As you all know India has two olympics medal wins, both women. So we celebrated women power so to speak. The entire Olympics were a testament to women spokesperson winners & participation. As you can imagine a lot was said in all forms of media & social media about women empowerment & equality, so on & so forth. I decided to stay more or less out of it.
But as fate would have it, we rarely have a choice when your unconscious or implicit memory decides to join in the fray. I haven’t decided if it were fortunate or unfortunate but my latent mental models about gender roles decided to just jump in! I am trying not to feel betrayed but I am. It unleashed a torrent of emotions, painful ones some of them. I was left with tears, pain, anger & surprise! Honestly it was also a tad inconvenient. I mean I had things to do! Talk about being betrayed by your own brain! As if the external world isn’t enough to to deal with it. If I could use an emoticon , I would use my favourite one. The rolling eyes.
On a psychological note, something needed to be worked through, processed. It came up as do things, the ones that are protected against. They seem to pop up when the time seems right, when resources seem enough, when it feels safe. So it did, even if not really wanted, it did, even if painful, it did, even if inconvenient, it did & eventually I am glad that it did. What I feel & share in the following lines, therefore is personal, a part of my story, an important part. So I would like you, my readers, to wear your heart on your sleeves & listen with compassionate ears.
Here is the story.
Here I was happily pottering through my day, trolling the social media as an entertainment, reading the one too many headlines about women rights or empowerment. The Burkini ban, the Olympic coverage, local news & then came the tipping point. A post written by a lady who isn’t even on my timeline about how women need to dress decently. She used a story & a picture to illustrate her point. In that story she used the iPad as a metaphor for women’s body & the screen guard & cover as clothes. For reasons unknown to me then, this post really really held my heart in a vice like grip. I was very, very upset, to my utter surprise. I shared it with a few close friends, expressed my disappointment. Normally that helps. It didn’t help. I responded to it, it didn’t help. It just stayed, in its vice like grip.
Now I was a bit taken aback. I know I tend to be passionate about things, especially gender equality but I also know which battles are important. I wouldn’t risk losing the war for the want of a few battles. This certainly wasn’t worth fighting for. The person who wrote it wasn’t significant. It was silly at best. So why the angst?
I have a particular dislike for feelings that stay lodged in the heart, without its accompanying meaning. Don’t we just all hate it!! So I struggled till my partner came home.
As I shared my thoughts & whatever sense I could make of my upset, which my rational mind had already termed as an ‘over reaction’ I will let you on a secret “I. Hate. My. Overreactions.” In such situations my feelings meter is skyrocketing & I need to bear a whole lot before I calm down. The situations aren’t really that bad but I respond to things with a temperamentally endowed ability to feel things deeply, like the impossibly deep marina trench. How exhausting & at times unnecessary!
I digress, my apologies. I kind of proved my own point there. As I shared my feelings, tears started almost as if a dam were broken. Hmmm. I knew by now I had touched upon a very painful part of my life story. Something that had lain dormant for ages had made its presence felt. Being a psychologist sometimes is helpful. This was one of the times. A series of memories flashed, pained emotions found a voice, giving them an opportunity to heal.
Here’s what came up.
I grew up in a huge family with varied experiences & people. Though it no longer is as patriarchal, it was a fair bit when I was younger. So tiny bits of experiences floated in my mind, dredging up feelings that had been felt at that time but didn’t have anyone to listen to. Kind of disowned bits of feelings & thoughts floating around from my long term memory.
I remembered being body shamed much through my adolescence. I was a skinny kid, good lord, very skinny. Of course, now it would be fashionable but then it wasn’t. I was told by various respected women that my head was too big for my body, breasts were too small, nose too flat- as a way to help my marital prospects – they helpfully asked me to put a clothes pin on it / the nose to kind of liven it up, I was too short, you get the general idea. I was wanting in most physical aspects. All with the idea that I look physically attractive for Marriage. I begin to hate marriage. No prizes for guessing why.
Another bunch of helpful lot asked my mother to not just rely on my bright mind: ( I had a pretty good academic record), being married happily apparently required exceptional household management skills. My mother panicked, started training me in earnest. It added fuel for my dislike for marriage & started the pain for being a girl. Again no prizes.
As training to be a superwoman, I studied, learned to cook, serve, dress demurely, all in the preparation of being married, covertly of course. I had already decided by then that I would marry someone who would be very keen to marry me, may be a tad desperate or would just drop the whole thing! Talk about reaction-formation!
On a serious note, I can account these small incidents that consistently happened over the years. They didn’t seem important. They hurt but they made me stronger. Ain’t that the motto? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No, it really doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t kill you but seems like it is killing you, leaves a deep void inside of you, a void, a wound that needs to be healed. But my unconscious had its own journey to make.
I am a woman who handles home & work today with decent skills, brought up with a privileged upbringing. I really had it much easier than a lot of people I know. So why am I distraught? Because small painful incidents repeatedly, consistently happening, leave a deep impact on the psyche. We call it small ‘t’ trauma. I didn’t just end up disliking the concept of marriage, I ended up disliking me, my body, my mind. A part of me learned to be subservient as a woman & I didn’t even know it. So I worked hard over the years, I peeled off my layers bit by bit to learn to accept myself, like myself. I built a relationship with different parts of me. It was hard work, painful, labouring work & I still manage to slip once in a while.
Looking at the picture today & the sanctimonious monologue by the ‘iPad-are-like-women’ lady, brought back similarly dolled out advice from the past. It brought back what I hadn’t worked with, the sense of betrayal, anger, disappointment with the people who unwittingly had helped write this part of the story. Most were women, now have grandchildren, daughters, daughters-in-law who are challenging their own notions today. They have changed or may be have had to change or they struggle with what they call ‘generation gap’. I can hazard a guess how tough it must have been for them.
But I was angry as I narrated these incidents to my spouse. I needed to be angry. I needed to let myself feel the pain, loneliness & mourn the losses for that young child who struggled so badly, so painfully & come to the point to applaud her efforts to still hold on to her dignity. I needed to make that journey, needed to have that story told, heard by healing ears.
As they say, ‘healing begins when someone bears witness‘. My adult self needed to bear witness to the pain of that young girl, to let it go, to move on.
Only then could I come to the point of acceptance. Acceptance for what it was & what it is today. Acceptance for what was lost & what can be enjoyed today.
For these men & women possibly had the same experiences that they unwittingly or may be wittingly passed on to me. Similar pain, angst. May be some revel in it, may be some don’t even know it exists. But it’s the same thread that binds us all.
“What we tolerate, becomes a part of us,
What is a part of us, is passed on as our legacy, as other’s inheritance.
Received sometimes willingly, sometimes as an unwelcome gift.”
What makes the most impact, are the subliminal messages we give to ourselves, and to others. They stay out of awareness forming our personality. So the next time, you ask your boy to stop feeling, think. Next time you shut down an idea from your bright little girl, reflect. Next time you talk about ideas of marriage or a relationship, feel.
May be then we can entertain the thought of a revolution for an accepting world.