by Deb Durbin (www.o-books.com)
THE POWER OF CONDITIONING?
This was the question that prompted me to write my latest book, And She Lived Happily Ever After (O Books due out 31st March 2023). What began as one of those ‘Lockdown Projects’ soon became a source of investigating why, despite being in the 21st century, women were still struggling to find their happy ever after in most if not all areas of their lives.
My seventies childhood confirmed to me that men were the ones who called all the shots in a woman’s life. I notice how misogynistic the ‘70’s dads were – expecting their wives to get their children to school, feed, bath and put them to bed and have a home-cooked meal on the table for when their husband got in from work. If a woman did work, she was expected to fit her working day around the children and her husband and the opportunities for women in the workplace were mainly assigned to hairdresser, retail, or office/reception work/school-dinner lady.
I remember thinking, even at tender age of 10, how unfair it was that the man of the household seemed to have much more freedom than a woman did. Women rarely went to the pub and if they did, they were accompanied by their husbands. The only other social events comprised of going to a neighbour’s house for a Party Plan evening to buy Tupperware, Avon cosmetics or Cabouchon jewellery, or going to the occasional local coffee morning.
My teenage years were spent during the 1980’s, where women had slightly more empowering role models. Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and Dolly Parton in 9 – 5 told us that we could reach the giddy height of CEO, if we adopted big shoulder pads and even bigger hair. Dame Anita Roddick showed other women that they too could make more money by selling beauty products instead of Tupperware. Madonna stated that we could have the upper hand in the battle of the sexes if we were prepared to get into the groove, photograph our vaginas and put them in an arty black and white coffee table book. However, there was still this stigma that if a woman was successful, she must be a bitch, a ball-breaker or both.
During my twenties, young women were inspired by the ‘Girl Power’ philosophy of adopting the alpha male look of cargo pants and desert boots. And while there were more women owning their opinions and lives, it still smacked of, if a woman wanted to be taken seriously, she had to act and behave like a man – and take the flack for it.
History is awash with female leaders who have had to work twice as hard as men to get their message across. And there is still a silent murmur of disapproval if a woman chooses to speak up or live her life in a different way to what is expected of her.
If a woman chooses not to have a child, she is still judged and questioned. If a woman chooses to remain single and live on her own, she’s interrogated. If a woman chooses to have multiple partners, she will be judged.
Have you ever heard of a man being questioned as to why he doesn’t have children? Have you ever heard of a man being judged because he chooses to live on his own, or called him a slag because he has more than one partner? Or asked if he’s hormonal because he’s answered back?
I’ve never heard whispers that a male sports presenter only got his job because the producers needed to be seen to have gender equality on their panel, but I have when a female presenter has been.
These are many of the reasons why I wrote, And She Lived Happily Ever After. I wanted to bring attention to the fact that every woman deserves to have her voice heard. Every woman has exactly the same rights as anyone else to be respected and every woman is entitled to have a happy ever after.
I’m not saying that men alone are to blame for women feeling that they have to work twice as hard at being accepted. Many women are also guilty of tearing down stronger and more confident women. A recent example being the criticism from a popular tabloid female journalist over the dress that a female Detective Superintendent wore to press conference for a missing woman.
Why is it still hard for a woman to be a success and to have her voice and opinions listened to, rather than criticised for what she’s wearing, how old she is or what her hair looks like? It all comes down to conditioning.
Societal views and expectations of women are ingrained in us from a very early age. Childhood conditional learning makes us adhere to what society expects from girls and women. We are told from a young age that girls shouldn’t be loud and sweary because it’s not ladylike, that assertive women are difficult and that a woman who says ‘no’ is arrogant. The reason so many women feel unable to be their true selves is because for generations, society has told us how we should behave in order to be a ‘good girl’.
I believe that in order for a woman to live her happy ever after, she needs to be strong enough to question the generational and societal rules that she’s been taught about how she should act and behave and start standing up for herself. Whether that’s saying no to a friend’s request to look after her children while she goes on holiday, or a partner’s demands to see their family every weekend. Or asking why she has been overlooked for promotion at work. Or calling people out when they feel they are entitled to treat her like badly.
The problem with standing up for yourself however, is that it takes great strength and determination to do so. You need to be strong enough to accept that many people are going to dislike you when you find your true voice. It’s about being strong enough to disagree with other people and accepting that you are going to upset a few people along the way. And yes, it can also be very lonely.
When you’ve spent years being conditioned into believing that you mustn’t make a fuss and that to do so means that you’re not a good person, it’s very easy to just put up and shut up and accept what society has told you about how you should behave as a woman. This is when as a society we end up with women being afraid to live up to their potential because, thanks to conditioning, they feel in order to have their voice heard, they will be seen as being difficult.
If you continue to be quiet for the sake of not upsetting anyone, you will never have your happy ever after. Be strong enough to question the power of conditioning and stand up for yourself, despite the consequences and I promise you will have a happy ever after in the end.
And She Lived Happily Ever After by Deb Durbin is available from www.o-books.com and from wherever books are sold.