Traditional or Liberated? Stress, Women and June Cleaver.

Recently, I got pretty sick. Not your standard fall flu but drop-down, exhaustion, migraine, emotionally-draining sick. I was told by the lovely little Dougie Houser M.D. that it was something related to an “Acute Stress Reaction.” (I still don’t know what that is!) He recommended that I do my best to remove some stress from my life, patted my hand in a condescending way and went off to go change the world of the Urgent Care.

At the time, my snarky and saracastic side was in full force and I laughed AT him. Not with him, definitely AT him.

De-stress my life? Really? That is the answer? DUH.

“What, pray tell, should I let go of?” I asked him “What on earth should I be stressed about? I have a weird health issue now, single parenthood, full time graduate school, bills, life in general? What do I need to cut out?”

I have since calmed down but the question remains, “How do we deal with stress when it becomes overwhelming?”

Your middle twenties shouldn’t carry this much stress. Really, it shouldn’t.

My generation of women seems to be more stressed than other previous generations. I am sure the guys are stressed too but I only feel qualified to discuss the twentysomething female perspective that I experience. We have been the product of the “You can be anything and you owe it to your family female lineage to achieve it!” party line of the women’s movement. We have been taught from birth that we can and will take on the world. It is a heady idea, taking on the world. I used to want to get out there and make the world listen to me. Now, I would be content if my 2 year old would listen to me. Priorities change as life goes on. Do I plan on changing the world someday? Of course. Just not today. Definitely not before potty-training has been achieved and certainly not before I can brainwash the swear words out of my toddlers head. ūüėČ

This generation, we have so much pressure on us! We are told to be alluring and beautiful but not trade on our sexuality. We compete with previous generations who utilize every tool available (and billions of dollars) to prevent aging while watching the next generation come up with seemingly no boundaries. We are taught that we can ‘wear the pants’ in our relationships and take on romance the same way men have traditionally done. Like the fluff film Down With Love¬†with Renee Zellwegger, our society has embraced women who enjoy sex a la carte. We are liberated! We are unafraid! Yet, women who do so are instantly¬†labeled¬†as ‘sluts’ or ‘whores.’ ¬†Sometimes, I think we may be worse off than before. It is a confusing world we live in.

We are being pulled in a hundred different ways. Perfectionist tendencies are bordering on the obsessive now. ¬†According to the Times, stress amongst female college students is at an all-time high. Our stagnant economy has ensured that we not only “owe” it to ourselves to go to college for our Bachelor’s but we need to move on and get AT LEAST a Master’s degree. We are told that we need to put our careers first. Embrace the rat race. But yet, hold on to what matters. Still keep a little bit of that June Cleaver allure. We need to have that stellar education, those perfectly shaped brows, and yes, the ability to bake that pie and cook is desired too.

I don’t know about you, but that is a hell of a lot of multi-tasking.

I had a conversation with a dear friend a couple weeks ago while we were on the train. Women of our age are living in a pressure cooker. How much can we handle? We are told to “be strong!” “We are women, hear us ROAR!” but frankly, I am tired of roaring. I am tired of being strong all the time. It is ridiculously exhausting. I am tired of carrying the torch for the previous generations and proving to men (or whomever I am supposed to prove this to) that I can manage a crap ton of stuff and still manage to look half-human on date night. ¬†Not to mention, there is now this overwhelming fear amongst women that we have done too much good. We have outpaced the men in our generation. We are told to “settle” for a nice, but clearly unequal, partner because that is ‘good enough.’ What more can we put on our plates?

Women traditionally deal with family related concerns and stress, appearance and beauty, educational obligations and that ever-ticking biological clock. NOW we have to deal with the aftermath of the so-called male “slacker generation”? No wonder depression is higher in women and heart problems are the number one killer! We are stressing ourselves to death and we consciously do it.

Lest we think that I am blaming men for the inequality and thus causing this shift over time that has resulted in me having the occasional stress-induced, wine-encouraged, basket-case moments…never fear. This is not all just about the glass ceiling. Women. Sisters. WE do it to ourselves too. We compete with each other and we are vicious.

Ask your average young and single woman on a college campus, one who identifies as “modern”, what she thinks about another woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home-mom or a housewife? Chances are, you will get a lot of harsh¬†criticism. I have friends who never went to college. They got married at 19, right of high school, and set about to basically be a soccer mom. Of the ones that are still married 6-7 years later, they seem really happy. Yay for them.

To find happiness should be the goal for all of us, shouldn’t it? Not this preconceived notion of “winning” the battle to say you have a bagillion degrees, worked 70 hour weeks on the job, have a suffocating amount of student debt to ensure you got the best education and thus are “happy” and alone at 40.¬†

Why can’t we admit it to ourselves, without embarassment, that we, as modern women, still want the traditional things too? I can. Here we go:

I hope to get married someday.

I said it. I admit it. Someday, I do want that relationship.¬†I don’t just want the pretty dress or the party, but I want to be a wife. I am already a mom and yes, should I get married, I would totally be open to an additional child(ren). The idea of having more kids at this stage in my life is a GREAT way to see me hyperventilate but envisioning a married relationship someday in the future with a couple more rugrats? I like it. Just like I love to cook for people. I love to bake. I love to nurture. It is part of my nature and I, shamefully, admit that I stomp it down sometimes. ¬†Afterall, we are supposed to be moving AWAY from that model, right? (Another blog post for another day is how one hopes to find someone to marry and why the stress of finding that person is enough to put people over the crazy edge!)

Well, I am done. I am done with trying to compete with men on the same playing field of men. I am not a man. I have no desire to be a man and I am taking back my¬†femininity. I am embracing the differences. I am demanding respect not because I can achieve academically at the same level or greater than most men I know but because I am a person who deserves it. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be feminine. I am happy to report that in addition to my excellent education, my time-consuming graduate school program, and my beautiful child, one of my favorite things to do is be silly and girly. That kids ditty, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” may in fact be true but I don’t care. I can do a lot of things better than some people and am hopelessly lost in others. I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to be me. We talk so much about wanting to be accepted amongst our peers but I wonder, how many of us have actually fully accepted ourselves for who we¬†are? THAT¬†is real freedom.

To my sisters in the rat race, if you are happy and love what you do, go forth and kick ass. You are amazing women. To my sisters tending to home and hearth, if this is the choice that gives you the most joy, I applaud you. To the rest of us, somewhere in the middle, let’s work together and seek out what makes us happy. Doing what everyone else wants you to do is significantly overrated. Life is short. Stress makes it shorter. Don’t forget to dream and wonder when you battle it out for what you want!

What kinds of stress do you feel acutely in your life? Thoughts or observations about stress and stress management? As always, I love to hear your thoughts too!

Peace and pie,


One Response to “Traditional or Liberated? Stress, Women and June Cleaver.”
  1. Ian says:

    I’m a man, what do I know for goodness sake!
    But I came across a delightful quote from Gail Larson (I’m not sure which one):
    “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

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