In my childhood neighborhood were families of many ethnicities and religions. There was a couple that lived down our street who would go on evening walks together, the woman keeping several steps behind her husband. My mother explained to me that this distinction of the man before the woman was a part of their culture. I could do that, I remember thinking. I could play that role and feed the male ego. And I did. Until one day I realized I was no longer playing a role but had internalized it.
What made me think that in the first place? I must have been about 8 years old so I certainly had already absorbed many of the messages from my own very patriarchal upbringing. Maybe part of me thought I would take the patriarchy all the way, either calling their bluff or being the best female I possibly could, living their rules and ideals to the max. Or maybe I felt strong enough as a person that I could sacrifice myself outwardly and think I wasn’t losing a part of myself.
I practiced being demure. I nit-picked every part of myself that wasn’t feminine enough. I learned to keep my own thoughts and opinions to myself, and keep them malleable enough to defer to others. I found pride in being very low maintenance so as to never inconvenience others. I worked toward a Buddhist zen in giving up myself for others. I considered my service to be noble until I realized I had lost my own footing and didn’t knowhow to ask for help because I truly believed that the comfort of others was bigger than my own.
It didn’t come as an epiphany, rather the stones beneath my feet gradually disappeared over time and littlebt little I became aware of my own fragility and precarious footing.
It’s one thing to believe oneself to be an egalitarian. It’s completely something else to believe that includes yourself. I never would have believed that trying so hard to be good would leave me feeling so badly about myself.