Dec 26, 2011

Life || The Guilt of the Feminine

One night, I was completely engrossed in something I was writing. M had come home from work a while ago. He’d changed and everything, and then he asked me if I could get him some warm milk. I wanted to, but I was so involved that I couldn’t stop and break the flow of thoughts. I asked him to get it himself. He didn’t mind, but he was lazy so he went to bed.

I kept asking him to go take the milk, I knew he was awake. I must have asked him a dozen times when he replied, “Stop feeling guilty and just write.” I was stunned to realize that he was right. Ever since I’d refused him, a nagging guilt had refused to leave me.

Photo Credit: Mattzor

Do all women feel guilt?

M went on to tell me that he saw this in many women at his workplace, and he felt it was a major deterrent to their careers. Again he was right, I’d also met many women who would cringe and cry coming to work every morning, because they had left their babies wailing at home.

Why do women feel guilt?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. From my limited understanding, I’ve concocted a theory of sorts.

Do we feel guilt because we’re losing touch with our femininity?

Let’s talk about feminine and masculine. No not as genders, but as qualities. As in, caring, nurturing, supportive, tenderness – feminine. Protecting, bread winning, survival instincts – masculine. This is how I understand it. A man and a woman have both the feminine and the masculine within. Each individual has different dominant characteristics. So a woman may have masculine energy, while a man may have a dominance of the feminine. It’s perfectly all right, that’s not where I’m going.

Perhaps, for those of us who feel guilty, there is a clash of the two qualities or energies or whatever you may call it, within us. Is it possible that while our feminine side beckons us to go and nurture our loved ones, our masculine nature wants us to sweat it out in the field, priding ourselves in our accomplishments?

Which then, brings me to the most important question – is there really point of balance between the two? Or will life just remain a series of events where either the masculine or feminine will dominate, only to average out in the big picture?

When you are committed to your work, whether it is to make a living or just out of passion, and your duty to your family is calling, which route do you take? Not just in the major decisions, but the small, daily ones. Is there a way of attaining perfect balance every single time?

Some would say that men need to take an equal responsibility at home, so everything is shared. I don’t think that’s the solution. Yes of course, they have to. But the chances are, even when the husband is doing the dishes while the wife works on a report, somewhere deep down inside, she actually might be feeling guilt. Maybe that’s because the feminine side of her wants to tell him to go relax while she takes care of him. While the masculine demands that she give her work the very best of her focus and dedication.

So, what is the solution here? Can the perfect balancing act ever be achieved? Has anyone ever done it before? Is guilt really a bad thing to feel? Sure it is unpleasant, but does it serve as a reminder of the things we might need to spend more time on? My theory has left me with more questions than answers.

Photo Credit: wonderferret

My hunch is that there is no universal answer to all these questions. It is highly dependent upon the individual at hand. Perhaps men feel just as guilty as women do, at least we are quite vocal about everything we feel. Maybe we need to stop ourselves and look deeper, reaching the very source of the feeling. The source always makes it much easier to deal with the issue.

Thinking back on my guilt, I think I have this urgent need to become a superwoman. I expect too much of myself, and that’s an understatement. I want to keep the house spotless all the time, all the work done, clothes done, dishes done, cooking – perfect, dressing – immaculate, hair – fantabulous, body – in shape, articles – all written and beautifully at that.

I suppose I must sheepishly admit that I can accomplish all of the above, only if I miraculously gain possession of Hermione Granger’s magic wand. Maybe not even then, Miss. Granger was never good at cooking charms herself, was she?

Photo Credit: Petroleumjelliffe

The answer to my guilty dilemma is quite evident, I need to learn to be easy – on myself and also the women around me. How many times have we mind-criticized the girls around us on their callous dressing, extra pounds, or inability to just get that child to stop crying? I suppose the time has come for women around the world to join hands and agree not to be so hard on each other. To stop judging each other and then feeling bad when we are judged. To stop expecting ourselves to perform the unthinkable. Maybe we just need to let up and let go.

So the next time I catch myself in the middle of a guilt-pang, I will happily remind myself that I am not wonder-woman, I do not have 10 hands, I cannot do everything at once, and that is perfectly okay!

Do you feel guilt? How do you deal with it?

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  1. You answered many of my questions and raised few more :) I have been pondering why I couldn't let myself be and why there is always a nag to be the girl who fulfills dad's expectations which are way over my level and my own instincts to be a good home-maker too. I have often wondered if I will manage both sides of my world, career and family, the way I want to-perfect and flawless. I never got answers to these questions.

