by Kassandra Lamb
I recently became more active in an online writers group for women of a “certain age.” I’m noticing some interesting psychological trends there.
If you read the bios of the members, your mouth will hang open in awe. These are very accomplished women! I’m honored to be a part of their group.
And yet as our lives have often changed due to divorce, death of a spouse, and just plain aging, there’s a tendency to slide back into the insecurities we thought we had left behind.
Creativity, by definition, requires thinking outside the box – being innovative, taking risks and trying new things. But our generation of women was taught to conform, to listen to authority, to make nice-nice. Conformity and creativity make strange bedfellows. Indeed, they don’t get along very well at all.
Our role models were Donna Reed and June Cleaver — who woke in the morning without a hair out of place, vacuumed her house in pearls and pumps and always knew just the right thing to say or do to make her boys feel better (unless of course discipline was involved, and then her husband Ward took over).
These lessons of childhood, many of us are finding, haven’t die; they just went underground.
So when we are faced with tragedy, a crossroads, or just feel ourselves burning out, while our innate feminine resilience usually kicks in, so do those old messages. We get up and brush ourselves off, but we’re much more vulnerable in those moments to the old recordings in our heads.
“Nobody likes a stuck-up woman,” echoes in our brains. Except the definition of “stuck-up” as it relates to females – taught to us in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s – is not true arrogance. It’s being confident that what we produce is good, and that we are good people, with sound judgement.
In other words, good self-esteem equals being uppity.
Other people’s approval of what we do is more important than our own. We will stay in jobs that “eat our souls” because others think we should. We will not follow our dreams because others think they are silly or unreachable.
We will allow editors or agents or publishers to dictate how our stories will be changed, even though we know in our hearts that the story was fine to begin with, maybe even great!
Others’ needs are more important than our own.
I was about eleven when the first bra was burned, and I’ve considered myself a liberated female ever since. So when a student interviewed me for an assignment in her Gender Studies class and asked me if I had ever sacrificed my career for my husband or family, I immediately said no. Then I stopped and thought about that.
I found my first true vocational passion (and my second career) a bit late, after I was married with a small child and a large mortgage. When I was looking at educational options to get the credentials I needed to become a psychotherapist, I discovered that to get a PhD in psychology I would have to go to school full-time and might have to move elsewhere in the country to get into a program. “Well, that won’t work,” I thought. I couldn’t uproot my family, ask my husband to give up his good-paying job, etc. So I settled for a masters degree I could get locally and part-time, while still working full-time to help pay the mortgage.
I can’t say that I’ve regretted that choice. I had a good career, even though I didn’t make as much money as I would have with the classier credentials. But one thing blew my mind as I recalled all this when that student was interviewing me.
I had never seriously discussed the “move to another state so I can get my PhD” option with my husband. I never gave him the opportunity to sacrifice for me (and for the ultimate greater well-being of the whole family if I ended up making more money). I just assumed it was my job to make the sacrifice.
The day of that student’s interview was the first time I realized how subtle the lessons of our youth still are for women of my generation. We can think we’re being all liberated and modern, while our knees are jerking away, following the old patterns without our conscious awareness or approval.
When I first joined this writers group for middle-aged and beyond women, I wasn’t all that active. I was already a member of an online writers group that is awesome in its level of support and encouragement.
But now I’m realizing that these women of a “certain age” can offer a different and more specific support – the recognition of these old patterns and the kick-in-the-butt/cheering section needed to break out of them.
Something women writers of my generation may very well need, again and again, in order to remain creative, and sane.
Your thoughts? Are you a woman (or man) of a certain age, still fighting those old messages?
And now I’m totally not going to act my age as I give you all a sneak peak of the cover for my next Marcia Banks and Buddy mystery. Squueeee!! (In case you hadn’t figured it out, I love this cover!)
And this is the last week to get 75% off of Vinnie Hansen’s book, Black Beans & Venom, during the Smashwords’ Summer/Winter Sale.
This is a fabulous story. Hop on over and get yourself a copy.
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.
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shannon espositoJuly 19, 2016 at 12:59 pm
Great insight! Yeah, it’s amazing how many subtle social beliefs we absorb without even realizing it. It’s only been in the last few years I’ve accepted my husband’s help with housework without feeling guilty. And I only felt guilty because that was the way I grew up…my mom did all the housework. Change is hard and slow.
Kassandra LambJuly 19, 2016 at 1:11 pm
It sure can be, Shannon. I don’t feel guilty if hubs helps with the housework, but I have to resist the urge to go behind him and redo it — the right way, i.e., the way my mother did it. That’s pretty demotivating for him, and kind of defeats the purpose of having his help for me. I have to say to myself (sometimes over and over): “It doesn’t matter how it’s done; it’s just done.”
Vinnie HansenJuly 19, 2016 at 1:13 pm
Yes, definitely still fighting those old messages even though I grew up running wild with a pack of brothers. One example: When a bowling alley was built in our town, all my brothers joined bowling leagues and my dad bought them all bowling balls. Nothing for me. In all fairness, I don’t remember any female bowling league existing in our tiny town, so part of it was the times. Nonetheless, I did like to bowl.
Kass, I love the way the cover turned out.
Kassandra LambJuly 19, 2016 at 1:47 pm
It was the times, for sure. My mother was fairly liberated for the day, but there were still messages everywhere we turned that said we had to behave a certain way, and not dream too big.
And even she bent over backwards to “keep her man happy.” She once said to me that the U.S. is made up of thousands of households that are “matriarchies in which the patriarch thinks it’s a patriarchy.”
That statement says a lot about those times.
Jami GoldJuly 19, 2016 at 1:48 pm
Love your insight about self-esteem and confidence being taken for arrogance or being uppity! I once had another woman *accuse* me of being assertive because I stuck up for myself–like that was a bad thing. :/
(I’m sure plenty of others have that impression of me as well, so that’s not to pick on this woman. Just that it’s ridiculous when confidence is seen as bad in women. Men can be assertive all day long without it being flung around like an insult.)
Great reminder of how we should watch out for the return of those insecurities. 🙂
Kassandra LambJuly 19, 2016 at 2:06 pm
Ah yes, Jami. Yet another no-no is to show anger or assert yourself.
It used to amaze me, when I was in practice as a therapist, how hard it was for so many women to let themselves feel or express anger, no matter how justified and appropriate it was.
And I too get accused occasionally of being “assertive,” like it’s a bad thing. I usually smile and say thank you, as if they just complimented me. (I’m ornery like that. 🙂 )
Jami GoldJuly 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm
Ha! Love that response. 🙂
K.B. OwenJuly 19, 2016 at 8:21 pm
Great post, Kass! I grew up in the 60s and 70s, but my mom was very conservative about what cultured femininity entailed. Especially not boasting about oneself, which also meant of course not touting one’s accomplishments. I still struggle with self-promotion….
But hey, awareness if half the battle, right? *wink* Good luck with your new release!
Kassandra LambJuly 19, 2016 at 8:30 pm
Yes, awareness is half the battle, and we have to stay a bit vigilant, I’m learning. These old messages can keep coming back to haunt us.