In order to make our way in the world, many of us as women feel that we need to distance ourselves from aspects of the feminine such as being too emotional or passive, as they’ve been labeled as negative traits and a barrier to success for women in the masculine dominated workforce.
Being a feminine woman could be seen as weak, inferior, less than – by men as well as by women. So as women we learn to disown that sense of the feminine and anything that represents it.
I remember the fear I had about my career when I was about to become a mother. I was thirty years old and had worked tirelessly for years to establish myself as a tough, fearless, inexhaustible worker who would always get the job done with exceptional results.
I had dispelled the myths of being young and female and what that meant in this mostly male professional services firm. I had found my place, been promoted as the youngest Director ever, one of the only women making it into the ‘inner circle.’
And then I got pregnant.
I was terrified that everything was about to change, that I would lose my footing and years of excruciating work would be undone.
The same week I was ready to tell people I was pregnant, I turned thirty.
At my birthday brunch with my girlfriends, this is the exchange that went down:
Me: “Guess what I got for my birthday?”
Me: “A baby!!!!”
Friends: Blank stares. Gaping mouths. Utter shock. I was seen to be the most ‘successful’ and certainly the most ambitious of the group, and had never even uttered the possibility of having a baby, nor any desire to. It seemed about as plausible to them as an alien showing up for champagne brunch.
After the shock started to wear off, this:
Work Friend, with a look of horror and grave concern on her face (she actually looked like she might cry):
“But what about your CAREER???”
I was 12 weeks pregnant. Mild panic was quickly turning into a full-out anxiety attack.
The truth was, I had no idea about my career.
All bets were off.
I worked up until the week before my son was born, even though I had a high-risk pregnancy, had to have daily blood thinning injections, and was completely exhausted. I checked in with the office frequently while on maternity leave that was meant to be six months but was really only three.
Couldn’t be away for too long, I thought, whilst secretly praying my maternity leave replacement was doing a terrible job.
The strategy to reclaim my power when I went back to work was simple: pretend I’d never had a baby, act like nothing had changed, get back to business as normal. Good plan, I thought.
I recall walking around the office on my return and looking at the desks of more junior women with pictures of their kids and paintings done in kindy pasted to the walls and thinking to myself, “Woah, bad idea lady, you shouldn’t have all that stuff on your desk!”
To me, it was evidence: of a life outside of work, of family responsibilities that would be seen to detract from the ability to do your job, of motherhood, that thing that always negatively impacted a woman’s career but never a man’s.
Evidence of being a woman.
And none of that would help you to get ahead in this workplace, or any workplace for that matter.
The feminine was something to be masked, covered up, stamped out, hidden at all costs.
For many of us, the workplace is when we first deeply disown and dishonour the most intrinsic parts of ourselves, for fear of not fitting in, of standing out for the wrong reasons, of disobeying the patriarchal laws of the land.
And for many of us, we don’t even know the value of what we have lost.