Biblically, the first woman, Eve is said to have been created of a lonely Adam’s rib. The affectionate undertone aside, she seems born of his longing. Her role as his companion is to understand and adhere to his needs, emotions and desires. Secondary to him was her consent. Naturally weaker, she is seduced by the Serpent into eating the forbidden fruit, which in the most sensible interpretation refers to the ‘fruit of loin’, especially since the womb is in the abdominal area. The original sin then, is sex. In fact, the serpent is popularly perceived to be allegorical of a phallus. We can go in all kinds of circles about this, and one way is to take the fruit more literally to be a hallucinogen. Once that is said, I perceive the couple to have committed adolescent sex. It really doesn’t help that famed depictions of this origin story portrays them nude, and hairless other than on the head. Nonetheless, a woman’s identity is often embedded in a man’s. The more independent as we seem to be these days, this is still of relevance to feminist discussions. I find it easiest to think about this as progressive through a lifetime.
A woman is born into the world as someone’s daughter. If none else, at least in terms of genetic patronage. Often, a sign of patronage is her name itself. One thing she immediately lacks is her father’s gender, his medical predispositions though are almost certainly there. Now, I am downplaying the role of the mother here, but I will address it later in this piece. The father can be a deadbeat asshole, an apathetic disengaged breadwinner, a model parent or the generous king to his little princess. In the first case, as many issues as she may have, the child is probably better without him near her. Otherwise, there will be domestic abuse which is worse. In the second case, she will struggle to engage with him for life, but as awkward as it is, he will always be responsible. The third case will probably leave her with a healthy strain of daddy issues, where she looks for desirable qualities in a man her age e.g. financial security, mature disposition, considerate of her and essentially complementary of her. The fourth case, I’d expect in every normal household during a child’s infancy, when it is vastly manageable to cater to her every whim. In the long term though, she may be a handful always. His general roles aside, more pressing is what she makes of a man from his display, or rather him as an example. Further than that, how it pairs with her personality and experiences, will affect her personal choices throughout life.
I proceed by contemplating a generic person’s perception. To account for varying cognitive abilities and cultural variations strikes me as too tedious, for present purposes. So, a baby girl enters the world. For the first two years of her life, her endocrine, respiratory and digestive systems develop. Too busy getting used to her own sensory organs, she has barely bothered with mimicry. The next 6-9 years constitute her childhood. Aside from learning to walk, talk and eat solid foods, she starts interacting more deliberately with the world. She engages more purposefully and impactfully. Usually attributed to curiosity, this learning curve determines her sense of identity and builds her perception of the world. Aspects therein, are cultural and family background, appearance, interests, strengths and weaknesses amongst others. However, the real challenge is figuring out her place in the world. What is she supposed to grow into? How to tell a friend apart? What or who is right or wrong, or safe to have around? Basically, she’s learning how to survive, and for what purposes. The example provided by the people around her becomes norm. That does not mean she is not threatened, or ever hurt, or will get used to it, or is fine with it since she managed to stay alive. It simply means that she won’t know better or even otherwise unless displaced and rehabilitated. That has to be possible for her though, and she has to realise it. Admittedly, a boy may be held back even developmentally as her, if subjected to pressures of an unhealthy/unsafe environment. But, somewhere in the first 6 years, she learnt that a boy pees differently from a girl, that dad was a boy once as mom was a girl. Now, she’s more like mom. So, if mom is a (house-)wife, that’s what she should be…right? This can be corrected or at least relieved in a healthy family, where she can talk honestly with dad. Or maybe mom works too, and it’s not that separate. But amidst the confusion, what if dad is prejudiced and sees her as he does mom? The obvious dangers aside, the conditioning that occurs is a subservient nature, even purpose, to men. Mom does it, and she has to as well. What if dad is not around? That must means men are untrustworthy. But what if she is like mom, and just keeps making poor choices. This cyclic detriment has been observed time and time again, and breaking it is a tedious task of essentially remoulding the young person with intervention by a strong influence such as a teacher, or perhaps another caring parent.
