How often have you felt like you were failing in life because of the expectations society has put on women? Society has created a double-bind for all females (and especially mothers!) that is difficult to overcome.
Women are expected to be funny… but not too funny.
They are expected to be sexy… but not too sexy.
They’re supposed to work hard at their job and provide financially for their family… but… they’re also supposed to take care of their children and home without neglecting either one.
It’s a constant battle inside ourselves – we feel torn between two different worlds that each demand our attention and commitment, which then leads us into a self-induced shame cycle where we feel judged by others and judge ourselves no matter what the outcome may be.
What exactly is a double-bind?
The double-bind exists when we are faced with two contradictory messages and there is no means possible to appease both outcomes.
Be soft and caring…but don’t become over-emotional and cry!
Be beautiful…but not too pretty!
It’s no wonder facing mixed messages like these creates an internal battle. What makes it worse is that women are judged by completely different criteria than men!
A man who cries may come across as sensitive and empathetic; whilst for a woman, crying often can be seen as too emotional and someone to be avoided.
Women are judged and seen as “lesser” if they aren’t attractive enough, but if she’s “too” pretty, then she must be vain, superficial or just have nothing else going for her!
As mothers, women are told they need to be both financially responsible for their families and also take care of the children. Work too much and they are judged for not caring for their children; or if they’re a ‘stay at home mum’, they are seen as taking the easy option and having little more value than being ‘just a mum’.
Women are expected to balance it all…and when they can’t; it’s no wonder they begin thinking that they are doing something wrong!
There is no winning here…and thus is the paradox of the double-bind!
Where does this come from?
Double-binds and mixed messages such as these have been a prevalent theme in society for hundreds of years. The double-bind has been passed down through generations that have adopted these traditional views into society – making it difficult for all genders to escape from its grasp on our everyday lives.
The feminist movement which has attempted to combat the double-bind (in particular the ‘second wave’ of feminism, initiated in the 1960s) went out of its way to make women aware that cultural contradictions lead them into this trap…
“women are supposed to be ‘inferior’, but at the same time they must compete with men on male terms.” — from Friedan’s Feminine Mystique (1963)
Mixed messages have become embedded in our society because over time we’ve adopted traditional roles – traditionally being seen as ‘overly feminine’ meant you were seen as weak or incompetent. Traditional masculine roles, on the other hand, were seen as strong and powerful. So what happens when a woman tries to compete with men as a woman but on male terms? …well, one of utter confusion and feelings of inferiority for the women.
Now specifically place the mother in this role, when she’s already filled with feelings of conflict and mum-guilt, and it’s no wonder it feels like an uphill battle.
How double-binds are hurting us women and keeping us playing small.
The double-bind is a way of keeping women in our place.
It’s not just how we’re treated by others, but also the self-doubt and criticism that come from within us!
Add to this an internalised misogyny which plays into the idea that being too feminine will lead you to be seen as less competent – meaning anything more than nurturing will make you feel like your parenting skills are lacking…and thus many mothers become overwhelmed with feeling unworthy and incompetent because they can’t do it all at once!
Also add on top some ideas about what ‘good mothering’ looks like …which might be based heavily upon Victorian ideals or other patriarchal views of society. What happens when mum doesn’t fit this criteria?
She is viewed as failing…and of course, she feels like a failure – it’s the double-bind.
Then you have women who are constantly told to be strong and not show their emotions (especially if they’re feeling overwhelmed) because that makes them weak or incompetent too …so what happens when mum does start to break down or cry; but hasn’t allowed herself time for her feelings over all the pressure of trying to do everything perfectly!
This leads us back into where we started with ‘not being soft enough’ – so once again many mothers feel guilty about doing anything other than nurturing without having some inner critic telling them how bad at parenting they are! And thus begins another internal battle between trying to be all things at once and feeling like a failure.
