Guest post by Anna Y: Without the stereotype threats attached

Originally a comment on Pardon me, are you sufficiently feminine yet?

The rejection of “femininity” as a prescription for what all women should be while attempting not to de-value traditionally “feminine” attributes creates a serious double bind. I hate it. I hate it all the more because I possess a lot of those traditionally “feminine” attributes: I’m not trying to, I’m not trying to play them up, but I do. I still don’t want to be used as an example of a “good” or “real” woman by assholes who think women should just be barefoot and pregnant (and silent) in the kitchen.

This particularly sucks because of my career choices. I currently have a career in STEM. While it has given me a lot of financial security when I needed it most, and any sexism I have encountered in it has been so minor as to not rise above the general din of sexism everywhere… I hate it. I just don’t enjoy what I have to do every day. I can do it, I’m pretty good at it, but it takes everything I’ve got just to pay attention to what I’m supposed to be doing. So, I’ve decided (after long deliberation) that maybe I would better enjoy being a psychotherapist, and my natural empathy, warmth, and patience would come in handy in that occupation. I’m working on getting the right degree. And I’m really not eager to shout this from the rooftops…

I don’t want to play to the stereotype. I don’t want to be held up as an example of the stubborn woman with something to prove getting into STEM and then quitting, because she just wasn’t fulfilled and needed a more properly nurturing career. My choices aren’t right for everyone else, and I wouldn’t have them used to take away the choices of others. I just want to do what makes sense for my life, and what makes me happy, without the stereotype threats attached.


  1. Sastra says

    I recognize the double-bind aspect. 35 years ago I went through my own similar personal crisis: I was a staunch feminist who discovered that she loved the idea of being a housewife … as a ‘career choice.’

    Now where the hell was I? Gee, should I do what I ought to do and get a real career — or attempt to do what I wanted to do … and thus betray my feminist ideals? Wait, that doesn’t fit. Damned if I do … damned if I don’t.

    I of course ended up doing what I really wanted and figured the feminists could go fuck themselves if they didn’t like it. I recognized the risks and was willing to chance them. I eventually figured out that The Feminists were not a monolithic condemnatory block and in general nobody really cared which particular path I chose; I I could still be a bona fide feminist simply by returning the courtesy — which of course I do. It wasn’t the big deal I thought it was. Time eventually smooths things out, I think. So do what you want.

    But I do sometimes feel like I’m in a peculiar sort of quasi-situation, not really fitting into any easy classification. That might be a good thing.

  2. Lindsay Gehring says

    Hi, Anna!

    For what it’s worth, I don’t feel even the teeniest bit let down or betrayed by women who leave STEM careers to follow a more traditionally feminine path.

    I figure, even men are allowed to not be interested in STEM, so why should a woman — even the most egaliatarian-minded woman — feel guilty about it?

    (I also figure that good psychotherapists are INCREDIBLY important, so I’m hugely enthusiastic about anyone who thinks they’d be good at it pursuing that as a career. Y’all are every bit as necessary as scientists and engineers, if not more so!)

  3. rq says

    Yeah, I understand the feeling, too. 🙁 I wish you the best of luck on your chosen path, Anna Y!!

  4. chrislawson says

    Anna Y,

    Sorry to be giving unsolicited advice, and I’m aware that I don’t really know all that’s going on from your post so feel free to ignore it, but I’d seriously consider doing some work attachments in psychotherapy to see whether it’s right for you. Being empathic, warm, and patient is a great set of personal attributes in a therapist, but it can also chew you up and spit you out when you’re being empathic all day to people, some of whom will be very demanding and some of whom you won’t necessarily like. I’d also say that there’s nothing about being a scientist that means you have to suppress your empathy unless the particular culture at your place of work requires it. Maybe a change of workplace would work for you.

    As for femininity — I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of having traditional feminine traits and interests. The problem is that the word implies it’s what’s a descriptor for women as a whole when any real definition of what women are like should apply equally to Marilyn Monroe, Rosie the Riveter (fictional as she is), Eleanor Roosevelt, Anne Bonny, Susan B. Anthony, and [insert your own examples here].

  5. says

    I hear you, Sastra.

    Now, I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve my “dream”. I’ve got more than a couple things working against me. But when I imagine my “perfect” life scenario, when I think about what I want more than anything else, it’s so stereotypical “traditional womanhood”. I want a house full of children (and animals)–and when I say “full” I mean full; I’d be very happy with 8 kids or so. Maybe a couple biological children, because I do want to experience being pregnant, but I really want to do foster care and adoption. I loved working as a nanny for a large family that did foster care, loved having foster siblings when I was a kid I’d love to have the financial security to stay home and focus on being a mother, especially for kids who have special needs (and have a hard time finding families), maybe even homeschooling if I have kids who don’t do well in the public school system. Oh, and if I can really go all-out fantasy, I don’t need a huge house, but I’d love property large enough for a small, detached in-law cottage so I can have my parents close by. (They have pretty much zero retirement saved up, and they’re already in their mid-50s.)

    I’m young enough, and “third-wave” enough, to not feel, like, ashamed by what I want or feel like it’s a betrayal of feminism or anything…but I do wonder how much of my desire is really mine, or if I was more influenced (brainwashed?) than I thought by the Quiverful, Patriarchal Christian church I grew up in.

  6. MyaR says

    Miri had an awesome, awesome post on sterotypes and the environment you grow up in and career choices, which I’m just going to link here. So, yes, your growing up in a quiverful, patriarchal church probably has affected what your “dream” is, but what’s wrong with that? Because your dream would’ve been shaped by any other environment just as much. And it’s not like your dream is to be submissive to your “natural” male leader (ick) and teach children to perpetuate a toxic culture.

  7. johnthedrunkard says

    Of course, ‘psychotherapist’ doesn’t of necessity mean ‘retreating into an acceptable stereotyped role’ any more than ‘homemaker’ does.

    BUT. ‘Therapy’ is a pink-collar job, loaded with sexism-based disadvantages. It might be several notches better than ‘cocktail waitress’ or ‘nail technician’ but it is no escape from belligerent sexism.

  8. theoreticalgrrrl says

    When I hear “barefoot and pregnant” I cringe because it doesn’t mean what most people think it does. I thought it meant you’re barefoot because your indoors, in the kitchen, therefore you don’t really need shoes. What the saying actually means is that if you want to control a woman you “keep her barefoot in the winter and pregnant in the summer.” Poor and having baby after baby.

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