Problems of challenging the beliefs of older women

(104 Posts)
CailinDana Fri 27-Dec-13 14:00:04

Both my DM and my MIL were brought up in deeply misogynistic environments, my mother in Catholic Ireland and my MIL as the daughter of a single mother in England. They both married men who hold blatantly sexist views. My father said when I was 12 that educating women is pointless as their place is in the home. He holds this view in spite of the fact that my mother is highly educated with a very responsible job and has been the breadwinner throughout their marriage while has barely worked at all. He still left almost all the domestic work and household organising to her and her life was far more difficult than it needed to be due to him.
FIL has similar views and is in general an insecure asshole who likes to big himself up at the expense of others.
Both women have the underlying belief that men are important, come first etc and have put up with treatment they shouldn't have due to this belief.
As an example when I moved in with dh

HoleyGhost Mon 06-Jan-14 07:03:17

Cailin, maybe she likes it that way?

I think that my own mother wanted to excel in every aspect of her life. Her notion of a good wife involved doing everything as regards catering/hosting/laundry etc. While working full time. She is a passive aggressive martyr who is incapable of delegating. Even if my father had started out willing to contribute more at home, I doubt she would have let him. She sees her role as a woman as incorporating traditional SAHM work as well as being the breadwinner. My father has come to be utterly dependant on her and I suspect she likes that on some level .

My own DH pulls his weight at home and does his fair share with our dc. It is a small price to pay for a genuinely supportive marriage and a happy family.

CailinDana Sun 05-Jan-14 15:03:01

I suppose to admit he was just being a selfish arsehole was too hard?

My dad is actually a very gentle easy-going person. I've inly seen him angry maybe three times in my life. When it came to simply being cuddly and loving he far outstripped my mother - I always felt far more cared for by him than by her. But it's very hard to square that with the fact that he never once took me to the doctor or dentist (always my mum) never planned a party or helped with homework etc. He was a "reactive" parent rather than active one in the sense that he would respond quite well in most situations but would never take any initiative. If any criticism was levelled at him he would smile as if he genuinely thought it was just a bit of ribbing. He totally has his head in the clouds which can be quite endearing. What annoys me is that while he has wandered around disengaged from the worldy mother has pretty much run his entire life for him. I genuinely think that if she dies before him he will not cope.

TensionWheelsCoolHeels Sun 05-Jan-14 14:12:48

Cailin, I feel very similar about my mum - I have an overwhelming urge to help her/look after her/free her from the drudgery of her life with my dad. While at the same time I have the strongest feeling of avoiding doing anything that my dad will benefit from - something that leads me to internal conflict a lot.

One of the things that still rankles with me is that after my mum had her stroke, I wasn't able to take time off work to look after her/help her (I'm a lone parent with my own mortgage, I'd no chance of surviving if I took extended unpaid leave) but my dad could have. Yet he took only a few days off when she got out of hospital and got his sister and then my mum's sister in to do his dishes/washing/cleaning as well as the general household stuff my mum couldn't do. I couldn't get my head around that - my mum was physically incapable of doing anything and still he wouldn't lift a finger for himself never mind anyone else. So 2 women (same age/generation as my mum) pandered to his insistence that he couldn't take time off to step up on my mums behalf. He could have worked from home, but even that became 'too difficult' for him, at a time when my mum needed him. I desperately wanted to be the one to take care of my mum but I'd have lost my home if I'd done that. And still my mum felt sorry for him because it 'must've been very hard/stressful for him to have to go to work and come home and do stuff' so she felt it was right for her DS & SIL to pick up after the lazy git instead of her.

My mind still boggles at that.

CailinDana Sun 05-Jan-14 10:39:09

Sorry. My dad took full advantage of it. But I couldn't be bothered with him any more, I just don't care. In spite of badly my mum let me down I do still admire the monumental effort she put into bringing us up and I want to free her from my dad so she doesn't waste her gc's childhood unnecessarily by appeasing a lazy selfish idiot.
With MIL it's basically the same thing with the added kicker that I seriously dislike my FIL. Plus she has openly expressed sexual biases and I don't want my children to hear that.
Essentially I want both women to finally be free.

