It is a rare woman who does not lose her deep connection with her inner voice in the process of growing up. As a child, she has a strong connection to her inner world and imagination. But as she grows up, things change. The rules that society places on girls as they enter adolescence, on the verge of becoming women, is intense. The messages about expectations and compliance are delivered virtually non-stop and they create a racket. Trying to hear one’s own voice amongst a sea of voices can be challenging.
It would be nice if we were like a bead of oil dropped into water. That drop of oil moves around with the water but it remains distinct from it. It is always clear where the water finishes and the oil begins. We are much more solvent than the oil. Once we are brought into the prevailing culture, we quickly dissolve, and it is virtually impossible to see where the culture ends and we begin.
As children, we are unaware we even need to maintain a concept of self, let alone any idea about how to achieve this difficult task so young. Instead, we do all that we can to satisfy our instinctive desire for acceptance and connection.
Girls have a very natural tendency towards relationships. We crave them. While we may express it in different ways, we are obsessed with relationships and love. We are highly emotional beings and our empathy and sensitivity are simply part of our natural compass. Of course, these are generalisations, and every female (and male) will vary. What doesn’t change is that femininity is a strength — at least, it is until we grow up and undergo a process of indoctrination into a culture that would have us believe otherwise.
I became most uncomfortably aware of the indoctrination process while reading Carol Gilligan’s book, Joining the Resistance. Gilligan wrote, ‘It was the research with girls that elucidated more radically an intersection where psychological development collides with the demands of patriarchy, its gender norms and roles and values. The research highlighted what had previously been taken as a stage in the normal course of development and showed it to be a process of initiation, the induction of the psyche into patriarchy.’
Upon reviewing the research, my own indoctrination was quite apparent. While growing up, I, like so many of the girls in Gilligan’s study, experienced feelings of ‘losing my mind’ or not being able to trust my own judgements. I too was caught up in the ‘riddle of femininity’ in patriarchy, which forces girls to choose between having a voice and having relationships.
As females, we have emotions, thoughts and feelings within us which clash with societal expectations. So we tend to separate these inner parts of ourselves and hide those parts that are not considered acceptable. We quiet our internal voice and keep it secret and away from judgement, in order to protect ourselves from being rejected by the culture we are moving into as young women.
As we become women we sense something is not right. Something is surely amiss when women are ridiculed, demonised or patronised for being women. When natural, life giving functions like breastfeeding or menstruation become excuses to shame women, something has gone awry. When women make up approximately half the world’s population but significantly less of the governing institutions, something untoward is taking place.
As we review our history as well as our present, we also see examples of fierce women who rejected their indoctrination. Unfortunately, they often paid a high price for their defiance against systems attempting to enslave or defame them. But fortunately for us, their legacies live on as women who forced changes in spite of everything they were up against. Their victories, in spite of their losses, inspire us. Thanks to their courage, we can look at our own reflections and see what is possible.