With two equally contributing (financially, speaking) parents, a driven young woman will have mentors and encouragement in both her parents. She will have more direction, and is better set up for essentially success. Further on, she might surpass them professionally, and both parents will (or at least, should) be proud. Now, what happens if we change the dynamic a little, so that the high performing young woman takes after her father more than her homemaker mother? I suppose the father could be challenged to change his simplistic sexist notions, and grow as inspired by his intelligent child who won’t be happy in a life unsuited to her. What if though, in addition to that, she has a brother who is viewed as her father’s heir and is being prepared for that? What if she is better, but can’t obtain a majority vote to even a fair probation? Go back in time, and within a century back, she wouldn’t have been allowed to get as far an education as him, and nurtures her interest and talent in silence, adhering against her nature to sexist expectations. What’s available to her as a spouse even, is akin to her father with similar desires of a personal life. Perhaps her father is wealthy, and she marries well. Perhaps bearing and raising such a candidate’s child is worthwhile to her, for she herself was at least cared for materialistically. I will counter that, with a healthier marriage with a homemaker mother who loves her child. What the mother fell short of as a mentor and suitable example for her daughter, she made up for in support and proactivity. She is her father’s pride, and he does motivate her to match him, almost growing with her. Now, I conclude that the latter is right and else needs repairing.
What about friends? Possibly the first independent human relationship we have, are with friends from our suburb, the park or playground, or perhaps kindergarten. We start to look for people we get along with, and we begin with those our age. Now, we have comrades to traverse the labyrinths of life with. Does it matter if they’re of a certain gender though? Initially, the idea of marriage even seems simple. One marries someone they love, and vice versa. During later childhood years though, we start truly parting in development. The onset of puberty, between the ages of 11-19, very naturally complicates the innocent inter-gender friendship if only by way of hormones. Now, it’s the reproductive system’s turn to grow. In terms of identity, these years are more determinant of a girl’s life path. The teenager, now converses more fluently, is forming an ambition and needs a plan tailored uniquely for her. On top of that, there is her sexual identity, or even the recognition of her libido. Gender roles aside, this in itself can be distracting to say the least. Once again, in a healthy environment, she would be able to turn to her parents, as awkward as it will be initially. And the father’s role is crucial, to make up for her inherent lack of (first hand) knowledge pertaining to male puberty and adolescence. What could it be like for her guy friend from kindergarten? Should she stay away, since he might just get horny and impregnate her? What if she’s beginning to have new emotions, seeing him in a different light? Perhaps she’s curious, and he seems like the best candidate for romance since even their families are acquainted. If she can’t bring it up with her parents though, a lot of mishaps can occur that do involve sex, and they can be permanently crippling in every way.
How she chooses her partner, and how her priorities pertaining to romance evolves with her age is (pardon the redundant cliché) complicated. So, it has always been customary to have rituals to celebrate and announce the young woman’s coming-of-age. The ‘sweet 16’ is one variation, and it at least allocates the child some time for her periods to become periodic, so to speak. In eastern cultures, she is adorned much like a bride would be, for religious traditional ceremonies. Her body has decided that she is ready to carry an heir, and now there is the matter of a partner. Yes, it is possible to be paired off by the family and be consequentially bound for life. Technically, and widely speaking though, divorce is always an option. But what if she was to choose for herself? The case of the young teenager is discussed in the previous paragraph, and as much as the stress and heartbreaks may take a genuine toll on her, it is usually expected of the ‘first love’ or even ‘young love’ to not withstand the test of time. Troubled youth aside, she does mature with every experience including romantic and sexual ones. She may choose better, and perhaps learn to curb her own urges as necessary, or she may keep succumbing to suitors, even settling and hoping to change them with love. The first instance is less destructive, and will make for a healthier independence even during early adulthood, e.g. at university, first jobs, first moves etc. The search for a partner in this scenario, while it can be experimental here and there, is more likely to be restricted to like-minded people; perhaps one who is in similar extra-curricular activities as her, or her former classmate’s equally contributory flatmate who works in a completely different professional sector. It is often made to sound more volatile, this issue of personal-life-partnership. There is online dating and hook-up culture for instance, and some of the women that are ‘trying’ such options since nothing else seems to be working, might be in for a lot of strife. Now, I do judge a little here and there, and the popular tag ‘you never know…’, is fallible in the way that it makes an unlikely statistic sound almost prophetic. Marketing aside, it is unlikely that one will find ‘true love’ in passing, and perhaps it’s not impossible, but it is very unlikely. A more practical approach is truly the pairing of compatible individuals and actually through their own lives.