CailinDana Sun 05-Jan-14 10:31:57

Garlic thank you for that, it's really interesting to hear the "inside" perspective so to speak.

My mum is complicated. In many ways she is an exemplary second wave feminist, a trailblazer even. She was the first person (not woman, person) in her extremely poor family to go to university. She got her degree then got a professional job. She hid the fact she was engaged to my dad so that she wouldn't be fired. Thankfully by the time she married the marriage ban was no longer being enforced (it had been made illegal some time previously but women were still pushed out of jobs as soon as they were married). She then went on to have three children, taking her basic 3 months' maternity leave each time. Other than that she has never had a break in service in 33 years and counting. She is known in the community for being excellent at her job and earned a major promotion about 6 years ago, ahead of others who were technically further up the line. I definitely admire her for that.
Yet, at home she had an unemployed husband who grudgingly looked after the children and did no housework. He handed the children over to her when she came home as he considered his day to be finished. She then had to cook dinner, do washing, tidy etc as well as dealing with three children. They were short of money so my mother took on a second job which my father was supposed to help with but didn't.
Things slowly improved over the years. Dad took on more housework (only very specific tasks though) and eventually, after 14 years, got a job.
She has very few gender biases. It doesn't even register with her when ds wears pink or dresses. She never wears make up and encouraged me not to bother shaving. All (paid) jobs are fair game to both sexes.
But when it comes to relationships her attitudes are in the 50s. Men can do as they please while women run around after them. This is even true of work relationships. It's even true of male paedophiles - girls and women must just put up with their behaviour and be sure not to upset other men (ie my dad) by complaining about it. That attitude was so destructive My dad took full any more I just don't care. But in spite of how badlymy.mum let me d

GarlicReturns Sun 05-Jan-14 01:46:48

Cailin, forgive me for not reading your thread properly. It's triggering me in numerous ways, and I want to sleep tonight. I was drawn to it by your title - if you have babies, I'm old enough to be your mother and I am, as cat points out, a second-wave feminist by history.

However, my mother - now in her eighties - was trained for a professional career, and pursued it until she had me. There was no maternity entitlement in her day, nor was there for the first five years of mine. Also, married men were shamed by their peers if their wives worked. My dad was an exceptionally bad bully but, even if she'd wanted to leave him, support for single mothers was non-existent and public censure literally violent.

Against this background, I pinned all my feminism on my earning capacity. Economic independence was utterly crucial for us 'second-wavers' because we'd seen what dependence could do to a woman. We were not, though, supported legally or socially in working after marriage or children. We had to blaze a trail with every fucking thing we did.

On top of society's retrograde expectations of us, we also carried with us the emotional modelling of our parents. Some women had parents - particularly fathers - who supported their daughters' highest aims. Those are the still-rare women now sitting on the boards of influential organisations. Fathers like that were unusual: everybody knew they should be normal, but the norm was actually public verbiage in support of women with old-fashioned oppression at home. Consequently, we married men who did the same double act.

It rapidly - inevitably - became a contest between our independence and our marriages. I chose independence, and was universally chided for having been 'too much of a career woman', despite the fact that I'd made a total domestic & sexual slave of myself while carrying my husband both financially and socially.

Against this backdrop, it's absurd to criticise my generation of women for not knowing how to respond to a boy who wears glitter. (In fact, this was one area on which my mother was adamant - my brothers dressed up with the girls, and we all played with diggers ... but neither she nor I were 'good wives'!) There were only two choices: career OR family - unless you were one of the lucky few.

From our long co-posting history, I'm aware that your parents failed to protect you as well as failing to promote you. I know exactly how that feels, and how hard it is to find a way to settle with this knowledge. I'd like to ask you whether, perhaps, your anger about that is leaking into the gender-related issues of less cataclysmic importance?

