I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s. As little girls we played “house,” “school,” “hospital,” and, the big favorite, “wedding.” Our dolls married, often in elaborate and complex ceremonies, ignoring age and gender constraints as there were few “boy” dolls beyond baby dolls who were distinguished from girl baby dolls by the color of their outfits. The progressive, married dolls went on to teach or be nurses or secretaries but the vast majority stayed home and became mommies. In college, it wasn’t uncommon to hear women openly admit they had come to school to get their “Mrs.” degree and were intending to marry well and not work. There were lots of rules about what women could and could not do in society in general.
Finding our own way
And then, in the wake of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement arose. And all the rules changed. Or at least appeared to change. Suddenly we women were finding ourselves in management, actively recruited and mentored. Women physicians, dentists, lawyers, politicians, executives, entrepreneurs and leaders emerged into the light and were no longer seen as the oddities. Laws followed preventing discrimination.
We were on our way. Sort of.
Because it was new ground we had to have some standards by which to judge our progress and in many cases we borrowed those standards from men. Title, salary, hours worked, ability to be tough, leadership and achievements all became benchmarks by which we judged ourselves.
Women tried to beat the boys by becoming the boys
And since we adopted their standards, those were the standards by which we were and continue to be judged. We all know inequities continue: women earn 67% of what men in directly comparable jobs earn; the glass ceiling continues to exist; women are judged for being women, hence different from men, in approach and thought. Evolution continues slowly.
Meanwhile, back in the playroom, there is some change as parents encourage sons and daughters to be both competitive and empathetic. Play sports and play with dolls. Get dirty and be part of the fun but know when to be girly.
The messages get more jumbled for adolescents as girls compete with boys in sports and yet are expected to be sexy and girly. Weddings continue to be a big topic of dreams and fantasies for adolescent girls along with finding the perfect guy to be featured in the dream. With a successful career. And kids. The Princess Superwoman. It gets all mushed together.
Getting married is not an accomplishment
In a recent Huffington Post article, Natalie Brooks opines getting engaged and married is not an accomplishment by which women should judge themselves as successful. In her blog, she reflects the current “mush” of throwing everything we do into one bucket: work, kids, marriage all seen as accomplishments. I see her point but I think there’s another way we can look at our lives.
The difference between milestones and accomplishments
Milestones are those way-markers in our timelines. Being born starts the timeline. Birthdays, especially the “big” ones, are milestones. Graduation from middle school is a milestone. Graduation from high school, college, graduate school are both milestones and accomplishments. Marriage is a milestone as are the birth of children, the loss of loved ones and aging. Getting engaged and married is a milestone. Creating and maintaining a successful marriage is an accomplishment.
Accomplishments are those things we create in our lives; those things we seek out to enhance or enrich our journeys. Accomplishments are those things we list on our resumes or summarize with titles and letters after our names. Accomplishments are goals set and achieved that move us forward in life and career.
Confusion arises when we seek to be the Princess Superwoman, judging ourselves based on totality rather than piece by piece.
In that process of lump-judging we become less than we are: the sum of the parts equalling a smaller picture rather than a larger one. And if we judge ourselves in such a way, we encourage others to do the same; to see us as only one dimension rather than the complex beings we are.
Rather than using the male standards of accomplishment: title, money, power; we need to evolve our own grading scales, separate and equal, encompassing not only our achievements but also our milestones.
We can and should celebrate the unique ability of women to not only compete in the work world but also to star in our more traditional roles without being defined or controlled by either. Accomplishments and milestones should demonstrate who we are without defining us. Instead, let us defy traditional definition as we choose both our accomplishments and our milestones appropriate to whom we are.
Let our who-ness be definition enough.