An exploration of my most humiliating trait.
I didn’t discover that I was very passive until I was about 47. By then, I had three children (teenagers), an ex-husband, and a Master’s Degree in Experimental Psychology. I had some understanding of my brand of femininity but had never characterized it as overly submissive.
Looking back, it was precisely that.
Being a girl was comfortable for me, or so I thought. It didn’t matter so much that I never played with dolls and preferred board games. My family was in the toy business, and I could always select whatever I wished to play with.
I liked “boy” games better. My choices were climbing on rocky terrain near my apartment, playing baseball in the schoolyard, and mumblety-peg on an empty lot with the boys.
I liked “girl” things, too.
My father admired me for being pretty, and I was encouraged by my mother to smile frequently to enhance my prettiness. I loved to get new clothes even though my mother picked them out until I graduated from High School. I had wonderful girlfriends and spent many hours with them after school.
But most of the girl stuff was about being a GOOD girl. BEING a GOOD girl meant I allowed myself to be entirely dominated by an authority figure, my mother. My father was not so much an authoritarian because my mother wouldn’t let him. She ruled the roost. That made my father and me natural allies against her. Not so much fun for her, I’m sure. Dad was fun to be with but powerless regarding my upbringing.
This girl, therefore, my character’s part was to fulfill the role my mother wrote for me in her script. She directed me to suppress whatever script I tried to write for myself. She often said, “You’re not entitled to feel that way, young lady.” I was not entitled to feel any way at all.
She told me I was too wild, and I believed her.
Why else would she have been so strict? Mom positioned herself as my ally. She saved me from my so-called feral underpinnings before others noticed them, and I got into trouble. She described difficulty as acting out my wildness. My path to success lay in passivity, quietness, and obedience to her will. I participated in this scheme because it felt safe. I described myself as a drab trench coat with a beautiful, colorful lining. What she characterized as dangerous was enticing to me. I was drawn to the lining of that coat.
I went off to college and graduated with a degree in Economics. Afterward, I moved back home because my mother wouldn’t allow me any other choice.
Finally, it was time to get married, for me, an escape from my maladjusted family. I had lots of choices.
I was the perfect bride material: passive, pretty, energetic, and humble. And since I still believed that I needed protection from my uncontrollable nature, I selected from many proposals a man who most reassembled my mother. I needed to be reined in (or so I thought), and he was the guy to do it.
My children blamed me for being passive and not defending them from their father’s domination when he was on a rampage. Their accusation crushed me. My passivity almost destroyed them.
Betty Friedan described in The Feminine Mystique the female defined by “male domination, and nurturing maternal love.”
The problem was that, at some point, I was no longer willing to play that game. I changed the rules, and that provoked my divorce. I welcomed that maybe I was untamed and no longer felt I needed any outside controller. Being passive is not me at all. I recognized that my desires matter as much as my husband’s.
I think (or rather, hope) my children have forgiven me for letting them down.