One thing that I have been unable to tell people about is my profound sense of betrayal.
For years, I was largely defined by academic achievement. My parents told me, punctuating drives to school and conversation at home, to study to become financially independent.
Don’t depend on any man to support you, they urged me. Study hard, get a job that pays a lot and then you can do what you like as hobbies. Write, read, do it in all that spare time you’ll have furnished by all of that spare cash. What if your husband dies, or you divorce? You have to prepare yourself.
And so, this was the refrain. The extreme, strict emphasis on grades and being the best turned my dreams into nightmares. Hours and hours flew past in worry, sweating through teacher conferences and dreading unfavourable grades. Surviving arguments and bickering and countless comparisons and hoping for snatches of occasional praise that rarely came because it was all expected of me—this is all time that I will never get back. It has shaped me in some ways—I am jumpy, nervous, suspicious of goodness and insecure. It cut my childhood short.
And now that I am moving through my twenties I am confronted by the falsity of all of this. This is because, apparently, I should focus on a husband. Apparently a lot of the freedoms I have ever longed for are denied a girl who is unmarried. And most importantly, I should find one before I am old and crusty and nobody wants me. Which is imminent, and I should be singleminded in this, and promptly give myself over to producing offspring, as dumbly as a breeding mare.
Never mind the years of education and toil that have coloured so many of my waking moments. I’m old enough to bleed and old enough to breed, as they say, so why the fuck aren’t I doing it?
And this pains me and nettles me so, and in a strangely productive whirl. It makes me more determined to do what I want to, and stubbornly affixes me to my ambitions. Never in the narrative is the boy told to hurry up before his insides curdle impotently, or to search far and wide because he never may find her, or to put any of those goals on hold and surrender to biological fate. No, the onus is always on the girl to paint herself appealingly as well as learn the arts of hoodwink and man trapping, whilst somehow being filled with virtue but also enough book learnin’ to get her through life and into a job that she will throw over or juggle with the demands of home & hearth, and keep up a conversation and learn how to be a sex goddess but also be earthy enough to balance the household budget and scrub the toilet.
I will never be this supercomputer in the pretty but soon to be past her sell by date shell of woman, and I don’t want to try. I don’t like children, so I don’t want to wrestle them into this world on a wave of painkillers and dissatisfaction. I can’t cook, I can barely clean and I don’t tolerate shit or being bored.
The other day at a dinner I was so close to standing up and screaming because our side of the table, populated by ladies, was full of soft talk while on the other side, the men got on with the real, interesting conversations, that I longed to be part of, to spark off into debate.
I’m not abnormal, or a strange unkind witch for disliking children and not feeling willing to accept every thing expected of a woman. Somewhere in there, a hokey side of me wants to get married one day, but on my own terms, because a man is not going to fill every deep dreamy part of me, skewed by ambition and desire and years of eroded self confidence. There’s a lewd joke in there, but I won’t make it. I want an equal, to be an icing on the cake of life and not the cake itself. I won’t always cook, or keep quiet because I’m told to, and I want a companion to talk and laugh and push through this strange tangible adventure with. I will fight and spit and love my freedom before anyone else. I accept no less, and I barely care for anything approximating—save your words of love and leery compliments, and don’t even bother trying to pick me up.
For ultimately I am alone, and happy. I am angry at the treachery that underlines a woman’s life, but I can also read Greer and Friedan and co and feel every word like a ringing—questioning, unrelenting and true that now a woman can do mostly everything a man can, and better.
And so I am almost thankful for the creeping deceit because it makes me hungrier for what I want, rather than cowing me. Women go to space, run countries, fix cars and sit on boards. They don’t need permission slips or husbands or a box of tissues in case the world is overwhelming.
And there are ways to go yet because still there are things holding equality back—grindingly rude pop videos and the rape culture and pay gaps and Caroline Wilson’s head on a dummy and jokes about kitchens and complaints about moody cows and PMT, and women who can’t drive and those who can’t exercise because it encourages immorality, and read.
And god have mercy, the yummy mummies and the vacuous magazine aliens trying to transform you into a sexy underfed Venus flytrap that can do the downward facing dog that will show off your arse in the latest couture at the same time as please a man all night long, because that’s YOUR job, you silly bint. So, (I) haven’t come (that much) of a long way, baby. But at least now my thoughts are clarified in myself, if not simplified somewhat in print.