When you've decided it isn't (wink), could you try speaking to the mothers as the trailblazing, conflicted, feminists they were and no doubt are? This even works with my mum, difficult though she is: she gave up blaming rape victims after one conversation, and is now a senior advocate of blaming the rapists grin

Pink for boys should be a minor issue after that!!

Oh, and ... in the seventies, toys & games were gender neutral. There was none of this colouring by gender, either ... the poor women are probably just trying to do the right thing confused

Sorry, didn't mean to write my life story blush

Thumbnutstwitchingonanopenfire Sun 05-Jan-14 00:22:12

Annie I think you are right - she is just massively resentful of her own childhood and determined to do things completely differently from her own mother - so she has, to some extent, brainwashed herself into believing that her own choices are the only decent ones for a mother to make, not realising that she could have done both (career AND been a loving mother).

Sounds like she was pretty damaged by her own upbringing. sad

...being a woman never held her back

I'm finally getting back to this thread, and have really been moved by all the stories. It's horrifying how much women have to put up with, how much we're trained to put up with, and in turn teach our daughters to put up with.

I hope we're the ones who break the cycle.

For my own part, my mother gets very upset by my feminism. She seems to see it as some kind of personal attack on her. I don't speak to her about feminism because I know she isn't interested. But she complains constantly to me about "all that awful feminism stuff" on my FB page.

I challenged her once, asked her why she was so opposed to me trying to make the future better for me and my daughters.

She said that being a woman ever held her back, so she doesn't understand why being a woman is difficult for anyone else. However, her only ambitions in life were getting married and being a teacher. Good feminine goals, befitting a woman. Why on earth would she ever have faced obstacles?

She also said that in her day, women were proud to be married to their husbands, to take their names and loved to iron their shirts hmm. Somehow, she thinks that I don't love DH "properly" because I'm not Mrs DHSurname, and don't iron anything, let alone his shirts.

If I work late, she says she feels sorry for DH having to take care of the DDs by himself.

If DH works late, she says she feels sorry for DH having to work so hard.

However, I've been thinking about why she feels the way she does, in response to this thread, and I have two theories.

Her mother was a career woman in a time when it was very unusual. My mum was sent to boarding school from 11, and she hated it there. She felt very rejected by her mother (who was a hard and difficult person) So I think on some level, my mother blames feminism for women being able to have careers, and denying her a "normal" childhood of a living at home with a loving mother.

I also think she worries that if I focus on my career to much, I won't have enough time for my DDs, and they'll have an unhappy childhood like she did.

So, perhaps, she sees my feminism as a threat to her GD's happiness, rather than her having some weird objection to me trying to ensure they have the brightest future possible.

As such, I'm going to try to be more understanding of her position. We don't really talk or connect on any kind of level beyond a shallow "getting along for the sake of the family", which is sad for both of us. So I can't talk about any of this to her. But we're just such different people, if we don't keep things superficial, we wouldn't be able to be around each other. sad

TensionWheelsCoolHeels Sat 04-Jan-14 20:33:02

No I don't speak to him. How that came about almost ended contact between me & my mum, but after about 5 months we managed an uneasy truce - the truce being not to criticise her life/choices and go along with her narrative of us 'both needing our heads banged together'. I'm surprised I've still got a tongue left to bite at times, like when she finally agreed a dishwasher would be great but she's rather be a martyr than actually tell him that she would really like a D/W because she's struggling with washing/drying heavy pots etc.

Tbh, even before I cut contact with him, challenging him was a pretty pointless task, especially when I was left dangling, made out to be a trouble maker, mainly by my mum as well. That's the bit that infuriated me most - DM would tell me something, I'd challenge him on it, and then DM would back him up when I was castigated as being an 'ungrateful interfering bitch'.

I think that when I challenge my mum and her 'woe is me look how hard it is being married' mantra, in my head I'm trying to get through to her that she does have a choice. In reality she just sees me as being unsympathetic to her plight while being too stubborn to just get over my in her minimised mind view irrational anger over something that happened 3 years ago.

