WOMEN’S WORST HABIT – PUTTING OURSELVES DOWN

You are good enough

There’s a 25 year reunion at my old school in a few weeks and it has sparked a floury of emails between girls who were once in my year. “Oh God, can I borrow someone’s husband and kids?” wrote one. Another: “You can have my ex husband and children but I don’t think you’d want them.” And another: “Damn, why couldn’t this have been last year when I actually had a job.”

All this self-deprecation got me thinking about how commonly women jump to put themselves down. When i arrive, I know I’ll find a roomful of smart, articulate, lovely women – their only fault that they haven’t quite turned out to be the 360 degree all singing, all dancing high-flying career women and mothers that we were all told we should be.

In reality we’ll be a bunch of 40-somethings muddling along as best we can – each coping with our own set of issues that could well include difficult kids, struggling marriages, ex husbands, loneliness, tricky work situations, ageing parents, illness – and everything else in between.

Feeling like a failure

True, I attended an all girls school in the late 1980s, in an age when it was drummed into us that we truly deserved to ‘have it all’ and should damn well go out and get it. Hell, we even got a lecture about it by a terrifying ex-pupil, the author Shirley Conran. I can still remember her striding in in her power heels.

But it is not just my old class-mates who’ve been tyrannised by this once well meaning phrase. It does a disservice to all women. “Having it all” implies you are a failure if you have anything less. So women constantly feel under pressure to perform perfectly as mothers, partners, lovers, work colleagues. Not only are we setting our selves up to fail, it leaves us very little time to look after ourselves.

Worse, it sets a bar that tempts women to constantly compare themselves to others and feel intimated rather than supported when we first meet. I have fallen into this trap a million times: intimidated by some seemingly high-powered, perfectly poised woman, only to discover what a nice – and equally flawed person they are when I’ve got to know them.

Meeting other women on my Shh… retreat

It even happened to me when I attended a Shh… retreat. I was invited to attend a taster session with some fellow journalists last year. At Waterloo Station, I recognised them immediately because I had nervously Googled them before I set out. Then I sat on the train to Dorset hiding from them terrified by how much more successful and professional they were compared to me.

This wasn’t because I was being competitive, just in my default mode of putting myself down. It was only when we found ourselves in our first group session, curled up in comfy arm-chairs chatting about our lives that I realized how stupid I’d been. Three things struck me immediately:

1. Every very woman out there is struggling with her own unique set of issues.

2. We can learn from these struggles and support each other.

3. How generally fantastic most women are when you get to know them.

Two days later we sat back on the train back to London, gigging like old friends, swapping contacts, stories and advice. Since then, one has become a great friend.

The collective power of women

I know the same will happen at my school reunion. We’ll all nervously head to our metaphorical ‘underachievers corner’ clutching our wine. Then spend a brilliant evening sharing all the crazy, unexpected experiences we’ve had since we first tumbled into the wide world age 18. The healing power of women when they get together is a wonderful thing.

 

by Bridget Harrison

Bridget Harrison is a freelance journalist and editor based in London who contributes to The Times, Glamour, Daily Mail, Red, Top Sante and BBC Radio London. Her book Tabloid Love: Looking for Mr Right in All the Wrong Places chronicles her dating experience, and her trials and tribulation as a 30-something single woman in New York City.

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