave it at that. When I said something similar previously, the responses I had were, “Do not say that! That’s not nice,” “Oh it’s hard but it’s all worth it.” Worth it my ass.
Most people do not want to hear it, because it is the truth. So I shut up.
Taking this to the social context. Solidarity amongst women sounds like a marvellous idea. There is much work to be done for domestic violence, sexual rights, mass rape, trafficking of women & children. In my space of work with corporates, the buzz words become “women leadership,” “HeForShe,” “well-being,” “career opportunities,” “diversity.” I wince. What do these terms mean? My experience with female managers or coworkers have been traumatic to say the least, spiced with gossip, competition, and malicious intent, whereas my male managers have been the most encouraging and supportive of my development. I am reluctant, to “lean in.”
Maybe men have nothing to do with women’s chances of being represented in the Board Room – could it be conceivable that senior women executives make it harder for those younger to get their promotions due to unconscious jealousy and the threat of youth?
Likewise, when I speak to companies about Bearapy on how to use playfulness to help with well being, creativity, and corporate culture, they ask if the title of the workshop could be “How to have a balanced life, career, family, blah blah blah” instead of “Most of our women executives are burnt out and suffer in silence”? Same thing, but one has a green and juicy façade so more people sign up, whilst the latter suggests dark and doom and steers people away – but is that not simply our preconception?
Why is burnout taboo? Why is anxiety not accepted? Why do mothers who have heightened emotions and kick their toddlers get condemned on TV but no one tries to empathize or help before something drastic like that happens? Could we accept that we cannot, will not have it all, that either our career will suffer due to family priorities, or time with our kids will be expensed if we want that promotion? There is no balance.
No doubt, some of us help other women because we have a genuine heart to support and share our experiences – I hope to believe in my pure motivation for being a mentor and joining women’s events, wishing that my subconscious tint of feeling that I need to do the right thing by society’s standards does not pollute those good intentions, not to mention some self-promotion for my business as a result of being a mentor…
We feel compelled to make ourselves feel better, so we put icing around the controversial messages. We prevent ourselves from feeling shame, guilt, disappointment if we shared our honest views; so we suppress, divert, rephrase, and deny.
We need to create hope, that things are not that bad, so we persist with getting up every morning, preparing breakfast for the children, rushing to blow dry our hair, responding to emails, creating work opportunities, going to meetings, running errands. Meanwhile, we conceal our pain under the duvet covers, for no one wants to know about our suicidal thoughts over a social dinner. We insist on our resilience to build the picture-perfect life. We simply have no time to breakdown. It could be worse, but we are blessed, lucky, grateful, thankful…
Instead of rallying at events and analyzing women issues, could we have difficult but blatant conversations, even if just with our mirror reflections?