    Maybe you are right. We ought to let ourselves be and be easy on the self.

  2. I think its the way women's brains are wired. We tend to link quite a lot of unnecessary things together, which ofcourse can be overcome by habit. Men feel guilty too but I am guessing not as much as woman do. If a man says "I am busy, get yourself a glass of milk" - it means just that. If he is busy, you get it yourself. If he is not, then he'll get it for u. Simple and straight forward. There is no other thought or 'guilt' attached to it. No after-thought. No thinking and analyzing the situation.

    And like you said, most women of this generation are hard on themselves. They want to be perfect at both their roles, at home and at work. Sometimes the pressure gets to us. Just ease up and relax. Plus we think and analyze wayyy to much :P All of us.

  3. I like perspective. I am wondering if it also has to do with social conditioning. I have seen my Mom go through this. She may be exhausted after a tiring day at office but she comes home and insists on cooking and cleaning at home. Even now she does not like taking our help. She felt very guilty when my bro or me skipped breakfast because it was getting delayed and we getting late for school/college. I wondered if it was becos she watched her Mom fed her kids and cleaned the house etc. Is it because of the same reason that a man's ego gets hurt when he is unemployed? I believe it is social conditioning or gender stereotypes. You may be right though. It could be because of the inherent qualities of the genders.
    It is very nice of M to acknowledge the guilt. Very deep for a man :D Am I gender stereotyping? hehe

  4. And then we pride ourselves on our multi-tasking abilities and go to bed with a headache!

    Loved this post Sumita!

  5. I tend to worry too much, and I totally agree with you on 'expecting too much from oneself'- Liked your solution- we should really take things lighter! As they say, ought to stop sweating the small stuff. :)

  6. I guess its all about priorities in the end. And the feminine side as you said , prioritizes the family first. :)
    Good post! :D

  7. @Tangerine: Yup! Thanks!

    @Sruthi: Totally, we need to take things easy. Self-expectations actually stress us out more than those of others.

    @Purba: Thanks! Haha, I totally do that too!

    @Kalpana: I thought about social conditioning too, but you know, I've grown up seeing my dad help my mom around the house. It was common to see them both cooking together in the kitchen, sharing household responsibilities. And yet, I feel guilty. So I thought that maybe it's something more inherent. Oh, and M says thank you for noticing :D

    @Chandana: "We tend to link quite a lot of unnecessary things together" - oh yes, I totally agree with that. Actually, I agree with everything you said. :)

    @Keirthana: Oh yeah, don't enter married life expecting yourself to be perfect and flawless. There is no such thing and more often than not, you will end up disappointing yourself. So chill, and be happy, like I'm trying to!

  8. Guilt is not quite a "woman" thing, probably. This happened more than a year ago. My brother and I were climbing Khardung La mountain pass -- each on a bike. Two locals asked us for a ride... they had to get to work. Both of our bikes (small 150cc ones) had difficulty climbing the hill with a pillion rider. After we dropped them both, my brother casually said "Maybe we shouldn't take any passengers anymore". We didn't discuss it or anything.

    On the way down, (same?) two people stopped us. I was in the front... I thought for a bit, but I thought my brother wouldn't like it. I told the guy that my bike is too small and left. My brother just caught up from behind and we left. That night he said that we could have probably taken them with us. Even today I feel bad for having refused to take them with me.

    Some 10 years ago, my Tamil teacher and I had a misunderstanding. Till I left the college I didn't want to face him... if I happened to see him on the way, I'd just look away. I feel bad for not handling that issue better. I can go on, but the point is, I'm not sure if I agree with the "women feel guilty" generalisation.

    (Typed using a stupid touch screen keyboard; sorry for any typos.)

  9. M is a smart person!! and that was a very true THEORY!
    Yes you are no wonderwoman and you shdunt feel guilty about the little things. But again I dont think you can help it...

  10. @MK: I totally agree with you, guilt is felt by both men and women, of course. The situations you've described are rather deep, something that could really prick one's conscience for a long time. This post talks more about the everyday stuff, mostly regarding household responsibilities that women beat themselves up about, if neglected. So that's why the focus on women. :)

    @Red: He sure is! It's stuff like this that make me realize he truly is on my side :D I'm trying not to feel guilty these days, but more often I catch myself after the deed is done. Welcome to the Daily Moo! Keep visiting:)