I want to raise a selfish daughter and I think I’m off to a good start, sure she seems to enjoy making us laugh and smile but for the most part she’s pretty self-centred and is pretty happy to let the world revolve around her. We make sure she’s fed and clean and entertained and sleeps, etc., and she lets us.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking she is only a baby, in time she’ll be able to do these things for herself and then she can move on from the selfish mini-human she currently is into the kind of socially desirable, self-sacrificing, individuality-sacrificed-for-the-good-of-the-team woman she is supposed to be.
Well, and I’m just going to say it, I don’t want her to. Not that I don’t want her to grow up and learn to do things without us and become self-sufficient. I think my primary job as a parent is to provide her with the tools necessary to take care of herself, although I don’t doubt it’ll be hard to do as she ebbs further away from her need of me towards her need for a whole lot more.
Sure it’d be nice if she can contribute to society and enhance the lives of those around her, giving as much as she receives, yada, yada… but I really really don’t want her to move beyond a fundamental level of self-sufficiency. She should progress away from needing our care to be able to care for herself, she will hopefully want to care for others but that part in the middle, that being able to care for herself should not be a stepping stone to forming relationships, it should be the foundation of who she is.
In my last post I wrote about the importance of needing to be a bit selfish and to find some time for the ‘me’ that goes beyond a definition of myself in relation to others (mother, wife, employee, friend, etc…) and the theme seems to have taken root.
We are taught that selfishness is a bad thing, that is worthy of judgement and condemnation, but we aren’t taught to make the distinction between an inherent selfishness that is simply thinking of one’s self and a destructive egomania that sacrifices the selves of others for its own insatiable gratification. There’s a difference between ‘being selfish’, where you take time to consider your own needs and yes, put these before others at times, and ‘being selfish’ to the point that you would fail to give way to the parent and baby in the parent and baby checkout line because you can’t wait an extra ten minutes to complete your weekly shop, just by way of random example off the top of my head, there are possibly worse ones that you could think of.
I don’t pretend to know what it is like for boys, I’ve never been one, but I think for girls this is particularly problematic. I think girls are more likely to be encouraged to put their needs secondary to the needs of those around them. This is evident in parts of the world where girls are not sent to school, not invested in as individuals and are expected to care for relatives, make children, etc. It is perhaps less obvious but it happens elsewhere too.
First as girls, and then as women, we are encouraged not to be noisy; not to be bossy; not to challenge societal expectations by having an interest in anything other than princesses; not to hurt others feelings; not to upset our temperamental superviser, who incidentally upsets all the women he supervises but this is somehow our problem to deal with rather than his; not to take it personally when colleagues make misogynistic comments; not to cause a fuss when strangers on public transport touch us inappropriately; not to wear clothing that might attract negative attention; not to breastfeed our babies where the sight of boobs fulfilling their secondary function (primary, clearly, being the entertainment of others) might make others uncomfortable. And my god I could go on forever.
In short, we are encouraged not to put the needs of our selves first. And I do not want this for my daughter.
For the first time in an incredibly long time I feel like not only is the world moving in the right direction in terms of gender equality but it’s starting to move at a pace that suggests that I might actually live to see real change.
The #metoo movement sparked by the Weinstein allegations is moving faster than the boulder at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is absorbing a hundred and one movements that have been highlighting issues of and fighting against gender inequality for so long. And, unlike in Indiana Jones, we aren’t rooting for the heroic gentleman to escape the merciless rock by the skin of his teeth, we are waiting for him to be knocked to the ground and annihilated. In this particular metaphor, Indy is the patriarchy that has for too long confined everyone to narrow gender roles that ultimately disadvantage everyone.
Oops, perhaps this post should have come with an angry feminist warning, oh well, too late now. Let me try and dial it back a notch. We all need a level of selfishness that means people do not take advantage of us. We need a level of selfishness that recognises that to function as a decent human being we need a little self-care that might mean occasionally refusing to help others because we really need a night of binge-watching Netflix in our PJs, eating ice-cream out of the tub.
I was speaking with a friend recently about the guilt she was feeling from not making herself constantly available to someone else, because she needed a bit of time to focus on herself. She had been discussing this with a therapist who told her the following:
Everyone has their own circus with their own monkeys, but sometimes people will try and give you their monkeys or even their entire circus to take care of, but you have to be able to tell them ‘not my monkey, not my circus.’ We can’t be responsible for everyone else’s monkeys and we shouldn’t feel bad for not being able to take care of the monkeys they can’t take care of themselves.
I was recently in a situation where I was offered a great opportunity, all I had to do was reach out and take it but just as I extended my arm to do so someone tried to deter me, they tried to explain that my taking this opportunity would upset other people who might want similar opportunities, that it would be better to wait or take a lesser opportunity. I thought ‘not my monkey’, I even said ‘sometimes you have to be a little selfish’, and then I reached out and took. My monkeys seem quite happy with the outcome.
My mum was saying earlier that she was pleased to see that I seemed to be a bit more aware of my own self-worth and a bit more assertive with that. Mum was right, as she often is although its not good to tell her this too often, but I wouldn’t be enjoying a new-found self-confidence without a new-found appreciation and embracing of a level of selfishness.
So, yes, I want my girl to be selfish, to take care of herself and her needs, to put herself forward for opportunities as and when she can and not to be held back or to doubt herself because it might make others feels uncomfortable. It seems I’m going to be one of those ùpushy mums, pushing for a pushy daughter and if that happens I’m going to be proud of both of us.