Over the years I’ve come to believe that women’s capacity for joy and pleasure is smaller than our capacity for difficulty and pain. We can handle the daily tribulations of life’s stress, suffering and dragging under the weight of the pressure of work, family, caring for others, and “going without” until our martyr mindset crushes us.
But how much pleasure, joy, fun, freedom, power, and self-care can you take? When was the last time you had pure, unadulterated pleasure, at a long stretch, guilt-free, just for you? Something that didn’t involve chocolate cake or a bottle of wine, that is.
We try. We give ourselves a semi-annual spa day, splurging on a pedicure and lunch out with a trusted friend. But after those two hours are through, we’re right back into begrudgingly serving, rushing, going, doing, doing, doing.
Why is it so challenging for women to own our capacity for pleasure?
It begins with our birth. From young years girls are told to do for others more than they do for themselves. While third-wave feminism and the realities of the global marketplace have brought more and more women into medical, business and law schools, we are still brought up as the caretakers, and perhaps our natural evolution as a species makes women slightly better at the childrearing and home keeping skills.
Taught to care for others first, putting our needs last, we feel incredible guilt and no agency around claiming what we desire. Being labeled as smart and powerful is still second place to being considered pretty or popular.
Are we masochistic? No. I believe we are afraid. Afraid of being singled-out, cast out, put in the spotlight of shame. Afraid of being labeled selfish, a bitch, or unfeminine in any way. And I believe that fear is very old, and very deep rooted in our cultural psyche.
Somehow, along the way, being known as a powerful woman changed into something else, someone less demanding for herself.
Perhaps it began with the great witch trials in Europe in the 1500-1700s. Tens of thousands of independent women, healers and midwives, were tortured and burned for their power and position.
Before the witch trials, women held a special place and power as healers and midwives, dispensers of natural medicine and knowledge. We were respected individuals who provided valuable services to the community.
Are we still afraid that we might be burned at the stake for taking a place in the sun? For demanding the freedom to take our pleasures where we may? I believe our culture was branded with fear from those hundreds of years of terror.
It’s no wonder women have been afraid to assert their rights to power, knowledge, and pleasure all these years. In her classic history Witches, Midwives & Nurses, Barbara Erhrenriech shows the early European history of women as healers, and practitioners of all medical knowledge.
After the witch-hunts wiped out the female medical experts, known as witches and midwives, the male-dominated medical and religious systems were able to take complete control over the physical and spiritual well-being of Europe and the American colonies.
Women became beholden to “experts” and doctors, and lost touch with their power as healers, medicine makers, and respected members of the culture. Women who knew too much were cast out, and the female body became subject to dangerous, and unnecessary medical practices including ill-conceived hysterectomies, heavily-medicated childbirth, and barely tested contraceptives.
Being a woman became a disease.
Not only did we lose the power of being the medicine women of our clans and villages, we weren’t trusted to know anything about our bodies, or to participate in our own care. Natural childbirth not only fell out of fashion, but women who wanted to birth at home, or stand or squat rather than be forced to lay down to make delivery easier for the doctor were treated as unreasonable and uncooperative.
As much as things change, they stay the same.
The medical profession is no longer at the 90/10 ratio of men to women, as it was in the 1970s. In fact, it’s almost evenly 50/50. Still, women remain afraid of their bodies, and sure that there is something inherently wrong with our natural state of being. We will never be perfect – far from it. We can never be good enough. And the roots of these beliefs are ancient and pervasive, encoded in our cultural memories.
We women have been active participants in the human history of medicine. There is an old, institutionalized sexism at play here, but it’s barely understood or acknowledged. Knowing the history of the present moment gives us a deeper awareness of possibility. If you knew you came from a line of midwives and healers, would you be more apt to trust your intuition, body, and opinion when it came to matters of your own health?
We simply need to see how history has played out in the modern marketing, messaging and entertainment around us that we consume, get clear that the icons of femininity aren’t all that’s true, and that we are perfect. Our bodies are strong, magnificent, and capable of powerful healing. And we women have the right and power to trust our own inner wisdom, heal our bodies and live any way that feels good and pleasurable.
What do you think about all this? Leave your comments and questions below…