Compatibility itself, while it does build on common ground and shared priorities, is also a matter of shortcomings. It addresses what a person can bring into another’s life, and of course vice versa. The discovery of such compatibility might be less deliberated, or perhaps more so. Although, if forced, it is usually some attempt at deciding if they’ve grown apart. This area of courting, dating and marriage is riddled with crossovers and overlaps, and factoring in de facto relationships, it is convoluted. But, with the institution of marriage, the most ground is covered that is of interest to the feminist discourse pertaining to private commitments. Such issues include the new family name which is traditionally taken to be the man’s, her working capacity especially when they choose to have a biological child, her ensuing medical leave, the juggling of work and home responsibilities based on necessity and preferences, her possible shifting of priorities at the cost of a career path or even a career, possibly a change in the terms and dynamics of the marriage, or even going through a rough patch or separation for any reason. As the woman of a household, her role is complex. The manner in which she fights for her family, and the way she defines and values it, are all rooted in her life experiences thus far. Something as simple as drawing the line between sacrifice and debasement can be frustrating to think about, and it is sometimes too private to truly judge objectively. The intelligent young woman though, who did complete higher education and clings on to these opportunities that are now available to her kind, will struggle with even taking her husband’s name, let alone sacrificing opportunities and risking her career even if the fault isn’t hers. She isn’t just his wife, or her father’s daughter. She existed before the encounter with her spouse, and she is meant to outlive her biological patron, perhaps even maker. Her liberties are hers to exercise, and she shouldn’t be entirely selfless or giving, as still seems to be expected of women. This doesn’t mean she should act against any commitment she has taken on, purely for the sake of rebellion or with hurtful intent. She does need to factor herself in the most, though. Where others are implicated, she needs to consider if she is right for them in whatever capacity they are bound by, not just what benefits her. They might all be happier for it, at least once the storm has passed.
When making personal choices, the need to consider others seems ironic, but a marriage is legally binding and may warrant concerns from finance to child custody. In most cases, the man still pays alimony even if the woman never contributed financially during marriage, and it is not strictly for child-care which can be arranged separately. Perhaps the initial terms of matrimony where both parties agreed for such an arrangement, and her satisfactory performance as a house-wife, warrants this. Personally, I struggle with the notion of home-making as a ‘job’ for a wife in her own home. Even if it is, it’s supposed to be rewarding in itself, but I don’t think of it as sustainable. As such, I can’t form a genuine sentiment about it. Logically, it is simply legality, and it does offer women, who are historically oppressed, some security. I will ponder the subject of matrimony more thoroughly in a later piece. For now, I move on to the woman’s role as a mother.
As a mother, there are two dynamics to consider and they are the mother-daughter and mother-son relationships. Either way, her own example will be the first impression of a woman that her child(ren) will have. The physical maternal duties and chores aside, as with the father, she too has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for her young. Again, it is a shame when they themselves are harmful. On the other hand, they might be the epitome of strength that fought for you as a child, and showed you that you are valuable. Perhaps they’ll even leave you with a healthy need to prove yourself as worthy of your worldly opportunities. The mother specifically, will definitely be a case study for the daughter. This does strike true to my experience, and not just in my case. Even if the daughter had an education whereas her mother was deprived of one, and works and lives quite independently, she will turn back to her as a guide during relationship issues, issues of the household and mothering. I have seen the feisty version that drills it into their child’s head that they themselves had nothing compared to what they provide as a parent. I have seen the gentler version that simply wants better for their young, whether or not it’s passive. I have seen the mother glee at her little doppelganger and the father distraught from it. I have seen it as an impediment to the child’s fulfilment and her fight for her integrity. I have even seen the classic case of the perfect little girl, and had it contrasted with the smarter less appreciated one. Best of all, I have seen the mother being her daughter’s first and lifelong mentor, even in terms of careers.
For the case of the son, the mother sets the tone for what he expects of the opposite gender anywhere. The usual case with mommy issues is that he expects to be waited on by them, as caring for men is their inane purpose. In showcasing such domestic charm, young women exhibit suitability and availability as wives to men. This does seem to arise from the doting hand of the home-maker. On the other hand, his mother might have been a hard-working single mother. Right way around, he now gratefully sees a need to help women like her. Perhaps he seeks her in a life partner, and chooses to help out a few young girls in need at the local community centre. Perhaps he adopts, even. The working mom, in addition to mentorship, introduces him to the greater truth that it is possible for the better candidate to be a woman. He might therefore work well under a woman of such calibre, without much of the complexes that arise still from such dynamics. Yes, I have heard men whine about their needing to cope with the change after generations of dominance, whether or not it is at the cost of efficiency. On the other hand though, as biased as it irrefutably is, we really need to get over the senseless conditioning based on genitalia. Otherwise, it is a waste of the most valuable of resources i.e. human lives.
I have contradicted myself a little in this piece. Men are people too, and a woman has to be responsible for herself as well. I did attempt to examine the changing inter-gender relationships a woman experiences in a lifetime, perhaps overly simplistically. But, this is one specific take on the matter. Our individual experiences as women differ, and we all can relate and offer exceptions to conclusions others of us have drawn in our own lives. We do sometimes judge, but only because we have been offended in some way. Recognising that, I do apologize if I have hurt you.