Today I came across a review of a recent appearance at East Carolina University by feminist icon/journalist/activist/Playboy infiltrator Gloria Steinem. In her speech, Steinem rightly connected feminism with every other social justice movement, and spoke of the need for reproductive freedom. But what stood out to me was this:
Steinem also spoke at length about what she calls a media myth that many times has claimed that the feminist movement is over, a statement she said Time Magazine has made 27 times.
‘It goes deep, and we are subject to these myths,’ Steinem said. ‘And it’s part of the human condition that the general social myth is so powerful for us that we sometimes think we are the strange exception, when really, we are the majority.’
That got me to thinking, and maybe not in the way you’d assume. Certainly, in terms of whether we choose to define ourselves as feminists, as members of the “I’m-not-a-feminist-but” camp, or eschew the F-word altogether, her remark resonates. But what it got me thinking about was this: in the same way that feeling we are somehow out of the mainstream, the “strange exception,” can affect how we choose to define ourselves, it can mess with the decisions we make, too–and often, the really important ones. The ones that take our lives in one direction or another.
Take, for example, those of us who just want a “paycheck job,” the kind you show up for at 9, leave at 5, and don’t think about til 9 the next day. But we’ve absorbed the idea that it’s not enough, that there’s something wrong with us to merely want a job when we can have a Career–so we kill ourselves to meet some grand milestone we think we should want, quietly wondering all the while: Why am I doing this, again?
Maybe the conventional ideas about the ‘American Dream’ are the ones that tug at us: steady career path, home ownership, husband, kids. Everybody else seems to want those things, right? Surely we must be insane for being more interested in adventure than security. So we opt for the safe path, daydreams of running off to join the circus growing all the more tantalizing with each mortgage bill.
Or maybe it’s the notion of having it all, the Superwoman icon that keeps us quiet. We see other women smoothly managing it all. Or so we think. So we struggle to keep our heads above water, never letting on that we’re one cupcake away from going postal, never even questioning what parts of “it all” we really want, what is really worth wanting for us–because, well, let’s be honest, who has the time?
Back to Steinem’s words: if cultural myths are so strong, so pervasive, how much do such myths infuse our life decisions with the suffocating weight of the “shoulds”? How often do we steer ourselves into what we believe is the culturally-approved path, what we should do, what we should want, simply–even partly–because we assume we’re the oddball exception, rather than considering that we might, in fact, be a part of the great, silent rule? If that is indeed the case, then it seems to me that the best way to deal would be to start talking. Maybe, if we can all summon up the bravery to be a little more honest, we’d realize that we’re actually in good company.