CuntyBunty Sat 04-Jan-14 19:48:29

I am sorry Cailin, that sounds very hard after all you've been through.

TensionWheels, do you still speak to your Dad still? I am curious as to why you challenge her, rather than your Dad. I had to back off on my Mum, because I felt like I was almost "shaming her", it felt cruel and I wanted her to still be able to talk to me without feeling embarrassed of what she has chosen to put up with. He's the one who should feel ashamed, not her.

CailinDana Sat 04-Jan-14 16:47:10

Sorry cunty I missed your question about my abuser. No, I didn't pursue prosecution, for two reasons. Firstly I was afraid but more importantly I would have neede my mother's help (as I never knew his second name or his address). My mother would never help me.

TensionWheelsCoolHeels Sat 04-Jan-14 15:24:00

This thread really chimes with my experience of my DM and her 'old fashioned' views. She can be a bit 'out there' on lots of issues (she doesn't believe dinosaurs actually existed grin ) but her enabling of my dad's abusive behaviour is something that has long troubled me.

Suffice to say my mum is also catholic (Irish descent, west coast of Scotland) and enables my dad to give her a harder life than she should have to deal with. Recent conversation with her - she had a stroke about 5 yrs ago, was v lucky in the lasting effect is only in her left hand (numbness) but enough to make manual chores a bit harder for her. I have been trying to persuade her to get a dishwasher for years, and was waxing lyrical about how fab mine had been over the Xmas period. She said she'd like one too (1st time she has actually said this) because she's finding washing the heavier stuff difficult because of her hand. Then came all the excuses under the sun as to why she wouldn't/couldn't ask my dad to buy her one for her 65th birthday this year (he still works and brings in £3k per month while she's got a small pension and pays most of the household bills from it hmm ).

The idea of actually telling my dad that she is struggling physically with doing dishes and would like to get a dishwasher is just so unthinkable to her. I know she'll get a lot of huffing/whining/shouting about how he's sick of her 'demanding' shit from him (he'll have to finish the kitchen that was installed 2 years ago to make room for a dishwasher) and how he can't afford to buy a dishwasher etc. but she always goes along with keeping her life organised in a way that has the least impact on my dads life, to her own detriment. And that just infuriates me.

He's always been verbally, emotionally and financially abusive (ran up over £70k of debt on nothing and got my mum to sign over their home as security on a loan he took out to clear his debt) and even when my mum acknowledges how much of an arsehole he is, her 'marriage' is more important to her than her own happiness. I think the fact he doesn't drink or hit her makes it, in her mind, a 'good' marriage and she has this perverse sense of martyrdom to keeping it intact (44 yrs and counting).

Since she retired, my dad has gotten worse in his expectations of her 'having his dinner on the table', house gleaming, her to be at his beck & call because he works you see. Not that he lifted a finger when my mum was working, but now she's got nowt to do all day (she's got plenty but nothing as important as his needs) his sense of entitlement to her time/effort is so much worse than it was when I lived at home.

But again, if I try and challenge her on her stance/views/path of least resistance, it's not appreciated and I get painted as the bad guy trying to make her do what I want (it's not what I want, it's what she wishes she was free to just say herself, and resents not feeling able to do so). Instead of aiming that resentment where it should go, I get the brunt of her frustration.

CuntyBunty Sat 04-Jan-14 07:37:41

The whitewashing is a big part of it for my Mum too Basil, I think it's survival actually. It would break her if I started "too much" of an in depth dialogue and I don't want to hurt her after she has gone through so much more than I ever have sad. I am just frustrated at her choices and tolerance of crappy behaviour.

CailinDana Fri 03-Jan-14 22:14:46

Strangely, my mother likes to complain that we were hard work as teenagers when in fact we were the most boring sensible teens that ever lived. It's almost as though she lives by a script entitled "normal life" which is a dull after school show that covers only problems that are acceptable pre-watershed. So lines about "acceptable" problems like mardy teenagers get added in while "unacceptable" problems like sexual abuse get edited out all regardless of what's actually true. She has to construct her life in a certain way and admitting that her husband is a sexist lump of useless flesh definitely isn't part of that.

