There is something that hovers under the surface of most women, myself included.
This thing, we believe, is the secret to our fulfillment, to our happiness, to our worth as women. It secures our position in the world. It tells us if we are okay or if we are not okay.
This thing? It’s a measuring stick.
The other day, out of the blue, I received an email from an old school friend whom I have’t seen in over a decade. I have always thought fondly of her and I also love receiving mail, so I was thrilled.
She told me so many things. She told me the story of how she fell in love with her husband. She told me about the failings and frustrations of motherhood. She told me about the moments of unspeakable love. She told me how happy she was. She told me how imperfect things were. She told me how much she wrestled with the domesticity of a stay-at-home-mothering. She told me about her indecision towards her career. She told me how she has spent so many years struggling with female competition and those deeply entrenched social boundaries women have with one another; boundaries which divide friendship and support into the complex hustle of insecurity, jealousy and rivalry. She talked about so many things and all I could do was sit there, overwhelmingly grateful that she was sharing her insides with me, and think me too. These are things I know well. These are the conversations I’m certain are had by women all over the world, every day, in their own kitchens, in their own languages, with women who are theirs.
Something she said in particular stuck out for me, and with her permission, I am sharing it with you because it’s such a big part of what the Red Tent means to me.
“It seems with the ladies it often comes back to jealousy, which makes it harder for seemingly confident / successful females to make friends. It is a sad but true fact that to befriend a woman means to show her your weaknesses, to belittle yourself, to praise her and put yourself down (“Oh my god, I love your haircut – where do you go? I just changed hairdressers and I swear, I nearly cried when I walked out from my last appointment”). Shallow and fake? Perhaps. But smart, if you want to make friends with other women. Women in general could be so much more empowered (in their careers, in their lives) were we to work together a bit more.”
She’s right, of course, and there are just a few things I want to say about that.
It seems that as women, we are up against a barrage of conflicting messages which tell us who we should be, what we should be and how we should be. We’re expected (and sometimes desire) to be perfect, and yet we’re not allowed to look like we are working for it. The only thing we know for sure is that things must always appear effortless, like we woke up and things are just naturally in place. We’re naturally beautiful, naturally loving, naturally composed. This creates a breeding ground for insecurity, because you and I both know that this level of perfectionism is not only irrational, but entirely unreachable.
This measuring stick we hold, it’s there even when we think it’s not. We might have all the self-generated worth in the world, but the minute we collide with a woman we perceive to be that bit too amazing for us, a feeling crawls out of its hiding place and swarms just beneath our skin; the one that tells us we are ordinary and small and riddled with imperfection.
What would happen, I wonder, if we believed we were enough. What would happen if instead of saying but I’m not, but I’m not, but I’m not, we grabbed ourselves by the shoulders, sat ourselves down and said, Ah, but you are. You ARE. What would happen if we believed in perfection as much as we believed in Santa. That is to say, not at all. Not even the tiniest bit. What would happen if we started making different choices about ourselves, and different choices about the women around us, I wonder.
When we are in a shop and we see a tired and impatient mother trying to tame her misbehaving children, we have a choice. We can choose, in that moment, to decide that we are better than her. We can glance away and conclude that we are okay and that she is not.
OR we can choose to flash her an understanding smile which says, I’ve been there too.
When we are introduced to a woman for the first time and feel intimidated by her – her hair, her composure, her beauty, her success – we have a choice. We can decide that she is better than us. We can glance away and conclude that we are not okay and she is okay.
OR we can be wise enough to know better.
Because do you see where the measuring stick takes us? Its markers are forever adjusting, and in the space of twenty minutes, we can assess ourselves as okay or not okay depending on which woman we come into contact with. It’s ludicrous You see how ludicrous it is, right?
When it comes to judging our worth by how others are going, we will never feel worthy. We will never, ever get there.
The truth as I know it is this:
Nobody is perfect. Not one person. Perfectionism is an unreachable, man-made construct that doesn’t actually exist. In my current favourite book, Daring Greatly, Brene’ Brown talks a lot about perfectionism. More or less, she says that perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. It’s not about the quest for personal growth. Desiring to be perfect is about approval. It’s about doing things so well that no one can pick up on the flaws we hide so we can avoid the pain of blame, judgement and feelings of unworthiness, and the risk that we are, in fact, unlovable.
There is nothing women need more today than to put down our measuring sticks, look in the mirror and know that we are enough. There is nothing we need more than to stop comparing ourselves to other women and measuring our insides against their outsides. What would happen if we all let ourselves be seen, I wonder, instead of holding our neat little lives so firmly in place that no realness, no support and no sisterhood could ever get in. What would happen if instead of feeling jealous of other women, we could feel inspired by them? What would happen if we put down our armor and became vulnerable to each other? What would happen if the women of the world came together purely and simply for the benefit of mankind? Would it not be the greatest force the world has ever seen?
“Until we are true to ourselves, we offer the world nothing more than a pale imitation of what we might have been…and none of us, not one of us, is here for that.” Elizabeth Lindsay at TEDxWomen.
Picture from here.