These double-binds are everywhere! And they’re not just for mothers…in fact, the list of how it’s hurting us women goes on & on:
- women who don’t want to have children but do anyway because society tells them mothering is what women ‘naturally’ desire;
- women who feel pressured into having kids despite being unsure about whether or not they really want any (or if perhaps there might be other life goals that would make them happy instead);
- the pressure put upon young girls in particular, with regards to body image – where even when you are healthy, you don’t fit society’s ideal image;
- and lastly, the pressure to appear sexually attractive which most commonly targets young girls and women who don’t fit into what is seen as a perfect body.
This list could go on for days…but it all comes back to this: double-binds are hurting us! They’re keeping us from achieving our true potential because we aren’t able to do anything without feeling guilty or incompetent in some way.
How can we fight against double-binds?
How can you break free of the mum-guilt? How can you stop failing at everything? And how can you avoid playing small when your dreams feel too big?
One of the best things we as women (and especially mothers) can do to help fight against double-binding restrictions, is by allowing ourselves time and space to consider whether or not our own feelings about ideas like what it means ‘to be feminine’ or ‘good mothering’ come from within us…or if they’re simply norms that society has imposed upon us without thought!
Many times we find these values forced on us through childhood experiences; but even more likely than this, we tend to believe them because other people tell us they’re true…so we accept them and allow our own feelings and opinions to get pushed aside.
We need to let go of the guilt that this brings; because it is simply holding us back from allowing ourselves time to consider what we really want or desire, rather than just doing something out of a sense of obligation (feeling like you ‘should’ do something) or fear (fear of judgement).
We also need to stop being so hard on each other – in particular, mothers who fail at parenting somehow have become judged more harshly than fathers who don’t live up to expectations!
And finally, when someone’s behaviour hurts your feelings in some way …stop judging yourself for feeling hurt by their words or actions.
By taking some time to look inward and examine how we’ve been taught what femininity is, who has shaped our ideas about mothering…we can start to break free of the pressure – but it’s going to take some serious self-reflection on all levels.
It’s easy to feel as though you’re not good enough, that something is inherently wrong with you. But the answer isn’t to keep trying harder and harder at what society wants from us – it doesn’t work! The best way out of a bind is simply by refusing to be trapped in one anymore.
Start valuing yourself for who YOU are…not how others see you or expect you to behave. It’s okay if society sees you differently – they don’t have a say over your life, only YOU do! You’ll never find happiness living up to expectations set by other people; instead try setting goals for yourself based on YOUR values and priorities – this will give you the strength and motivation to follow your own path regardless of what others think.
Be proud of who you are, even if society doesn’t approve! You don’t need approval from anyone else in order to feel happy…so why continue living a life based on other people’s standards? There is no right or wrong way to live your life; only the ways that make you feel fulfilled and satisfied.
You do you, babe!
You can lead a fulfilling life without feeling like you’ve failed at motherhood…in fact, there are plenty of things for mothers (or any woman) to do with their lives besides being an amazing parent – it doesn’t mean we’re neglecting our children either!
So start valuing yourself as much as everyone else should be doing instead of putting pressure on others while never giving them credit too…and watch how fast those double-binds disappear from around us all!
It’s time to stop the double-binds and start living a life that makes you happy. You can take control of your own future and be proud of who YOU are!
So I guess my final piece of advice would be this: allow yourself time for that reflection! And try not to judge or feel guilty if you don’t fit society’s idea of a ‘perfect’ woman because no matter how many boxes they put us in; at the end of the day, we’re still people with feelings and dreams & desires just like any other human being out there.
We need more space for ourselves as individuals so that when someone says something hurtful towards us …we can feel safe enough to talk about it and not let ourselves be judged for feeling hurt by these words.
So if you’re one of the many women who are struggling with double-binds – I hope this gives you some insight into how hard these restrictions can hit us; but also, that there is a way out! It will take time & patience…and most importantly self-reflection, so don’t give up just yet!
And remember: every single woman facing or experiencing double-bind issues deserves your love & support because at the end of the day we all want what’s best for our children (even when they make mistakes) and ultimately what each person wants in life boils down to happiness.