I’m working on clearing a great big thing right now. It’s tightly bound with a lot of the things I thought about last year along the themes of self-actualisation, self-esteem and self-sabotage. The thing I’m clearing is the programming of a few hundred ideas and memories that all lead to one beautifully pleated but ultimately useless conclusion about womanhood and martyrdom being intertwined and about my time somehow being less valuable than my husbands or that of my kids (and, on some days, that of my neighbours, friends, yadda yadda, you get the idea…). The bottom line is that I seem to have a default position of being quite keen on pushing myself to the end of the list and then moaning when I find myself, quelle surprise, grasping at the farts of my dreams. In essence, I still have some dodgy software on board and it’s fucking up my printer.
As my kids start to really think about their futures as adults I’m acutely aware of bunging in as much good modelling as I can before they take wing. I want them to see that home is a place they can come back to in any version of themselves. I want them to see that they need creativity like they need vegetables, movement, sunlight and laughter. I want them to witness that all people are equal until someone starts playing out a scenario that oppresses others or oppresses themselves and that often that oppression is unintentional but to never become complicit in it.
So how to model all of that? I find the answer is increasingly simple – by living it.
You’d be forgiven for thinking all of this sounds familiar because you’re right. I’ve been here before. It’s a station my train frequently pulls into because I find this deprogramming work needs constantly revised. And why wouldn’t it? Every time we switch on the telly, see a billboard or thumb through magazines we’re fed messages that women do children, cleaning, sex and body hate while men are for work, play, money and adventure. A huge percentage of older people in our society reaffirm constantly that gender balance is something new age to have a wee giggle at. So I figure that until the messages going in are balanced we’ll have to keep re-balancing them for ourselves.
I remember the first time I went for a run. I was shit at it. I had to do it again and again and again and again (repeat for about 2.5 years) until I started to feel like it was part of me – that the being a runner was at least as ingrained as the not being a runner. Forming new habits takes time, especially when we have a whole cacophony of crap going on in our thoughts urging us to jump off the merry go round and into the crash mat every time we get disorientated. The thing that makes me persist is the idea that I really want the result because intuition is determined that it’s the right thing and who the hell said it would be easy anyway?
My thoughts are playing hide and seek on this whole deprogramming sexism thing. It reminds me of standing in the playground at school when I was wee, turning 360 on the spot and trying to catch a glimpse of any movement of someone else in the game who was trying to get back to base without my detection. Sometimes it was the flash of a jacket sleeve that didn’t match any of the other sleeves in a gaggle of girls. Sometimes it was the glimpse of a bare knee above a white sock hiding among a huddle of grey trouser legged boys. Sometimes it was someone’s face appearing from halfway up the corner of a white harled wall and then snatching backwards again, out of sight.
I think we have to train ourselves to keep seeing it, to start remarking on it every single time in order that it gets absolutely no sanctuary in our decisions or changing self-image. To scan the playground and notice the thoughts so they don’t get back to base before us.
This deprogramming work can, of course, be a little unsettling. Unpicking beliefs that have shaped identity, experiences and personality is like walking into your comfort zone as if it were a cosy room and setting at bits of it with a pickaxe. Shelves fall down on one side. A previously perfectly propped cushion lands face down on the rug. The tie back goes missing from one curtain and pages get ripped out of your once tidy stack of magazines. Then there’s a phase of simply learning to sit down anyway; getting comfortable within the uncomfortable followed by reorganising things so they’re less fragile. Putting up a new pickaxe proofed shelf. Choosing new magazines or chucking the lot in the bin with a yee-haa of liberated delight. Ripping down the other curtains and getting someone who knows what they’re doing to make you roman blinds for the joy of their simplicity, common sense and beauty. Putting the cushion back unpropped and unplumped, because it’s easier to relax and sit back like that without a thought to what appearances you’re despoiling.
This morning a Twitter friend shared this wonderful footage of Jada Pinkett Smith talking to her daughter about life balance. Whether a woman has children or not, what Pinkett Smith has to say is undeniably powerful.
Bottom line: when we fail to act upon our own need for happiness, nothing works.