The Female Dilemma

 By: Helene Rothschild
When they called me a "Tomboy" I was confused. I knew I was a girl. Why were they referring to me as a boy? It is true that I loved to climb trees and was a superb athlete. The boys in the neighborhood always wanted me on their teams. It is also true that besides being strong and coordinated, I was very courageous. I rode my bike very fast and curbs were no obstacles. Some may say I could have just as well been riding a horse.

But I was still a girl, even though I loved my jeans and my two gun holsters for my cap pistols. I lived in a low income neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My tough front protected me from appearing like an easy victim for the other gang members. I was the leader of our gang which consisted of two younger boys and me.

But I was still confused. I did not understand why they did not call me an active female, or an athletic girl. Instead they labeled me as a "Tomboy." Who is Tom, anyway?

Later in my teens, I was told, "If you want to have a boyfriend, then let him win the tennis match." How absurd. I once did have a boyfriend who was very upset when I triumphed. The next time we played, I let him win by a close margin. I felt frustrated. It was no fun to focus on his ego instead of being the best I could be. That was the last time I was willing to play that game.

Later on in life my girlfriend was upset with me because I had a higher score in bowling than her boyfriend. She said, "Couldn't you let him win so that he could feel better?" My stomach sunk once again. I was definitely getting the message that it was more important to be weaker than men, than to be myself.

What a dilemma. How could I let myself be the strong, capable woman I was, and still be accepted as a female? I looked around my environment and saw many women playing the role of a female that they were taught from the time they could understand. Be weak. Be soft and emotional. Men like you to cry when you are scared or hurt. Then they feel strong and needed. Men love to take care of women, so pretend to be weak and incapable. Do not ever show anger or too much competency or strength-it is not ladylike.

When I became a Marriage, Family Therapist, many female clients complained to me about their dilemma. Many of them wanted to drop their weak and incapable facade. They were miserable because they felt that they had to give themselves up in order to be with a man. They had hidden desires to follow their dreams, to go to college, or to begin a business. The women told me that they were afraid that their husbands would be threatened by their success.

The frustrated women admitted that they were feeling very resentful and expressed their discontent covertly. Some of them put on lots of weight. Others denied their spouses affection. And still others cooked terrible meals, if any, and became disastrous housewives. They also complained constantly-their husbands referred to them as nags. Another way they expressed their anger for being stifled was to spend all of their husbands' hard earned money, and even get them into debt with the credit card companies.

I helped these unhappy women (as well as myself) overcome the dilemma we were all experiencing. I accomplished this by explaining to them that the only way they were going to be happy and healthy was to be who they really are. I encouraged them to follow their dreams in order to stop making themselves and their husbands miserable. I helped them to accept the truth that it was important for them to be human. That is, to feel all of their feelings and to express them constructively. They looked relieved when I assured them that they could be strong and capable, and a soft and loving woman.

Then I asked the women to bring their husbands in for a session. I encouraged the clients to tell their loved ones what their truth really was, and what they wanted to do with their lives besides being a wife and mother. It was interesting to see the surprised look on the women's faces when their husbands responded in a very positive way, and encouraged them to feel more like an equal, and to have equal opportunities in their relationship.

It is true that they were somewhat concerned about the logistics of juggling all of their responsibilities, but there was a real earnest desire to work it all out the best way for all concerned. The men wanted their wives to be happy, realized the consequences when they were miserable, and saw how they would benefit if their spouses had the freedom to be themselves.

At that point, I acknowledged the men for their mature love. I told them that in my opinion, when you truly love someone you want them to be happy. I also acknowledged the women for having the courage to be themselves and for being wonderful role models for their children. Their daughters need not struggle with the female dilemma.
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