On a long awaited childfree get away recently, as my husband and I strolled hand in hand down the main street of a quaint hinterland village, he mocked with a grin, “so, you didn’t want to wear makeup today then?”
I stopped in my tracks.
I stared him down, exhaled slowly and stated resolutely, “that was not OK.”
He laughed sheepishly and began to respond with yet another “funny” joke, but I was quick to continue – with zero fucks that there were people in earshot.
“In case you’re confused, I’m not here as your designer handbag. I’m here as your partner in life. If my appearance doesn’t satisfy you, then I am more than happy to enjoy lunch – and life for that matter – solo.”
Now bless him, as embarrassing it would have been to be schooled in public by his heavily pregnant wife, he realised pretty quickly that I wasn’t playing and took immediate action to apologise and attempt to reconnect.
The rest of the story of the afternoon is pretty boring.
There was no silent treatment, no passive aggression or Oscar-worthy meltdowns.
Just a clear, embodied boundary communicated and received.
Yet, let me assure you that a couple of years back it wouldn’t have gone down that way, because:
- It’s likely I would have worn make-up that day – because I’d have been too self-conscious to have my *actual* face on display to the world.
- If I was brave enough to display my make-up free face and received the dig above from my husband, it would have completely blanketed me in shame. Shame for not being attractive enough for him, shame for believing I was only lovable without make-up, shame for being teased in public. Shame. Shame. Shame.
- The shame would have set off a domino effect of primal defences in my body. Firstly I would have shut down (freeze response).Then, after stewing about it internally, I would have let my aggression seep out in cold, passive, indirect ways all afternoon. And finally, as soon as there was a situation where we were alone and I felt justified, I would have lashed out with name calling, wild accusations and lots and lots of tears (fight response).
I share this story for two reasons.
First, because it’s a simple example of how the Feminine Acceptability Model pervades the existence of women and mothers every day.
Secondly, to highlight that although this kind of BS is pervasive; from advertising, from our governments, from our workplaces, and from our loved ones (even when they insist it’s a joke – NOPE, casual sexism is no joke) it does not have to hold us captive.
We CAN break free of the Feminine Acceptability Model, but only once we realise that the shame, smallness, not-enough-ness and too-much-ness we’ve been trained to internalise has nothing to do with any deficits within us, yet everything to do with maintaining Patriarchal control and power.
So what exactly is this Feminine Acceptability Model?
In my view, the FAM is a social model built upon patriarchal cultural ideals constituting acceptable feminine roles, appearance, behaviours, qualities and expression.
The FAM grinds us down.
It does well to confuse and oppress with its limiting, paradoxical conditions, leaving only a tiny “acceptable” window for us to explore and express all of who we are.
In my work, I hear stories of women who have struggled their whole lives to feel safe to express, relate, communicate and create as their full, authentic selves.
I get it. I had no idea who I actually was outside this model, until I began the journey to meet her a few years ago.
Awakening and embracing my TRUE feminine nature, not the one I was prescribed as acceptable or ideal, has been revolutionary.
So many of us suffer at the hands of the “good girl complex” (which then grows into the “good mother complex” – read more here).
This soul-destroying seed of Patriarchy planted at birth, feeds on the shame, guilt and fear of fully inhabiting the potency and diversity of our human emotions, sexuality, anger, and power as women.
Don’t get me wrong – just like the entire Patriarchal system, living out the indoctrination of the Feminine Acceptability Model comes at great cost to men also.
I believe that each of us, regardless of biology or gender, possess both masculine and feminine qualities and energy.
We’re MEANT to, in order to live as fully expressed human beings.
Whenever anyone feels inhibited to show up in all their glorious authentic nature, it inevitably leads to a fragmenting of self. A “leaving behind” or “shutting down” of aspects of who they are, resulting in significant loss.
Loss of identity.
Loss of wholeness.
Loss of capacity for intimacy.
Loss of connection to purpose.
Loss of rich, human experience.
As women and mothers however, the painfully narrow expectations we experience around what’s acceptable or not in these roles has and continues to severely diminish our power, pleasure and potential.
