I guess it started when I was nine and my classmate pulled up my skirt in the playground. I discovered two things: that this world is definitely biased against whoever dares to question the status quo; and that I was never going to be ‘normal’ enough to keep quiet for long.
That afternoon as I walked home from school, I debated whether to tell my mother or to just keep it to myself. In the end I decided to keep it to myself because it was less complicated. I already had a reputation for being too loud and feisty, and this was not good from my parents´ point of view.
Like all green dogs, I knew I would neither be understood nor capable of explaining myself.
When I was 16, I failed two subjects at high school. My father sat me down and gave me the talk about him working hard for me to study and that if I didn’t get good grades he’d pull me out of school. I was expecting it because they weren’t used to it (me failing) and for people who had lived through the Spanish civil war and had had to emigrate to make a living, effort was the standard. But immediately after he’d said his piece about studying more, he went on to say something that has stayed with me til this day. He said that if I fooled around and got pregnant he’d throw me out of the house. I took offence at this because I was such a good girl, I was dumb. I didn’t even think of going out with a boy and it wouldn’t be til 3 years later at university that I’d have a boyfriend at all.
Another anecdote is when, at the age of 22, I was awarded a prize of one week with all expenses paid to Paris because I was an outstanding French student at the Alliance Française. They only gave one to the best student. I’d done both levels of French examinations in one year and passed. I went home excited by the perspective. When my dad heard what I had to say, he answered me very calmly that if I was old enough to decide to go, I was also old enough to find somewhere else to live when I came back. I knew they would really chuck me out, at least for a few days to punish me. I was overly responsible, aware that my parents were old and I was their only daughter, so I allowed them to bully me. The following day I told my teacher, as she was expecting an answer, and she was so taken aback that she came to my house to talk to my parents. All to no avail.
I know that if I’d been a boy they would have let me go. Why? Simple: a boy ‘doesn’t bring anything home’, meaning he won’t get knocked up. It seems that the only valuable thing about a woman is her sexuality and to control it is paramount because it means controlling reproduction. Boys do not have such perils and their parents needn’t worry so much about them.
Girls and women are loaded with the extra care and the extra responsibility regarding their sexuality as well as everything else in their lives. We are told that we must be absolutely responsible for our actions and often for the actions of others. We are told that if we don’t achieve more it’s because we are doing things wrong. It’s also the reason I think that girls are outscoring boys at school and university. We are told that we need to work harder and we are expected to prove ourselves worthier in every aspect of our lives. No wonder so many women are stressed out!
We have an issue that I’ve pointed out many times: ever since men were told that they are not responsible for women, some just regressed into being teenagers and seem incapable of caring for themselves. I see it in many friends’ relationships. I see it in my own sons, which I adore. They are bright and good but they have to be pushed to attain their goals, whereas most girls their age don’t need to be told anything or encouraged in a continuous way. And the father figure influences them tremendously, much more than the mother figure. No matter what positive things I do, they’re not usually copied. The ‘teach by example’ seems not to apply.
Could it be that men have lost their way, that for whatever the reason they cannot cope with being ‘unnecessary’? It seems that men are looking for a woman that doesn’t exist anymore, a combination of mother, lover and coddler that won’t be too demanding and will do the dirty work of organising their lives.
Meanwhile, women are looking for a man that does not, as yet, exist; a man who is strong and dependable and doesn’t need to be manipulated into doing things he doesn’t like but that are necessary, a true partner who is not afraid of expressing his feelings or of letting a woman express hers. Before anyone gets angry, the bit about manipulation was told to me precisely by men: they’ve confessed that they both depend on and detest their women (wives, mothers, girlfriends, sisters and female friends) pushing them, sometimes insistently, towards the goals that they have set for themselves.
I have always believed that although men and women are different psychologically, we share the capacity to govern our own lives and we all need support and a safe haven to retreat to when life gets rough.
Nowadays feminism is a loaded word. If you say you’re a feminist, people automatically assume that you’re a man hater. I truly doubt the men in my life feel or have ever felt unloved or unappreciated by me.
I, however, am through dragging stubborn men for their own good. I’ll help and support, I’ll love, cherish and protect but I will not steer, commandeer, coddle or prod someone who shows no sign of wanting to change or make progress. I can’t do it anymore. I am worn out, like so many women I know, after years of struggling alone with what should have been a team effort and was in fact, much to my dismay, a one-woman show.
Nobody is infallible. Nobody is so strong that they can bear whatever comes with no help. That rings true for both men and women.
Traditionally, women have held down the home front and generally made it look easy. This doesn’t mean that it actually is easy, just that it seems simple because things get done without a lot of ho’s and hum’s and in good time. If you’re not doing the organising it can even seem magical.
Being very responsible can be a burden. Being perceived as strong seems to trigger people to try to load you with more responsibilities. I, for one, have had enough of lugging around other people’s unfinished or unwanted tasks instead of pursuing my own dreams and aspirations. Like me, many women are realising that we need to count ourselves among the people we care for.
As the quote by Albert Camus says: “Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend”.
I urge you to be unabashedly you, to bask in your light, to revel in your uniqueness, to never cloak your light so that others may shine, but instead to blaze a path for others that they may find their own way.
I urge you to challenge the status quo and follow your dreams because if you don’t, you might find yourself helping someone else fulfill theirs.