Finding your way back to self-love after leaving a deeply patriarchal community
Today was my day off. I woke up at 13:30, ordered a cold coffee, and video chatted my mum who just tested negative for covid after 11 days of quarantine. While I’m miles away, the men of the family -who were avoiding her like the plague- still “allowed” her to leave the quarantine room and get to the kitchen once a day to cook and do the dishes. The sad part is, that she thought this was totally normal.
I still haven’t told you the best part though.
While I was sitting on the couch, waiting for my coffee, my boyfriend was in the other room ironing his shirt to go to work. When my mother discovered that the poor man was doing his own chores, she looked at me with a face of despair through her smartphone screen: “You should be doing that, how could you let him iron his own shirt, he’s a working person!” she said. I brushed off these words by reminding her it was my day off, and that it was his shirt that needed to be ironed. However, once I waved her goodbye, and had my brain and its thoughts to myself, the guilt hit me.
Should I have been the one to iron the shirt? Am I a bad woman? Is my mother right to feel disappointed, as if she didn’t raise me well enough?
Even though it has been almost seven years since I last left my hometown for the first time, I still have these insanely misogynistic, sexist, and patriarchal thoughts so deeply instilled in me that I spend quite a lot of energy abusing myself, and then trying to remember who I really am. I still feel like I need a pat on the back from a man in my life to feel whole. The first time I cooked something and waited for my dad’s approval as if my life depended on it, repeats itself every single day of my life. It’s a circle of self-hate that never stops recycling.
I feel like it’s important to share this because even though no one talks about it, I start thinking that it happens to almost every woman around me.
You see, growing up as a young woman in a traditional household where your job is to help mum in the kitchen while the men have interesting conversations on the porch, leaves you with some sort of a complex, a set of values that are difficult to get rid of, especially if your entire community sees of this situation as the norm. And even though I’ve been blessed with a partner who is a perfect ally to gender equality, I still struggle with my own thoughts, knowing very well that I am not the only one. And the first part of the long-lasting battle is recognizing how bad the situation is.
It’s a struggle to battle against the golden standard of the perfect wife with a great career, who is an exemplary mother, a Michelin-star-level chef, and baker, a sex symbol with great cleaning skills, and a house so beautifully decorated that you would bet it came straight through Architectural Digest.
And still, after speaking three languages, and getting a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, I get tripped by the thought that I’m a bad partner because I let my boyfriend clean the house. I still feel guilty when I allow myself to rest instead of doing chores. I still feel guilty because I don’t care about the curtains in my house. I still feel guilty when I share with my partner the thought of potentially not wanting to have kids. I’m always surprised when someone at work asks for my opinion, because why would anyone ever ask for my opinion? I spend hours doubting my own career as if I’m accidentally getting every little piece of success in my life.
No matter how much I push to feel like a strong, independent woman, the moment things get rough, I reduce myself to the voiceless little girl that I once was. The girl whose opinion never mattered, the girl who still can’t be heard because she has no voice, the girl who is not strong enough, the girl who will get a beating, put on some makeup, and go back to school pretending she hit her nose on the cupboard.
Well, I am not that girl anymore. I still haven’t found a solution yet, but this is how I battle the toxicity every single day:
I constantly remind myself, that the way I was raised, despite it being the norm, is not okay, and is definitely not normal. I pick apart every single piece that was left behind by myself and thousands of women and make it a statement inside my mind so that no more young girls get to feel bad for standing up for themselves.
Instead of romanticizing my childhood, I see it for what it was: toxic and unfair.
A therapist once told me:
If you were a man, would you have to apologize for any of the hopes and dreams that you have for the future? If not, then you shouldn’t apologize to anyone, for any of it, ever.
It’s not much, but it’s the only thought that keeps me grounded and feeling like I’m not on the wrong path, even when everyone around me might think that it is.
You always matter, more than you know.