When girls are too strong

I left my home town when I was in my early 20s. I’m surprised it took me that long to leave.

Since then, I’ve lived in a different city in the same country, and in two other cities in other countries. But the crux of it all is I couldn’t stay in my home town. I was the cuckoo that had to leave the nest.

Our parents expectations of who we are and who we will be don’t stop when we become adults.

My parents wanted a daughter who would be pretty, feminine, traditional – and go on in life to do pretty, feminine, traditional things.

I was the exact opposite.

Born that way…

When a child arrives and they’re not who – and what – we expect and desperately want them to be, things get difficult. Especially for the child, if the parents insist on trying to mould them into becoming something they can never be.

There’s a reason why so many gay kids leave their home town, moving far away. I’m not gay, but in the same way as gay kids often do in traditional families, I didn’t meet expectations.

I was too strong to change who I was. The only way I could be true to who I am was to leave.

When a home is not a home

The best thing I ever did was leaving home. Looking back, I only wish I could have left before I even became an adult, had that been possible. My parents are good people, but my home was fiercely patriarchal.

Even now, when I go home to visit, I’m very much at the bottom of the pecking order. It’s expected that I’ll help with the household chores (together with my mother and brother’s wife), while my father and brother sit and drink whisky.

This isn’t a home in which I feel wanted, welcome or equal. I don’t feel loved there, or accepted for who and what I am. I feel like my parents try really hard, but that’s it – they’re just trying to love me.

My failure to accept my patriarchal roots was an expression of my own inner strength and who I truly am, which was only given a chance to develop once I left home and was no longer stifled.

Once I left home, I went on to become a community leader, a mentor to other women, an internationally-performed composer, a competitive athlete. A woman of strength. A person with purpose.

Why women are not equal yet

Again and again, I see articles in the media querying why women haven’t risen to equality across the board in society. After all, the articles argue, we achieved theoretical equality in the 1970s – surely it has been long enough since then?

Surely one generation should easily be able to erase the inequality of thousands of years of entrenched abuse and inequality? That’s not much! It can’t be that hard!

I know the answer: we’re still dealing with the legacy of inequality. We’re still unequal. We’re teaching what we knew ourselves to our daughters and sons.

I see it in the women who are spoken over in conversation, I see it in the absence of movies and media about women, I see it even in the programming club where I volunteer, and among the 9-12 year olds I teach only 1 of 15 is a girl, because it doesn’t occur to local parents that their daughters might like to learn how to program. Or be good at it.

We’re passing on a legacy of misogyny. It cuts to the core.

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Why strong girls leave home

Girls leave home when it ceases to support them. They don’t come back because there’s nothing to come back for. I moved cities because, away from home, I could finally be myself without my parents criticising everything I did. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

When I return home for visits, every two years or so, yet again I feel that stifling, patriarchal, controlling weight holding me down and crushing my spirit.

Family dynamics can be difficult, especially when you don’t fit in with your family’s expectations. In anyone else’s world I’d be a success: I’m a professional woman, I’ve achieved in my career and in my hobbies, I’ve made a positive difference for so many people.

But what I wanted to do and be just didn’t fit in with what my family wanted. I was never going to be subservient and feminine. I was never going to be the pretty girl. I was never going to be the perfect daughter – an exact copy of my mother, minus all her mistakes. I was always going to be my own person. I think that came as a shock.

Raising girls is just raising little humans

Our society has a real problem in raising girls, especially non-traditional girls. We’re fine with girls who want to follow traditional paths, and who are beautiful in traditional ways, but we struggle with women who want to be soldiers, or bodybuilders, or engineers, or programmers.

Or even with women who just want to speak their minds.

We do our best to push and shove our girls into a tiny box labelled “acceptable” and anything else we don’t know what to do with. It’s time we started accepting our daughters – especially our strong, unique, powerful daughters – as amazing human beings in their own right.

It’s time we honoured their strength.

It’s time we welcomed them home.

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Redefining marriage: Eternity or happiness?

Sometimes divorce is a good thing. And sometimes it doesn’t happen like you see in the movies.

My husband of 17 years and I are divorcing. There are no plates being hurled at each other, no tantrums, and very few harsh words. We’re not bitter, we’ve worked through the anger and the grief, and it is time to move on.

We’ve done over two years of counselling, and we’ve told our parents, our children and a few close friends. Gradually the word will get out.

It feels odd. I feel almost dreamlike at times. Marriage for us had become a habit.

When I married him, I honestly believed it would be until death. I also believed that any marriage that wasn’t forever was a failure. I know differently now.

I now view our marriage, even though it has ended, as a successful marriage.

We were happy through most of it.
We have two amazing kids.
We were good partners for each other.
We supported each other.
And we’re now going our own ways amicably.
This is joint decision.
It is what is best for both of us.
We are in agreement.
We will continue to co-parent, even though we’re separating.
I trust that he has the best interests of our kids at heart.
I trust him to be fair and honest with me in his dealings.
He trusts me to be fair and honest in my dealings with him.
We are good friends.

Redefining marriage

So what makes a marriage successful? Is it just the “till death do us part” bit? Or is it something else?

I think we need to re-assess what it means for a marriage to be successful. We must redefine it, because our current definitions, quite frankly, are making people miserable. They don’t work for a lot of people, they place unrealistic expectations on couples, and they encourage couples to stay together in situations where they would very much be better off apart.

The fact is, sometimes sticking together no matter what isn’t always the best decision.

Think about it:

  • Is a marriage successful if two people stick it out in absolute misery until death, simply because society tells them they must?
  • Is a marriage successful if a couple despise each other but stay together in a sham relationship “for the kids” when everyone around them knows the whole thing is a fake?
  • Is a marriage successful if two people stay together for no other reason than habit?
  • Is a marriage successful if two people stay together simply because they are afraid to leave? Afraid of the unknown? Of the “what if…”? Is fear a good or healthy reason for a couple to be together?
  • Is a marriage successful if it lasts a lifetime but one or both members physically or emotionally abuse each other?
  • Is a marriage successful if one or both members are cheating on the other, sleeping around, lying to their partner, yet remaining married?


I’d argue that none of the above constitute success.

If that’s how we measure “success” in our society, then society has it wrong.
If that’s the best society can do, then it’s not good enough for us.

I believe my marriage was successful because we were both strong enough and brave enough to say “Now is the time for us to end this.”
We were willing to be honest with each other.
We didn’t cheat, we didn’t lie, we didn’t sleep around behind the other’s back while pretending everything was rosy.

Instead, we saw that what we had wasn’t working, and we tried to fix it. And when we realised it couldn’t be fixed, we had the strength and honesty to say, let it go.

This is a frightening time for me. It probably is for him too. I don’t know what my life will be in a year from now, in ten years from now. Separating takes away all certainty. The thought of being a single mother in her forties is scary.

I’m scared but I will face the future with what strength I have.

strength

Why are we moving on? I can only speak for myself. I’m moving on because I have to believe that I can bring joy into someone’s life, and that someone can bring joy into mine. Life is too short to merely exist. I want my life to be rich, and full of purpose and deep satisfaction.

Maybe I’ll fail to achieve what I want, but at the end of my life if I have failed to fly, I don’t want to have failed because I was afraid to spread my wings.

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