Thanks to my gender I’ve known from a very young age that the expectations for me were radically different than the expectations for a child born to the opposite gender.
Thanks to my gender I was taught that it was preferable to be;
– caring (even towards those who would hurt us – sometimes especially towards them)
– gentle (no raised voices, no swearing, no anger)
– accommodating (we learn to compromise, to put other people’s needs ahead of our own)
– carers (the eternal mothers, even before puberty)
– pacifists (we are mediators, the calming ones)
So many times I heard variations on how girls were meant to conduct ourselves, and no, I didn’t grow up in the 40’s.
“Young ladies don’t swear”
“Don’t raise your voice”
“Don’t antagonise the boys”
I don’t recall ever hearing boys told the same things.
We were told our roles in life through what we were supposedly better than boys at.
We were, apparently, naturally better with younger children and babies, and area which requires a high degree of selflessness.
We were, apparently, naturally better at servile tasks like cooking and cleaning, though note that once it goes beyond a mundane, everyday kind of job and is more of an art form then suddenly it’s the domain of men.
We were, apparently, naturally more suited to communicating with others – mostly if that communicating was to do with mediating, soothing, and easing social interactions. Note that when people talk about women being better at communication it is rarely followed by talk of women being better at sales roles, taking leadership positions or taking part in discussions. Despite these all being communication roles, they are the “wrong” type for the female stereotype. And a woman with a skill in these areas is seen as a masculine woman.
By contrast we saw boys being taught a very different set of life lessons.
Boys who didn’t speak up for themselves were weak and “girlie”.
If boys fought/argued/were boisterous and unruly then it was “boys will be boys”
Boys were supposedly not so good at the caring and servile tasks that our vaginas made us so suitable for.
Their communication style was, supposedly naturally forthright, more confrontational, less compromising, more assertive. If a boy showed signs of not fitting that mould he was, you’ve guessed it, “girlie”.
We were taught over and over that we were not meant to be angry, anger was bad. In boys it was, at worst, unproductive but natural. In girls it was just plain wrong.
Our anger was to be shoved deep down where it couldn’t affect anyone else. Women who were angry were treated like aberrations.
A woman frustrated with unequal chores in the home and family was a “nag”.
A woman angry at inequality in society was “hysterical”.
A woman hurt by a partner was “bitter” or a “bunny boiler”.
With this constant drip drip of stereotyping from such a young age I now have real issues with anger – that most unacceptable of emotions in a woman. This doesn’t mean I have a violent temper and a risk to others, what it means is that I’ve buried my anger so deep inside that the only one it hurts is me.
I’m now genuinely scared of anger, while I’ve been in bad relationships they haven’t been characterised by anger. So my fear of it isn’t so much the fear of other’s anger. It’s that I have so little experience of anger in myself, and what little experience I have is so negative, even the positives are negative.
I’m so unused to letting my anger manifest that it just builds up and up, I can count on one hand the times I’ve really got angry, and they scare the hell out of me. Nothing bad happened though, I raged, and in most of them I finally achieved something that had needed to be done, but something about bottling it up meant that when it finally went I genuinely had no control of it. I was barely aware of what was happening. It was always like I wasn’t there. It’s a scary thing to lose control of yourself so much.
I learnt as I grew up to control my emotion a little by letting it out in tiny drips, and because I wasn’t comfortable with being publicly angry, I turned it inwards. Whether it was self harm via cutting, hair pulling, or disordered eating. I aimed that anger at myself a bit at a time, in the vague hope I could hold the rest of it back.
Force down the little frustrations, choke on the bigger hurts, but keep it all in. Every last bit.
If someone angers me, smile politely and make sure interactions stay placid.
If something makes my blood boil, put it to a back burner while I focus on another’s needs.
And pray the drip drip eases the pressure.
I don’t know how to undo three decades of this, I suspect doing so would help me, but I am so scared of allowing myself to be angry.