Tales of the expected: lesson 1, Bag your self a man. July 1, 2005Posted by Winter in personal political.
This is a really quick post, more really intended to help me work through my feelings about an incident that happened yesterday than anything else really, although all comments are welcome. It was my sister’s 21st Birthday yesterday and so I went, with the rest of my family to have dinner with my sister in Cardiff. The evening went well, wine and laughter was to be seen and heard all round. Given the positive, if slightly strained relationship I have with my mother, what happened next has left me in much more distress than is really warranted and that’s why I’m writing this post.
I wear a ring on my wedding finger, it’s a silver band with red enamel and silver flowers that encircle it almost in its entirety. On the way home, as we were saying goodbye to my aunt and uncle, my mother commented on the ring saying that she thought it was pretty. I replied that it was, and that my boyfriend had bought it for me last year. Then without thinking I quipped he’ll probably buy me a real one soon. With retrospect this is possibly the worst thing I could have said and IS NOT AN ISSUE TO JOKE ABOUT. My mother, not being one known for containing her emotions, immediately burst into tears. Luckily they were in the happy direction as my mum really likes the bf and I rather fancy she would marry him herself if she was 20 years younger and not married to my dad. Still I was mortified on several counts. First, it was my sister’s birthday and it was her night and I didn’t want to take away any attention from that. Second, although the bf and I have talked about it, we aren’t really in the position financially to consider it at the moment. To add to this discomfort my mother immediately asked ‘when did he ask?’ as if it was automatically understood that the only part I would have played in this was the willing recipient of a generous offer, which was not how it works at all in our relationship. Being the pretty groovy progressive thinkers that we are pretty much all decisions are joint Re: ‘us’.
The real reason for my distress, apart form the embarrassment suffered by all those present, was this. I have been through a lot of, fairly significant changes in the last few years, I got into medical school, I left medical school prematurely, have graduated in psychological medicine, and managed to secure funding to study a PhD. All pretty good achievements in my view. Throughout this educational saga my mother has regularly expressed somewhat surprised support as, in her own words, she doesn’t really understand what I’m doing but it sounds good, but never has she expressed the joyful outburst of emotion I witnessed last night. The minute I mention the mere possibility shacking up with a man she approves of she practically and literally falls over herself to tell me how pleased she is for me. And yet the tough stuff I’ve really had to work for, and am really proud of she normally talks to me about whilst displaying the attention span of an eight year old who has eaten too many sweets.
This disturbs me even more because she is an intelligent woman and talented artist. She went to university in the 70’s, she burned her bra and is very politically aware, and yet it still seems that the most important thing is that I bag myself a ‘good man.’ I know she would be mortified if she realised how obviously easy it was to fit her emotional responses to my achievments into neat categories, but the sad thing is that I can. If my liberal and talented mum who has always worked really hard and has achieved a lot in her own right still considers marriage as a the big thing, then what does that say about the expectations on young girls in the rest of the population. Feminism has, in the west come a long way in terms of winning us rights, allowing us into education, to own our own property and earn our own wage. There is still a long way to go on this front, but, if implicitly the old conservative expectations of women as wife and mother are still the high points, and careers and individual achievement are still taking a back seat, then I fear that feminism has much further to go than I had previously anticipated.