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expectations of women

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 239 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on cultural expectations of women.

I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com

Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 239 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

And today’s question is a great one to have on the show. One of our listeners is having a hard time breaking free from the old ideology that discourages women from following their dreams in favor of staying in and, well, pumping out babies. I think it’s going to be important to do some digging and find out where her relationship with this belief system started and why it continues to hold her down more so than it might hold down other women who have faced the same instruction, but been able to break free from it. Let’s see what we can do. Here’s her question…

QUESTION: “How do I avoid the cultural dogma that women should aspire to selflessness at the expense of their aspirations and needs?”

Focusing on Your Own Dreams

Hmm. This is an interesting one. Thanks for sending this in, asker. I say it’s interesting because the answer to me is quite simple. The answer would be to actively avoid it.

No, you can’t avoid people having, talking about, or sharing these beliefs, but these people aren’t the ones in charge of how you live your life; you are. Your lifestyle doesn’t have to be one in which you turn aside your own dreams, and that’s what’s most important.

But if what you’re really asking is how to stop hearing about this narrative simply because it’s inconvenient for you, that’s not realistic and it would be a pretty self-centered request. Of course you could spend all your time with people who share your beliefs, but beyond that, you can’t ask others to not disagree with you.

Through your actions, you could influence some to follow in your footsteps, but that’d still be a decision they’d have to come to for themselves.

The Underlying Problem

So that’s the quick answer, which I feel pretty confident in. But I think the underlying problem is why you’re not already doing this or why you feel it’s somehow not enough for you. What I’m saying is that if living life on your own terms isn’t enough avoidance for you, then there’s either something inside you or someone in your inner circle who’s making you feel as though you need to submit to this ideology about women. And that’s what you should turn your focus towards, so let me just expand a little bit on both of these possibilities.

First, let’s say it’s someone else in your life who has enough pull that you can’t quite release from their opinions. Again, you can’t change how they feel, but you should examine why you allow them to dictate your life even a little bit.

If you feel disrupted or pushed into their viewpoints, that’s a problem you need to take responsibility for, it’s not a problem that they think the way they do. It’s not on you to tell them what to feel, even if their beliefs seem outdated and unfair to you, me, and many others. Why might you be letting them have this power over you? Is there something you owe them? Is there something else you respect about them? More on that in a minute.

Stereotypes about Women

On the other hand, maybe there’s something in you that submits to this stereotype about women. That could be caused by someone in your life as I just mentioned, whether it’s someone now or in the past.

Should that be the case, this might be the hardest thing in the world, but you have to accept your shadow. You have to accept that part of yourself that does obey this ideology on a very deep level. You have to forgive yourself for buying into this subconsciously, whenever you did it. It might feel like every fiber of you who you are now wants to hate yourself for it, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

It’s highly possible that an important figure in your life – likely a male caretaker but also potentially a female who was under the power of a male – was steadfast in this belief. For example, if your father held true to these beliefs and you were exposed to them as a child, yet you still had a wonderful relationship with him, it’s be very sensible for you to not want to betray him, even if your own beliefs are at odds with his.

And depending on the relationship you and your father have had, you might have had experiences with him that would only strengthen this desire to not betray. You’d have to accept this possibility rather than furthering self-hatred for having a hard time sticking to the belief systems you’ve harvested as an adult. That level of acceptance would be a must.

Breaking Free from Cultural Expectations: Conclusion

So in summary, you avoid this narrative by the way you life your life. You take action based on your own values, you behave in such a way that supports your own aspirations and needs, and act selflessly when it feels appropriate to you, which it certainly should at times, regardless of this friction. Of course, we all have to have a level of selflessness, man or woman. That’s the easy fix; the obvious and practical advice.

But the bigger matter; the self-work for you to do over time is understanding why that isn’t enough for you. Do you feel shame for not truly rejecting that cultural dogma yourself? That current shame and the fact that you’ve not truly rejecting it both have to be accepted before they can be altered.

Have you maybe already made some irreversible life choices, such as having a child when you weren’t ready to, that favored selflessness instead of your own aspirations? Those would have to be forgiven and accepted. Does an important person in your life that you depend on force this ideology on you, and you can’t escape them? Or are you just sick of people having different beliefs than you do that have a negative impact on women?

Discovering why living your life on your own terms and allowing others to have separate beliefs isn’t enough for you is what you’ll have to get to the bottom of if you want to start healing and finding more peace with this.

Ok, asker, I hope this one helped you out, and truly I hope it helped all women who feel they’re under the thumb of the male regime. What you’ve described today is a really strong example of how we can all be influenced by ideas we disagree with, whether or not we feel we’re choosing to abide by them.

Complicated stuff for sure, but it if you’re wondering about how this may apply to you, making the effort to survey not only your current relationship with an idea you disagree with, but also your past relationship with that idea and how it might have first come into your life, is a good start.

And with that, we’ve reached the end today. Means a lot that you all stopped in today, and again, I hope it was useful to the asker and you other listeners alike. We’ll be back again soon for 240, so don’t miss out on that one. Hope to see you there.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 239 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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