50 days in. What do milestones mean on a journey that has no end? Well, we celebrate birth, graduation, marriage and other Life milestones, and that seems important. I guess I sometimes feel like societal expectations for life accelerate us towards its end.
I’m approaching 40 this year, and I feel pretty okay about it. But I’ve got a lot of privileges around it. (Societal conformity privilege maybe?) More than one woman friend has intimated (or outright stated) that approaching this milestone is difficult when you haven’t ticked all the expected boxes – especially as women in a society that doesn’t really seem to value us outside of the three fated roles: maiden, mother, hag.
When we are young, it seems like our value is to be in our looks and our purity. We must be simultaneously yielding and chaste, attractive and open to the approaches of men (or else we’re frigid bitches) but never to open our legs to any other than the “right” man – who is only ever the particular man who has decided that we are his prize – (else we be sluts).
So much of our existence is taken up with dancing society’s (well, let’s face it, men’s) expected dance that it’s amazing we achieve anything else at all! I nearly got married at 23 and why? Good lord, when there was so much life to be lived in front of me, why was I rushing towards house-kids-steadyjob as quickly as I could manage? No-one ever said explicitly that that was my role as a “Good Woman” (and at that age I would never have referred to myself as a woman, only a girl – talk about infantilisation!), but we women are socialised to “read between the lines” and dance prettily between them to boot. Our very survival depends on it.
Phase 2, if you’ve navigated your “maiden” years appropriately, is the “reward” of womanhood. Now it’s time to shed your sexuality and attractiveness. It’s time to become the Wife and Mother. The rules and targets around this phase are even more arbitrary and subject to the whims of fate, and yet society dictates that You’ve Done Something Wrong! if you somehow fail to meet them.
No. 1. No children out of wedlock. (Yes, really. And if you do, you will be punished and it will be your fault and you will be declared lazy and scrounging and a burden on the state. But the father will no be so-called.)
No. 2. Therefore you must marry because as a woman your purpose is to procreate and raise children. And you are selfishly risking non-fulfillment of your purpose if you wait much past 30 to marry.
No. 3. All the same, you should marry your One True (opposite sex) Soulmate, otherwise you are cheapening the wonderful institution of marriage. Failure to find your One True Soulmate indicates that you have done something wrong. Possibly by being too slutty. Or too frigid.
No. 4. You must have children. Not being able to have children is sad. Therefore you should “just adopt” (because that’s easy!) or put your body through all sorts of hells for artificial reproductive therapy, but never ever talk about it, because it’s kind of “wrong” because don’t you know motherhood is all natural. Or y’know “just relax” because maybe you just don’t want it badly enough.
Not wanting children is even more wrong. But you’re just young, you’ll change your mind in time. You’re a woman, you don’t know your own mind, society knows it for you. Change your mind quickly though, coz those eggs won’t last forever, you know!
No. 5 – onety-million. The “rules” around the proper care and feeding of children (and Your Man) are insane, unwritten and unbendable and seem to all boil down to this:
Whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough and probably wrong.
I don’t know much about Phase 3 of life as a woman. I know that at least part of the unwritten rules here has something about being mostly invisible outside of your role as a carer. And possibly baking is an essential life-skill at this point.
So, why am I so angry and cranky about this? After all, I’m in the privileged position of having hit the appropriate milestones in the appropriate order, right? Well I did do what I wanted in life (although it’s really hard to untangle that knot – what do I want vs what I’m being told I want), but it wasn’t (isn’t!) straightforward, and when I “failed” to hit the targets in a timely manner, it was really painful and there was an underlying message out there that I was unimportant outside of my “role”.
Even having “hit the targets” I sometimes feel unimportant outside of my motherhood role and that is really difficult to reject because it’s such a bloody strong message.
But I do reject it. My motherhood is incidental to my personhood. Taking care of our home is the responsibility of every living creature in it (yes, even the dogs have some small role in that! ,,, maybe not the fish). Family is the people you choose to have around you for support (and for you to support) in your life, and that needs no stupid pre-defined structure in order to be valid.