Thursday, May 26, 2011

martyrdom and womanhood

Giving selflessly is a huge theme in my life

The two pivotal women in my family of origin, my Paternal Grandma and my Mother both did a lot of giving.

No-one would leave Grandma's house without something from her garden and a full tummy. She was warm and attentive. She raised 4 boys by catering to their every need. She maintained a rich and loving relationship with her "true-blue" husband, holding hands as they watched the evening TV, for decades, by being all giving, anticipating his needs, playing his straightman.

My mother is forever baking for people in need, reaching out into people's lives and offering an ear and words.

So growing up with this i assumed that giving = being a woman.

Our culture fully supports this.

An ideal woman is first a good daughter, docile, compliant, sweet.

Then she grows into this creature who is at once beautiful but not too beautiful, kind, giving, pliant.

Then fecund, infinitely patient, always thinking of others, selflessly feeding, clothing, wiping tears, supporting the man out there in the world achieving, striving while she is at home maintaining and nourishing.

Then she disappears as a physical presence but she continues to give, charity work, being there for others, anticipating needs, the right thing to say until she disappears into the ether.

But as much as i willingly took on this mantle it felt itchy.

I asked Grandma "what happens when you get mad?" i had never seen her lose her temper ("by the hokey pokey" were the worst words that ever came out of her mouth - put me off that icecream altogether!)

She told me she went and dug in the garden.

I watched my mother work tirelessly in the kitchen but squirmed at the way she spoke about and fed off the misery of others. How she resented us and the time we took, how she rolled her eyes at Dad...

How all this giving was at a cost.

I tried the giving role - nursing (the modernday martyr and sweet/sexual tied up in one prim package) and watched it eat the good ones away... i tried to be selfless but i was aware that as much as i was giving away i was asking for a return-

often with interest.

If it wasn't forthcoming i felt resentment, bitterness.

I understood that the equation went like this

Giving all you had = Getting all you ever wanted.

I am realising that for me what that equation really looks like is

Giving all you have = Temporary satisfaction for others - deep resentment and bitterness.

I think that is sold to women because it gets men what they want. Don't get me wrong there are men who want a more equitable relationship, they are the strong ones, the ones who can cope with a real partner.

I think that when a woman steps out of the martyr role,

the all giving saccharine sweet and starts to take back for herself,

Feeds her dreams,

gives voice to her heart,

asks life for what she wants instead of expecting it to arrive by some back-room deal in which she sacrifices her heart for less than it is worth.

Then she is free to give from her deepest self, while being sustained by her soul, no winners and losers, an honest trade made in love. She moves into her truest power.

She says yes with all her heart

and she say no with grace.


  1. this makes me think of this word, i wish i had noted where i got it from, i love it:


    isn't it awesome? :o)

    to a new feminine! rock it baby!

  2. I can see myself in this post. The 9 years I gave to my ex husband, doing everything to make him happy and comfortable because I thought that's what I was supposed to do, even though deep down I was so miserable and felt trapped.

    not anymore. I am free, I am myself, and I can do what I like to make me happy.

    Jane, you have once again put into words what I never could. You are amazing and wonderful and everyday I wish I could hug you.

  3. Vanessa/VentralviewMay 26, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    I love what you write, and I love the way you write it.

  4. sooo hit home. soooo hit home.
    when i finally woke up and took my life back, i lost a lotta people. i smiled when i read about the 'strong men' who want an equitable relationship. i gained those kinda people to step in for the ones i lost. reading this made me really think about that.
    fantastic post...

  5. Yes! I can see myself in this. There is still a part of me that thinks that any form of giving to myself (including things as simple as eating when I'm hungry) is selfish. I am learning to shift this pattern. Fortunately for the shifting, I do remember how I felt when I gave until I was empty and beyond - the resentment and bitterness and how it felt like all the negativity somehow negated the giving in a way - and how I feel when I give when I am full.