Women. This is a call to action. I don’t know when we learned that our needs were going to be too much. That our emotions are messy and unwelcome. That we need to control ourselves so as not to be a burden. I hear it so often in session that clients are scared that if they allow themselves to experience their emotions and then ask to have their needs met that those needs will push people away.
Where did we learn this? Who taught us this horrible thing?
So much of my work is in convincing people that their emotions aren’t bad. Their emotions are useful, healthy, wonderful things. Can they be overwhelming? Of course. But they’re usually only overwhelming in response to overwhelming situations.
We need to stop making ourselves smaller, less, acceptable.
Acceptable to who?
This drive to stop feeling, to stop acknowledging, to stop being too much is making all of us sick. It’s making us anxious and stressed. It’s sending us running to the pantry to eat all of the children’s leftover Halloween candy (from last year) after they go to bed. Ok, maybe that last one is just me.
I say this is a call to action for women, because women are taught to be accommodating, that asking for their needs to be met is bossy, is whiny, is abrasive.
Lean in, we’re told, but don’t cry. Go all in at work, but just don’t actually react naturally or with emotions, even when the circumstances call for it.
Men are more inclined to assume their needs are reasonable and will be met. Generations of boys taught that the world will shape itself around their needs – and it did – while our girls learn to get along in a world not built for them.
Look no further than the movie theater. Not to be gender normative, but in my experience big budget action movies tend to have a target audience that is largely male and 18-30. And yet, those movies are often times considered to be “better” movies than romantic comedies, who tend to have a target audience of women age 18-30. Why? I’ve seen good examples of both and I’ve seen bad examples of both. But generally it’s assumed that the action movies are, for some reason, starting from a more esteemed place.
Movies directed at men dominate at the movie theater. Star Wars, Avengers, Creed, Terminator (another one!). All awesome movies, I’ve enjoyed watching all of them. But I think we can all agree, and have it not be controversial, that those movies are largely targeted at men. There’s even a phenomenon known as the Bechdel Test for measuring whether movies even bother to develop (more than one) female character. The test asks whether, in a given movie, there is a conversation between TWO FEMALE characters that is NOT about a MALE character. At any point in the movie! Once you start looking for it, it’s astonishing how few movies made today – prestige and mass market, pass the test.
I always wonder why this is? Why aren’t more movies being made for women? We’re HALF the population and, generally, my female friends tend to LIKE movies, and going to the movies, more than my male friends. So why aren’t studios churning out movies that are directed at women?
Because we’re used to going along, to making our preferences and needs less, to making ourselves smaller, to accommodating. Therefore, by making a movie directed at a man, Hollywood can capture women too, because we don’t assert our own need to see stories that speak to us, we go along.
Please know that I’m not saying these movies are bad or evil or that women are bad or pathetic or wrong in anyway. Movie studios are businesses and they’re interested in making money. They’re not in the business of social change for change’s sake. If women were to start asserting their needs, the studios would likely want to meet them.
But we’re afraid. We’re so worried about being judged or being thought to be too much that we go along. We don’t demand.
We don’t assert.
It’s so hard to get my clients to assert their own needs. To be their own advocate.
Because it’s terrifying. What if the person I’m depending on doesn’t meet my needs? What if they tell me my needs are wrong? What if I realize that they don’t love me enough to prioritize my needs and my emotions?
Do I then have to walk away?
That’s some scary stuff right there. Much better not to need.
Except it’s not. Much better is really to just get your darn needs met. To think that you’re worth having only people in your life willing to meet your needs – and whose needs you’re willing to meet too. Isn’t it better to know? To know whether this person you care for, this person you rely on, can even ever accept your needs?
I remind clients that people want to love us. The people that love us want to make us happy. They just don’t always know how.
So we have to help them. And by helping them, help ourselves.