Always a little bit lacking

Kerry, over at Pickle Me This, recently posted this excerpt from Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman:

I’m talking about the common attitudinal habit in women that we’re kind of…failing if we’re not a bit neurotic. That we’re somehow boorish, complacent, and unfeminine if we’re content.

The way women feel that they are not so much well-meaning human beings doing the best they can but, instead, an endless list of problems (fat, hairy, unfashionable, spotty, smelly, tired, unsexy, and with a dodgy pelvic floor, to boot) to be solved. And that, with the application of a great deal of time and money–I mean a great deal of time and money. Have you seen how much laser hair removal is?–we might, one day, 20 years into the future, finally be able to put our feet up and say, “For nine minutes today, I almost nailed it.”

Before, of course, starting up the whole grim, remorseless, thankless schedule the next day, all over again.

So if I was asked, “Do you know how to be a woman now?” my answer would be, “Kind of yes, really, to be honest.”

This passage sums up my quite wary approach to resolutions these days.  It’s not that I can’t see what there is to improve upon in my domestic/physical/mental/career/married/maternal life.  I can see thousands of areas that need improvement, some of them genuine and some of them the product of the kind of socially-sanctioned female neurosis that Moran describes: there’s something wrong with me if I’m not worried about there being something wrong with me, so I must find it and resolve to fix it.  Times 1000.

My problem is separating what might be a genuinely meaningful flaw from one that I’ve imagined.  My problem is limiting the exercize.  My problem is knowing when to stop.  I get that resolutions do not have to be about totally transforming oneself into someone unrecognizable.  I get that these things can be done sensibly and in moderation.  Just not by me.

When I was writing my Ph.D. thesis, I came to the end of an 18-hour work day.  I could not have worked longer or have been more productive, and I still could not summon a sense of pride in the work I had done.  It still wasn’t enough; I still felt lacking.  And if 18-hour workdays aren’t enough, then there’s no point resolving to try harder.  One musty resolve, rather, to re-define “enough.”

My difficulties as an academic carry through to my difficulties as a woman and a mother: no matter how hard I try, it will never be enough.   I hasten to add, that it’s not just the pressure to be hairless and thin to which I refer.  It’s also the pressure to be a good feminist mother and role model to boys.  I can tell you that I was not best pleased to hear one of my sons complete the proverb thus: “A woman’s work is to clean.”  As soon as he said that, my first reaction was to feel the pressure to make a resolution, to resolve to change that perception.  But how?  I’m not going to do any less cleaning in the service of performing gender equality for the benefit of my sons.  Besides, I already feel like I don’t do enough to keep the house perfectly clean!  See above.

So the exercise becomes not how to resolve to be “better”, but how to define “good” in a sensible way, to stop making resolutions, to stop finding things to fix, to stop focussing quite so intently on what’s lacking.

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6 thoughts on “Always a little bit lacking

  1. We all need to give ourselves a break! Let go, loosen up a little and work out how you can make time for yourself to have some fun, relax or just be YOURSELF each and every day. The house cleaning really does not matter! Love yourself first x

    • Ha! We *are* the same person, but I don’t just rage in my head. The kids get the full effect of my impatience when boots and coats take too long! I’ve learned to embrace the Irish heritage responsible for the lack of patience. How can we work that into the Grade 2 Heritage Project homework? A model of kids half in snowsuits and Mother in flames.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! Very well put. As a fellow (oops, I mean she-fellow?) academic and mother, I never feel like I have done nearly enough, and continually feel like I could do better, professionally and personally. I have also reached the conclusion that if 18-hour days don’t allow me to get everything done, I need to redefine “enough”. But this is exceptionally challenging when, from my perception, others continue to get farther ahead and I feel like I am barely treading water. I want more quality time with my kids, and frequently compare my childhood (stay-at-home mom) to theirs. I can’t have it all but it is hard to put my finger on “enough”.

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