Think about the last time you felt overwhelmed. Maybe it was last week. Maybe yesterday. Perhaps you feel that way right now.
I know for myself, I’m really good at recognizing the immediate cause of my stress and anxiety. Like, I have to be at an appointment in fifteen minutes, but I have to load the dishwasher, run a kid to practice, and drop off the house payment before the appointment. I recognize that I’m feeling stressed because I have too many things to do in too little time.
What’s more difficult is uncovering the underlying conditioning and expectations that put me on the stressed-out hamster-wheel in the first place. Expectations like:
- It’s my job to keep the house clean and tidy.
- My kids need to be involved in sports and activities in order to be happy and healthy.
- If my kids aren’t happy and healthy, then I’m a bad mother.
- Not paying bills on time makes me fiscally irresponsible and a bad person.
- Being late for an appointment makes me irresponsible and not trustworthy.
- And on, and on, and on.
The truth is that our day to day tasks are not the source of stress in most of our lives. It’s the underlying and overwhelming expectations that go along with those tasks. Those subtle and prevalent expectations keep you stuck, overwhelmed, and feeling bad about yourself.
Doctor Stephen Hinshaw called it “the problem with no name.” He went on to study, explore, and name the pressures at work on teen girls and women in American society. In his book The Triple Bind, Hinshaw shows how three major factors create a societal pressure cooker for women and girls.
Expectation #1: Be good at all the traditionally female stuff.
Used to be if you could bake a decent loaf of bread and keep your floors swept, you were winning at being a woman. In the era of blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram, this is no longer the case. Not only are women expected to be nurturing, kind, understanding, and to place others’ needs above their own, they are expected to throw themed birthday parties, maintain an immaculate home where every room is decorated to perfection, plan a month of freezer meals, take professional-quality photographs, dress like a hipster, and work out every day.
Of course, women are also expected to be good daughters, to take care of aging parents, make those parents proud, and bring honor to their families.
Women are expected to be good wives, to understand, support, and help their husbands. Women are expected to be good mothers, to make sure that their kids are mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Moms are expected to shuffle kids from one activity to the next, provide cookies for the bake sale, be involved in PTO, and help out at everything from dances to track meets.
I’m not saying that being a good daughter, wife, and mother is a bad thing. I’m saying that the expectation of what it takes to BE a good daughter, wife, and mother has multiplied exponentially, so that no matter how much you give to these roles, you still feel like a failure.
Expectation #2: Be good at all the traditionally male stuff.
So, let’s say you COULD master all of the traditionally females stuff listed above. Well, in today’s society, it’s not enough. Women are not only expected to be good at all the traditionally female stuff, now we are expected to be good at all the guy stuff, too.
Girls are expected to get good grades, win admission to top colleges, be competitive in sports. As women we are expected to get good jobs, work hard for our employers while balancing our roles as wife, mother, and daughter. We are expected to manage money, save, and invest, while travelling the world (and cataloging our vacays on social media).
Women are expected to mentally and emotionally strong, to lead, to manage, and make tough choices. Do you see how this directly contradicts the expectations placed on us to be nurturing, kind, and cooperative?
When women are expected to fulfill to contradictory roles at the same time, it places us in constant turmoil. No matter what you excel at, you’re failing at something. No matter how much you accomplish, you can’t be all things. In the early 90’s Dr. Mary Pipher called this the double bind, and she showed how it was devastating to the mental health of women and girls.
Fast forward twenty years. Things haven’t gotten better. They have gotten worse because now we have the addition of the third and most difficult part of the Triple Bind.
Expectation #3: Conform to an ever-narrowing standard of thin, hot, and sexy, while making it look effortless.
This is the most insidious part of the Triple Bind because it is impossible for nearly everyone. Not only are you supposed to be good at all the traditionally feminine roles AND the traditionally masculine roles, but you must fill those roles while looking like a supermodel, wearing a size 2, and without “trying too hard” because that makes you look desperate.
No, women are supposed to have effortless perfection, and BTW, we are not supposed to KNOW when we are beautiful.
This. Is. Madness.
Knowledge is power, and the more women understand the overwhelming, contradictory, and ridiculous expectations being placed on us, the more able we are to redefine ourselves in authentic ways.
The Triple Bind is what keeps women feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious. It is this way because we have allowed society to define us. We didn’t trade one role for another, we just had more baggage heaped on our backs until we crumbled. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a solution to the Triple Bind. The solution is for women to redefine themselves, to create authentic identities, and to begin living from the inside out.
This is what the Priceless and Feminine Project is all about. It’s about education. It’s about empowerment. It’s about all of us finding authentic and lasting joy in being the women we were meant to be.
Thank you so much for following along on this journey. I know you know other women who are feeling dis-empowered, stuck, and anxious. Please do them a favor, and share this movement with them. We are stronger when we stand together.
If you haven’t done so already, click here to join the movement.