Are You ‘Woman Enough’?

Growing up I wasn’t a child who was particularly interested in becoming a wife and a mother. I never thought about weddings. I didn’t like baby dolls. Often I liked to play with, what were considered ‘boy’s’ toys. Even as I got older I wasn’t overly pre-occupied with the idea of settling down and creating a family.

I spent much of my twenties travelling and quite a lot of that time I was single. Therapy and reflection in my thirties helped me unearth why I have felt so reluctant to follow the traditional path for women, which is getting married, settling down and having kids. Therapy has also helped me understand there is nothing wrong with me if I ultimately decide I do not want to do these things.

I’m not sure if I will become a wife or mother one day, but I haven’t ruled it out either way. It’s my hope to meet a partner and have a successful relationship, but beyond that I don’t have a plan; nor do I want one. What I want is to make sure any decisions I make in relation to marriage and motherhood are mine and do not come from external pressures, be it from family, friends or society at large. It can be hard to separate our own desires from what we’ve been taught to aspire to.

I had a panic in my late twenties and early thirties when I realised many of my friends were getting married, buying houses and having kids. I worked and socialised in a very white, middle class, conservative environment and not many people were deviating from this route. If they did, questions always followed: “Why doesn’t she want kids? Why is she not getting married yet?” and so on.

I’ve been watching my friends get married and have kids since my twenties, but it was only as I neared thirty that I started to feel a great deal of pressure to conform. I started to worry that maybe I was somehow abnormal because my life wasn’t going down the same path as everybody else’s. I couldn’t seem to meet a man where I felt a connection meaningful enough to start a serious relationship. This was something I became increasingly anxious about.

I remember watching Bridget Jones in my early twenties and feeling quite sure I would be single in my thirties. The trouble is that there are not many other versions of single heterosexual and childless women in their thirties that we are ever really presented with in the media. And not every single woman in her thirties is like Bridget; sad and desperate to settle down. Sex and the City slightly deviated from this trope by presenting us with a protagonist who enjoyed being single, however marriage was always her main goal.

Samantha was a character who offered an alternative life path, but for much of the show she fills the stereotype of the woman who doesn’t want marriage and commitment because deep down she struggles with intimacy and vulnerability. This is a common negative stereotype single women are met with. It seems it’s not possible for a woman to be single without there being an underlying personal issue preventing her from being happy in a couple. It’s often ignored that a woman may actively choose to be single because it’s actually a healthy option for her. Some women have other priorities in their lives and/ or feel like having a break from thinking about romantic relationships. We need to stop thinking that a single woman lacks something or is somehow flawed because she is without a partner.

Sex and the City overall was dominated by women’s relationships with men and the show ends with all of the women happy in couples. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do wonder whether the show really provided alternative depictions of women that weren’t contrived and to some extent stereotypical. Considering depictions of women in the media I’m not surprised it leaves many of us feeling insecure if we haven’t met ‘Mr. Right’ and had children by our thirties. Add to this pressure from family and micro-aggressions from well-meaning friends, and even the most confident woman could start to crack.

This is exactly what happened to me a few years ago but so far instead of meeting Mr. Right and having babies, I’ve travelled, experimented in my career, done further studying to become a counsellor, moved house a few times, starting blogging and learnt all about myself through personal therapy. I did visit one counsellor who said to me that if I hadn’t wasted my time travelling I could be settled down with a mortgage; yes he actually said that! I didn’t say anything at the time as I was in shock but what I wish I had said was how dare you judge my life. Yes it’s not the path that all women take but it’s my path and I’m grateful for it. I have no regrets about it. If I ever do ‘settle down’ at least I know exactly who I am and what I will be bringing to the table. I will be clear about what I deserve.

Marriage and children are not indicators of womanhood in my eyes. Both men and women need to stop policing women’s choices, and making women who opt out of marriage and children feel that they are not ‘woman enough’. Marriage and kids are part of some women’s experience but not meant to be part of all women’s experiences. What indicates womanhood for me is simply being in touch with my own identity as a woman. I respect that this is a unique experience for all women and we all deserve to have our journeys respected. If I do or do not take the traditional path I’ll know that I have the resources to make myself happy in life, and I don’t think there is much more a woman can ask for.

 

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