Let me give you a few examples that may strike a chord:
- If we don’t show emotion when expected, we are not enough (cold, hard, bitch), BUT if we show large or heightened displays of emotion, we are too much (hysterical, overbearing, intense)
- If we don’t put lots of time and effort into our appearance, we are not enough (un-feminine, sloppy, dowdy) BUT, if we put lots of time and effort into our appearance, we are too much (high maintenance, mutton-dressed-as-lamb, slutty)
- As mothers, if we desire to work outside the home and enlist support to care for our children, (selfish, neglectful, hyper-masculine) AND/OR if we desire to be with our children full time and not pursue outside work (martyr, non-feminist, bludger) we’re either not enough or too much depending on which side of the fence you consult on the matter.
For the first 30 years of my life, I kept clinging to the windowsill of the small, cramped FAM opening.
Since then, I’ve been committed to busting the hole open wider, bit by bit.
For example, learning to listen and trust my feminine instincts above anything else lead me to:
- Birth both my daughters at home in the way I pleased, with the caregivers I pleased, resulting in empowered, supportive experiences that taught me what my body was capable of.
- Pursuing studies in Feminine Embodiment, inevitably leading me to veer away from the clinical therapeutic models and traditional models of business so favoured in our society, allowing me to craft my own body of work and a unique business that fills me up rather than depletes me.
- To write and speak honestly and publicly about both a miscarriage I experienced in 2017 and my continued journey of grappling with the grief of my sister’s death last year.
As I was informed by some helpful people (sarcasm intended) along the way, decisions like these were perceived by many as irresponsible, risky, indulgent, confronting, and certainly not within the window of feminine acceptability.
The magical part however, is that the more you widen your own window, inevitably allowing for more light, more expression and more connection, the more other women who desire the same for themselves are able to find you.
Also, it’s no accident that the wider your personal window self-acceptability, the less fucks you give about the opinions of those who are happy in the dungeons of conformity.
However, going from acknowledging and owning the ways the Feminine Acceptability Model is perpetuated by you and those around you to being open and willing to meet yourself in the depths of its grip, is no walk in the park.
It’s inherently shadowy, mother-wound territory that reveals itself to you in layers, over and over until you’re ready to take action.
It demands deeper integrity.
It won’t stop flagging what’s not ok, even when you’re tired and you just want to pretend your husband “didn’t really just say that, did he?” so you can make the most of your kid-free weekend.
We’re trained into the FAM from birth. It becomes a part of us, and very hard to disentangle from. We get GOOD at it and we’ve been led to believe we should be PROUD of how well we uphold it.
Yet, the narrow window of the Feminine Acceptability Model is the home of heartbreak and pain.
Of regret and emptiness.
Of anguish and stuckness.
There’s no light coming through the pitiful slit in the wall.
And even when we follow every damn rule in the guidebook, pursuing the “promise of happiness” awarded to good, acceptable girls… LIFE simply can’t find its way in.
And this dear one, is entirely unacceptable.
This is the cost of handing over our power to a model that was created to keep us small and quiet. To keep us disconnected from our fierce expression and potent sensuality. To keep us from the wellspring of wisdom stored in our bodies. To keep men from knowing their own capacity for tenderness and intimacy.
Please know that resolving to take your power back and widen the FAM window in your life will be activated the moment you see yourself, hear yourself in my words.
You don’t need to immediately divorce your husband, lay down how your parents fucked you up at the next family BBQ, or confront your boss in the lunch room (but as they say, if the shoe fits…)
The most important step forward isn’t actually forward at all.
In fact, I believe (and my work demonstrates this time and time again) that before any action towards widening the window takes place, the work has to happen WITHIN YOU FIRST.
Dismantling the Feminine Acceptability Model as it lives, internalised within your cells and your ancestors before you, must be a body-based process.
Taking your power back from the FAM requires that we journey through the embodied landscapes of:
Getting curious about how we actually might live if we were free to be exactly who we are might begin as an intellectual inquiry, but to dig deeply into the layers and access the heart of who we are, demands that we feel it all.
Not just the GOOD or the ACCEPTABLE.
The BAD and the UGLY as well.
Let me introduce you to the path of reclaiming your wholeness.
Welcome to the journey of unsMothering.
I’d be honoured to be your guide.