I have been struggling with a horrible case of writer’s block. My attempt to identify the source of this verbal constipation has yielded this result: I’m racked with anxiety. The creation of Mother’s Little Helpers really took on a life of its own, and my little creative side project has morphed into an extremely exciting (very time consuming) idea. But, it’s barely more than idea, at the moment. And here I am, advertising the blog, and posting videos, and suddenly, I’ve got nothing to say. And it occurs to me that I have no idea how to talk about myself.
So here I am, sitting at a coffee house, trying to figure out what the hell to say, when a gift from the blog gods presents itself to me. I am sitting near a woman, (early forties?) talking to a man, (fifties?) and I CANNOT for the life of me figure out their relationship. Initially, I thought she was on a job interview, but then he asked whether she has a love life. As a lawyer, I now sincerely hope that she is not on a job interview. Maybe a weird first date? No, he’s talking about his wife…
Before we feel too badly about this, I’m not eavesdropping. In fact, I tried to avoid the conversation for a solid 20 minutes, but they are practically shouting at one another.
Ok, so I lost interest once she got into her marital problems, but before that, she was answering questions about her profession; some kind of sales. She stated her belief that she is excellent at what she does, which I will admit, was hard for me to hear. I would have a very hard time expressing such a sentiment about myself, despite my belief in it. We definitely want women to be tactful, preferring modesty in every way. Bullshit, yes. But the problem with subtle inundation is that it requires extreme mindfulness to overcome, which in turn, requires acknowledgement that my first reaction to her was, “Whoa…ego.” But, I digress.
She went on to explain what made her successful, by highlighting her “masculine traits,” (aggression, logic, preferring work in work/life balance, independence, etc) while conveying near
disgust with “female traits,” (emotional connection to tasks, being conflict averse, wanting time with kids). Mind you, no one ever used the words “man,” or “woman”.
It got me thinking about how I, as a people pleaser and eternal middle child, actually avoid making any kind of declaratory statements about my abilities. I have no problem saying “I like X,” but have a terrible time saying something like, “I’m good at X,” or even worse, ” I like X about myself.” Having to point out a body positive trait is like, my kryptonite. It makes me so uncomfortable that I inevitably weasel out of it, and offer a sneaky non-answer, which probably makes me appear falsely modest, because everyone can pick out SOMETHING they like about themselves, right? It’s not that I don’t have something I like about myself, it’s that I have a hard time saying I like something about myself.
So, here was this woman, positively speaking about her professional attributes, but in a way most accessible and appealing to the man with whom she spoke; or perhaps she’s actually grown to see herself in this way, based on the attributes most validated by others in her professional life.
And, I realized that my own inability to articulate my mission for MLH does not stem from lack of confidence in what I’m doing, but rather the subtly placed belief that stating what I offer, without modest qualifiers, and without an “aww shucks, I don’t deserve any of this,” attitude, makes me off-putting. Or at least, I fear that it makes me off-putting, based on the very reaction I was having to this woman.
In addition, I’m still trying to figure out a way to field the fact that I have thrown away a “real” career, to talk about “lady feelings”. And, I have to say, that’s a struggle within me, because I, like everyone else apparently, assumed that when I was ready to work, it would be outside of the home while wearing a suit. There are certain ventures one can undertake that people “get” and therefore support, better than others.
So, while reasonable minds can certainly debate why this woman chose to highlight the attributes she did, the fact is that she was unapologetically highlighting them, and I was willing to acknowledge that my discomfort hearing it was an issue for ME to overcome, not her. And yet, I don’t extend the same courtesy to myself, and expend a lot of energy trying to make other people comfortable with my choices. I’ll keep up on my therapy.
In the mean time, here is what I am going to practice saying: My name is Jenny. I started a really cool project called Mother’s Little Helpers, because I wrote about things that my mind needed to work through, and a bunch of women started writing me to say that their minds needed to work through some of it too. I was in a really, really dark place, and I saved myself. I can help you, because I’m good at it, and I deeply care about the ways we’ve constructed modern motherhood as a failure trap. I’d love to hear all about your journey, perhaps over a Jack and Coke?
Me, at my most confident, selling the hell out of that 83′ jersey. Photo credit: One of my most favorite moms…DH. Thanks for reading. Love, jj.