It’s Women’s History month and we just had International Women’s Day, which always brings up mixed feelings for me. As a feminist life coach, I work with gender equity issues all year long. Sometimes I roll my eyes and think that I don’t need Instagram or Apple to remind me that women need to be recognized (all the time, not just when a token gesture feels obligatory).
Even so, I usually get a little FOMO (fear of missing out) this time of year, like I’m somehow missing an opportunity to do something to commemorate. The truth is, I’m usually so busy trying to balance self-care with my work and life in the patriarchy that pausing for a photo-op feels like just too much.
Balancing the amount of work there is to be done toward equity with the amount of work that it is reasonable (or even possible) for one person to do is a constant challenge. Add to that the fact that there’s often a story running in my head about how I could do more if I were just more organized or disciplined or detail-oriented. My inner voice, in a snide way, also reminds me that I’m a feminist life coach and I should absolutely have this shit figured out for myself by now, right?
And that’s it right there: the insidious nature of being a woman in a culture that believes that there is one perfect way to exist and we’re all doing it wrong. Because for women, gender oppression is operationalized through the expectation of perfection.
No one even remotely credible claims out loud that women aren’t as good as men or that they don’t deserve equal opportunities. We hear people on all sides claiming that women deserve equal opportunities; but saying it doesn’t make it so. The cultural question to dig into isn’t whether women deserve equity, it’s which women are worthy of equity in the eyes of our culture.;
There are certainly intersections in identity that play a role in answering this question. Race, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, economic class and ability all play a role within the conversation about gender equity – whether they are referred to out loud or not. There’s another thread in this narrative that weaves through all of these intersections however – the need to be perfect enough to deserve equity.
History and current events teach us that if we can only be one of the perfect women, we will deserve the jobs, the promotions, the security, the rights, the wealth, the equity and the safety that has been long denied to the majority of women. The underlying story declares that the problem isn’t that women aren’t being given the resources and opportunities; it’s that we’re just not up to the task of deserving them.
And why not? Being perfect isn’t that hard, is it? We’re just supposed to work hard, never complain, be assertive but not bossy or shrill, be educated, organized and generous. We should have a career that we’re completely devoted to, but also a family that we always put first. We should be honored to have the opportunity to work twice as hard as men for half (if any) of the recognition and remuneration. It goes without saying that we should also have a perfect body, an immaculate house, an uncomplicated relationship and no mistakes in our rear-view mirror that could be used to discredit us later. The list goes on and on…
This is the dark side of individualism – it’s not real. We pretend that it’s every person for themselves, but the only thing that makes our society possible is interdependence in the form of women doing a ton of labor (invisible and unpaid) behind the scenes. The COVID pandemic has thrust this conversation forward but will it stay in the spotlight once we go back to our offices and schools?
We need to make sure it does.
By expecting perfection from women and telling us that everything from our livelihood to our safety depends on it, our culture denies women the right to be human. The fact is that women make up roughly half of the world’s population. If we stop trying to live up to unrealistic perfection standards, we’ll have more time and energy to focus on changing the game for ourselves and other women.
If you’re ready for some powerful feminist work, get to know your particular brand of perfectionism. What’s the story in your own head about how you’re not doing or being enough? Which parts of that story come from your own lived experience and which parts are a result of living in a patriarchal culture that pretends that you’ll never be enough? Start working on calming the inner criticism and rewriting the story. Your experience matters and so does your voice. As Herstory has taught us, “We’re stronger together.”