I hear it in my friend's conversations, I hear it in the media, I hear it in my client's voices, and mostly, I hear it in my head. It's everywhere. Sometimes it's loud and blaring in my face, other times it's hidden, almost hard to notice. I'm talking about the pressure we face to meet the "ideal" standard of being a women.
According to our society, here is what the "perfect" woman might look like:
She is happily married with children by 30. She is with her kids each day, enjoys making organic, homemade meals, and has a clean house that is Pinterest worthy. She should, simultaneously, be an independent woman with a successful career. Her career is her passion outside the home and she rocks it.
Oh, and even though she is somehow both staying at home AND working, she must look GOOD doing it, thanks to the daily pilates class she is able to attend in all her free time.
Call me a pessimist, but this isn't going to work.
We live a culture where when a single women attends a family or social gathering, they are *always* asked if they are dating. If they say no, they are asked why not. If they say yes, they are asked if/when they are taking the next step and getting engaged.
Married women who don't have children are similarly bombarded with the question "when are you having babies?" I can't even imagine how painful that question would become for women struggling with infertility, and how annoying it would get for women who don't want a baby.
And then there are the moms. Stay at home moms often get asked "what do you do all day?" You know, since keeping a miniature human alive doesn't seem to be much of a task, what else do you do? You must be bored. And lonely. Also, you should probably have a spotless house if you stay at home doing nothing all day.
Or the passive aggressive comments working moms get from people who believe a woman should stay at home with her children, disregarding the fact that this is often not a financial possibility for a family... and also that some women just really love their career.
Personally, as a part time working mom, I find that even though I technically can do both, I feel there isn't enough time to really invest in either aspects- my career or my home. I don't contribute much financially to the family and feel guilty about that. I also don't do great with house tasks (and that's saying it kindly), also feeling guilty about that.
How the heck do we win, then? In regards to cultural standards, we don't. So, in order to feel good about what we are doing as women, we need to step outside these standards and create our own.
I believe part of the problem, and the solution, lie in how we talk to and think about women.
We tend to view women as who they are in relationship to others. A mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, etc. This isn't a bad thing until we forget that they are, in themselves, unique and important regardless of their relationships.
This too often happens for women with children. Their entire identity gets wrapped into being a mom. Part of this may stem from how WE talk to moms. Consider any conversation you have had with a new mom lately. How much of the conversation was about how the baby was doing? How much of it was about how she was doing WITH the baby? Probably a good portion of the conversation, if not all of it.
And again, this isn't a bad thing unless we forget to ask the new mom how SHE is. Not how her baby is. Not how her and her baby are doing together. Just how she is.
What if we didn't push cultural norms on women? Instead of asking a single woman why she isn't dating, we could ask her what she does in her free time. Instead of asking a mom why she chose to work, we could ask her what she likes about her career. We could find out what they like, their passions, their goals.
I'm certainly not saying that our families shouldn't be a huge part of our lives or our priority. But I believe that in order for us to remove the pressures women feel, we need to recognize that every woman has a different calling on her life, and no calling is better or worse than another.
A woman who is a mother is no more valuable than a single woman. A stay at home mom is not a better woman than a working mom. They are just different.
The other thing we need to do is stop placing these expectations on ourselves. Stop comparing our journey to other women's journey.
We know that the comparison game is ALWAYS a losing game.
So no matter where you are at right now, single, married, a mom of 5, working, not working, rich, poor, big house, still living with your parents, or anything else.. your worth does not come from how you meet societal standards. Truly, it doesn't.
Don't let the cultural pressures stop you from enjoying your life or feeling less than. You are more than your relationships. You are more than what you have. You were made with a purpose that is uniquely for you. Don't let anyone (including yourself) diminish that.