Stop punishing yourself, women
We are frequently unfair to ourselves, conditioned to feel the need to over-compensate while simultaneously undervaluing one's own work
Today two of my closest friends had to tell me multiple times not to be too hard on myself. I'd made an error that had definite repercussions. Of course, I apologised profusely. I am now adult enough to acknowledge when I am at fault and to immediately do what I can to remedy my wrong.
Yet, even after I managed damage control, I continued to punish and persecute myself, which cannot possibly be healthy.It's not that I feel like a failure. It's that on a daily basis, I expect more of myself than is womanly possible to deliver. I am frequently unfair to myself in terms of my own demands and expectations and I'm unable to explain the source of this urgency I feel to always be efficient and productive. There is a part of me that thinks that when it comes to work, I have over-exposed myself to a very misogynist view of my own labour, which I invariably internalised. I strive to over-achieve, sometimes at the cost of my own sanity.
I've been thinking a lot about the source of my work-related anxieties, and what I've come to realise is that I seem to always want to be on top of things. I am so hell bent on being professional that I even over-commit because I've underestimated how much time actually goes into certain tasks. I suspect that that this is a very
misogynist undertaking; to always feel the need to over-compensate while simultaneously undervaluing one's own work, because, as women, we have been conditioned to invisibilise our labour.
There's a piece of dialogue from Before Midnight, the third instalment of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy that keeps returning to me. It's when Celine and Jesse are fighting in a hotel room. They've been together for some years now and are parents to twins. "You know what I love about men? They still believe in magic," she says. "Little fairies around who pick up their socks… little fairies unload the dishwasher, little fairies sunscreen the kids. Little fairies who make the Greek salad that you eat like a pig."
As a single woman, one who lives a financially independent life and makes her own decisions, the odds are continually stacked against me. Because I am unmarried and child-less, it is expected that I must have more time. My fellow single women have the same complaint. When their colleagues who are mothers show up late to work, it is assumed it is because they had to care for their child. There's greater room for empathy. But how do you explain to someone, especially a boss or authority figure, how your life is differently complicated because you don't have the same support systems that married people do.
Yes, it was you who made the decision to be single, but that shouldn't justify your being penalised for it? You are also told by society that you cannot possibly have it all, that sacrifices have to be made, yet we seldom question why it is always women who are making these sacrifices, always struggling to work harder than men just so we can be perceived as being equal without the access to the same privileges or pay.
I've had to devise ingenious ways of telling myself that it's okay to fail once in a while. It's okay to screw up. It's okay to make a bad decision as long as you are humble and mature enough to claim responsibility for its consequences. "It's okay, Rosalyn, it's okay." It's become a familiar refrain, but one that I haven't yet been able to internalise. I still have to rely on friends to remind me that I don't always have to be the hyper efficient person or the super prolific writer I feel the need to be; that if I continue to put so much pressure on myself I will eventually collapse against the burden of my own expectations.
Because I've been unwell, I've been thinking so much about the notion of feminist care. I read an insightful article by Nora Samaran about how the opposite of rape culture is a nurturance culture. She says, "Violence is nurturance turned backwards." While I've accessed great models of nurturing in the form of my parents, I see how the focus has mostly always been the nurturing of others, not the self. In fact, I think I falsely understood the act of nurturing as a gesture of selflessness.
Now, at 33, I realise that if I'm ill equipped to care for myself or don't consider my own self and needs important enough to consider, then I will never be equipped to care for anyone else, especially the members of my feminist sisterhood. I always believed self-preservation to be a dirty word, a Darwinian slur. I realise now that it is perhaps intrinsic to a feminist lifestyle.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to email@example.com
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