Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Threat of Failure

There have been a flurry of articles lately about women's happiness. Our feminist fore-mothers predicted that as traditional roles loosened and more areas of opportunity were opened to women, women's happiness would increase. But it hasn't. In fact, it's tanked.

I've been mulling it over, and while I'm no expert, I can say that in my own life I find the expectations of others to be a huge source of stress. Its like body image. I get up in the morning and take a look in the mirror and say, "I'm not perfect, but I look pretty good." But often as the day wears on and I see and compare myself with others, my faults begin to leap out at me. At this point there are two responses:
1. say to myself, she is probably more attractive than me, there's nothing I can do about that.
2. I bet if I lost 5 lbs I could have legs/abs/arms like that

And while response 1 seems more hopeless, I think its actually a better way of looking at the problem. Because I know that I'm healthy, and it doesn't matter whether or not I'm the most attractive woman I know. I have more to offer than a pretty face.

The same thing happens with career comparisons. If I were alive a generation ago, and Ryan and I were introduced to another couple and I said "I'm a housewife, he's an engineer" no eyebrows would have been raised. But, in our current situation, I hate facing that question. People feel awkward meeting an unemployed person; they don't know what to talk about. Its a relief to meet other women who are in the same boat.

When people do engage me on the subject of work, its always the same conversation. "Well, what did you study? Theater! How...interesting. There's an English Theater in Frankfurt, why don't you go do some acting there?" As if I'd snap my fingers and dash out of the building, run straight to the stage, burst into tune and instantly get cast in an entire season's worth of shows. I know people are trying to be helpful, but I'd rather talk about the lint that collects between my couch cushions than hear most peoples' suggestions for furthering my career in Frankfurt.

Ryan and I have been having the "what should I do with my life" talk lately. I know that I like working with kids, and I think I would like to become a teacher. But I've started looking into that possibility and so far all I've gotten is a big pile of NO. I'm going to investigate further, but if I end up "just a nanny," it would be nice if people actually treated that like a serious job. I certainly do! Instead of giving me piteous looks, people could imagine that I'm highly qualified and good at what I do.

Maybe the only way to deal with the outrageous expectations placed on women (great career, successful marriage, happy children, volunteer work) are simply to defy them. I don't believe its possible, that American mantra, "you can have it all." And the more people that would acknowledge that, the less expectations we would feel. Perhaps we'd all wind up happier.

No comments: