There has never been more pressure on women to be everything. At work, at home, on social media, in the mirror. And always, always in our own heads where the pressure feels at times unbearable.
If you’re single, you’re constantly asked why. If you don’t have kids, people want to know what’s wrong with you; are you infertile or are you just a child-hating shrew? What about donor eggs, have you considered it? If you take time out of your career to have a baby, everyone wants to know when you’ll be back. If you return to work in less than six months, people wonder, ‘But how can you leave the baby?’.
If you stay away for longer, people ask, ‘But what about your career?’. And any time you win a promotion, grab an opportunity for more responsibility or take a new job, people express concern about how you’ll find work-life balance.
Then there’s the incessant pressure to be thin and beautiful and young even when you’re pregnant or a new mum or sick or depressed or hungover or old or have cancer or cystitis or are caring for your elderly father or you just woke up with the flu. Be hot 24/7 and document your hotness regularly via multiple social media platforms and associated hashtags or #fail. Don’t be thirsty. Remember to be blessed. How many followers you got? Don’t retweet praise but if you do, remember to have #gratitude.
As we silently internalise all this societal pressure to be and do everything, it constricts and tortures us in a way that’s uniquely female. Men do not do this. They don’t. They divert precious little mental energy to questioning whether they’re being a bloke in exactly the way society deems correct at this particular moment. Men are rarely judged by society or by each other and especially not by themselves.
Not like we are, not like we do. They just bloody get on with it. How good does that sound?
Because when, as women, we can’t fulfill society’s absurdly long list of impossible demands – and nobody can – we sadly yank on our hair shirt and flagellate ourselves with the big three: shame, guilt and the pervading anxiety that we’re failing. At life. At being women. Mothers. At our careers. And we pile these feelings on top of the already challenging circumstances that pushed us to this point.
Rinse, repeat, angst, infinity.
No wonder the boundless, manic pursuit of a ‘balanced’ state makes us feel inadequate and wretched. Work-life balance is like thigh gaps. It’s yet another rotten external pressure women are putting on ourselves. Another impossible standard against which we’re measuring ourselves and our lives. And for what?