HoleyGhost Fri 03-Jan-14 21:56:31

The whitewashing is what prevents me from challenging my mother's beliefs. Her version of the past has the abuse and misery edited out. There is no way to engage with her.

AskBasil Fri 03-Jan-14 21:37:28

Really interesting thread I've been following it not really knowing how to contribute to it because my Mum (also Irish Catholic) is a loon and there's simply no point challenging her views - they won't change, I've written her off. She's at the more extreme end of women damaged by patriarchy, but I'll throw her behaviour into the mix as the extremes are also interesting.

She had such a desperately unhappy life, marriage etc., that she needs to re-write it all and pretend it was different; her childhood, which was full of violence and fear and totally lacking in love, has in the last few years been presented as an idyllic country Irish childhood. No mention that their father was always served first as the working man and the household revolved around his wants, rather than the needs of anyone else.

When my father died (violent, selfish alcoholic) she spent the next 2 years taking 2 buses to his grave every day. When he was alive they detested each other and had the most vicious rows which would end with him banging out of the house to the pub, returning a few hours later drunk and vomiting on the carpet. But her narrative is that he was a good husband and father and they had a happy family. Not only does she have a vested interest in upholding patriarchal ideas, she has a vested interested in whitewashing her own history so that anyone coming from another planet would imagine that patriarchy is a benign and rather delightful system of organising humanity. grin

BlogosphereMagazine Fri 03-Jan-14 17:32:57

Has anyone written a blog on this topic? We think it'd make an interesting read in our next issue. @BlogosphereM

CuntyBunty Fri 03-Jan-14 15:57:21

Did you ever get your abuser prosecuted? Would you?
I know you've spoken about it on here before, but I never read what you'd put and I know those threads were more for survivors of sexual abuse, so I didn't want to poke around there for my own entertainment, IYSWIM.

CailinDana Thu 02-Jan-14 22:32:10

Me too. My parents brush everything under the carpet. I can't stand it.

CuntyBunty Thu 02-Jan-14 21:46:41

Yes, I remember feeling worried and confused as a child, hence my approach with the DSs.

CailinDana Thu 02-Jan-14 20:29:43

I worry about the dying thing too cunty. But I have to remind myself that any regrets will be delusional.- I can fool myself that things could be better but that's just not the case. As it stands, for me, things are about as good as they can be.

Fwiw I agree with your approach wrt your son. Glossing over things just makes children worried and confused IMO.

CuntyBunty Thu 02-Jan-14 07:22:07

I think because "there is only so much you should tell kids...", they repeat things etc...He is more of a peacekeeper than me too, but it was only the truth about the situation and we all know where brushing things under the carpet has got us...

I had a further conversation with DS1 when we where alone and asked if he was ok about it, if there were any questions he wanted to ask me etc. The maturity on young heads; he said to me, "I am just worried Mum, in case Grandad pops it and you still aren't friends, then you'll be really sad". Apart from the unfortunate turn of phrase, there is the kicker. He saw how upset I was about my Nan dying and I loved her, she was lovely.

CailinDana Wed 01-Jan-14 20:29:20

Why was your dh trying to shush you?

CuntyBunty Wed 01-Jan-14 20:13:06

We were talking "lightly" about the fall out and what was going to happen today when DS1 (10yo) asked me, "when are you going to apologise Mummy". I asked him why, what it was he thought I'd done and he didn't know, so I told him we'd done nothing wrong and if Grandad thought we had, he should have said so nicely instead of treating us all so badly. DH was rolling his eyes, trying to get me to shush, but I wanted a calm open conversation with the kids about how we are all the equal (at least) of Grandad. The atmosphere in the past, must always have been of such great reverence to grandad and his appeasement. Fuck that, that is no example to show our sons; I need them to realise that it is not acceptable. It's renewed my cold fury and my determination not to continue with this sick family dynamic. I do
miss my parents though; my Mum, and my Dad when he is on good form. Shit, what a mess.

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