Women are socialized to put everyone else first. We are taught that a “good woman” is always there for others, and in fact derives her greatest fulfillment from being of service. We are taught that a “good woman” is a peacekeeper. A “good woman” is a nurturer first and foremost, always willing to do what it takes to keep the ship afloat.
All of this explicitly puts women’s needs below the needs of others. And the real mind-fuck is that even if you’re pretty progressive, you might still find yourself trying to live up to these old-school ideals. And it’s exhausting.
Isn’t that fucked up, when you take a minute to really look at it? We’re socialized to believe that we’re here to be exploited – because that’s what love looks like and that’s where our value lies. That’s what being a “good woman” means.
Our culture has normalized the self-sacrifice of women and even incentivized it with social approval. Our culture has rendered women losing themselves unproblematic through the social construction of the “good woman.” Our worthiness is so bound up in living up to this ideal that we become accustomed to devaluing our own needs. The loss of self feels so familiar and maybe even strangely good because it’s so revered by our culture.
We are taught that our needs are negotiable. We are taught to compromise first. We are taught to drop our priorities so we can support others.
Don’t get me wrong. Being of service is a beautiful thing. But when it means you lose yourself and compromise your wellbeing?
Hell no. Not on my watch.
Not having intentional and healthy boundaries takes its toll on your wellbeing. It costs time, energy, mental and emotional labour around anticipating others’ needs and preemptively saving them from dealing with consequences. The anxiety, the depression, the burnout, the disconnection from your sense of self…the price is too high.
The gendered expectations around boundaries are clear. Women’s needs are seen as more negotiable than men’s. And we often see them that way too. And that’s why so many women feel stuck. The idea that your needs are at least negotiable, and at worst, non-existent was planted so long ago in so many ways that it’s like Inception: you think it’s a character flaw born of your own mind, when really, you were socialized this way to preserve the status quo – in your family, in your community, in your workplace, and in the world.
When it comes to personal relationships, the interesting thing is that often nobody’s doing this on purpose. It just kind of turned out this way. It’s not like most men walk around thinking about how they can devalue women’s needs. It’s not like most women walk around dreaming of a world where they never get their needs met. That’s the insidious thing about socialization. We find ourselves playing roles that we didn’t consciously sign up for, and then we wonder why it feels so shitty.
It feels so shitty because there’s a serious imbalance, and we play right into it with our beliefs around how we should be. We’re surrendering our own sense of agency because we believe that we should always say yes. We believe that what makes worthy is losing ourselves in service.
In a world where co-sign these expectations, we can see the cost by looking at how resources are used to maintain the status quo.
Women get less time, men get more.
Women become exhausted and depleted, men are uplifted.
Women get less help, men get support.
You know that term, “If it ain’t broke…”? We don’t fix things that don’t seem broken. Hell, we don’t often fix things that are clearly broken – like reconciliation with Native populations or the number of young black men being murdered by police in the US.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you’re sucking it up, putting out fires and cleaning other people’s messes, the system doesn’t appear to be broken. You’re always there to tidy up. Things work out. Your commitment to being good and over-giving masks the structural imbalances that require your self-sacrifice for the system to work. As much as we want someone to just take the reins? It’s not going to happen because we’re so damn good at fixing things before anyone can see that it’s broken.
A system that expects you to set yourself on fire so that others can stay warm is a fucking broken one.
I tell you this because I believe it’s important to understand the way our daily lives relate to the systems and beliefs that hold society together. It’s not by accident and it’s not your fault. It’s part of the great gaslighting of our time. We’re told that we have choice and freedom, while our culture supports very specific ideals about how and who we should be. It takes real focus to insist on living on your terms.
It takes practice. It can be learned. It requires deep self-awareness and self-compassion and a commitment to your own wholeness as well as the wholeness of those who will follow in our footsteps.
When we awaken to this concept, we reclaim the power to choose. We become leaders in our own lives. In so doing, we begin to shift the culture so we can catch up to where we thought we’d be by now as a society.
Together, we rise.
Ready to step into your power? My free, 5-day challenge, Reclaiming My Time, starts on March 21st, 2019. Sign up here.