“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”
Simone de Beauvoir
There are moments in life when you receive the answer to a question that has been within you for what feels like forever. The question for me, since I was a child is one that has percolated inside of me, often in a way that would make me scream inaudibly, because no matter how much I searched and sought for the answer, it would not come.
Until one day I picked up a book and read the epigraph – the phrase at the top of this blog entry – and the answer rushed me, to the extent I felt winded, hollowed, emptied out and filled up again, all at once. The question for me had been one of my own making; one that had beset me from the moment I realised I was female and I was being treated differently because of it.
When I was a child, the questions were, “why do I keep being treated differently than the boys? Why do they get to do all the things they want and I don’t? And why do I keep being told that it’s because I’m a girl? What difference does that make?” As I became older, the questions changed and morphed into one, all-encompassing query that seem to lie at the bottom of all my questions. “Why do I doubt/question myself to the extent I feel ‘less than’ even when rationally I know I am not?”
When I started coaching and mentoring, I started to hear other variations of the question and recognised them too as my own. “Why do women doubt themselves so much, especially when they are as accomplished as they often are?” Or “Why do women not put themselves forward as much as men do?” These questions would often come from men, as if the problem lay with women entirely and they were struggling to figure out why it was so difficult when it was clearly not an issue for them.
The questions would come from some women too; until I’d probed deeper and found they too had a version of that question within themselves. They simply had not acknowledged it or had done what many of us over-achieving women do. Tried to copy the masculine model and exhausted ourselves in every which way trying to be successful in a world not built for us. And that was the clincher.
In reading that epigraph and now the book (I’ve not got as far as I’d like because I keep going back and re-reading and poring over sections of the book to let it seep into me as deeply as it can go) the epiphany I received was the truth stated in the epigraph.
We doubt ourselves deep within, even when we say we don’t, because we live in a world, which in every sense is not made for us, and when we dare to try and articulate this; we are denied, negated, denigrated and often ridiculed to the point we wonder if we are making it up.
I come from a deeply patriarchal culture, one that instilled this innate sense of inferiority (I seriously dislike the word and have fought it for as long as I can remember!) in me from the start and throughout all my life, even after everything I have done to educate, grow and expand myself, still, still I found myself carrying that tiny seed of doubt that made me wonder if I would ever ‘get’ why I felt this way.
And then I did. When I read that epigraph. God bless Simone de Beauvoir and Caroline Criado Perez! I had the biggest a-ha moment of my life! Hallelujah!!!
I have doubted and questioned myself (and most women I imagine, plus anyone else who has ever been discriminated against, consciously or unconsciously) because the world has not been made for me and I have had to fight for everything I’ve ever wanted, from the smallest request to the largest freedom.
I am not the default. My life lived is not experienced as ‘absolute truth’, even in my eyes. And in that, for all those that do see themselves as the default (usually unconsciously, as they’ve never had to think about it – being the default), I have had to argue my case. As if I had to justify my even being here, in a world clearly not made for me.
Each and every time I have tried to share how I experience the world, through my eyes, especially to men, they have struggled to understand where I was coming from and would often tell me I was wrong, it wasn’t as bad as that, I was imagining it, my religion said it’s that way, so it must be. I used to get very angry at hearing this and as I became older I started to deal with this in a more rational way (losing your rag tended to play in their hands – I became the hysterical female) but in truth, at some level I was still raging and had never stopped. I didn’t always blame the men, (okay, maybe some of them) as much as my anger may have been directed at them. At some level, I got they too were part of the illusion and so I tried even harder to lift the blinders from their eyes.
And sometimes it worked. When I finally found the courage to ask them to look at the world through my eyes, really and truly (often through a very personal story) they would get it, and I could see them shift. It was then I knew there was hope, because these men also wanted to be the kind of men they dream of being.
Reading this epigraph, this book has opened my eyes and given me the validation I have been searching for, to help me understand why I have felt this way all my life, why so many women, seriously accomplished women feel this way in their lives. At a deep unconscious level, we have felt the outsider, the interloper, sometimes the usurper because we dared ask for our due.
Not anymore. Now I get it beyond anything I ever have and this book has changed my life. Everyone I talk to who asks me a variation of the question(s) receive the reply below.
‘Read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.’ In every which way, now evidenced at the highest level, we as women have been consciously, and more often than not unconsciously ignored, dismissed, forgotten. When you live in a world where your very existence seems to contradict its structures, it’s not surprising that you begin to doubt yourself at your core.
No more. Now we know this, all of us women and men, have a responsibility to keep speaking up, out and as loud as possible saying ‘the male default is not absolute truth’. There is a world out there that holds many, many more. Now is the time to make sure as many voices as possible are being heard.
As for me, no longer will I choose to feel like I don’t belong. I belong, because I am here. As are all of Us. That is my vision, my purpose to keep shouting about, to whomever will listen.
“Have a vision. It is the ability to see the invisible. If you can see the invisible, you can achieve the impossible.”