Updated: Jul 29, 2020
“I wish my mom was more feminist”, a sentence therapists hear a lot in therapy. Co-incidentally, it is the exact same sentence heard from both female and male clients. When you dive into it during the course of therapy, a lot of things came out but there's always one common theme in all of it. A strong expectation from their mothers to be more feminist which was not being met. So we wondered how to address this in therapy and the first instinct is to look into feminist psychology and literature. Those texts do give you an insight into the process but do not help understand what these females and males were really feeling.
Why was there so much frustration towards their mothers? Did they feel like their female role models were letting them down? Could we really blame the mothers? And what was the way to resolve this tension? Was there any place for empathy?
When working with this question in therapy, it becomes important to look at things from both perspectives. These mothers are not misogynists, especially when it came to their children. In many families, they were bringing up both males and female children and you could see the equality being translated into practice. But as you looked closer, it became clear why clients used the words ‘more feminist’. It was a matter of degree, and many young adults today were much more sensitive to this.
For them, even a few instances of “don’t go alone, it’s not safe”, “you might want to rethink your clothes for this meeting”, “are you sure you want to study more?” were proving to be unacceptable. For a lot of these males and females, seeing their mothers with their fathers was disillusionment of the strongest kind. Small behaviours like serving the males before, eating once every family member is done, not expressing choices of their own, worrying sick when their spouses are ill, thinking twice before making a plan without the whole family, not buying certain clothes for fear of comments, not maintaining boundaries with their fathers was proving to be unacceptable. The disparity of unlearning patriarchy everyday to going home to subtle forms of it was causing their frustration and disappointment and the easiest solution to this would be if their mothers stood up to this.
But were we being fair to our mothers? Even though these young adults were questioning their fathers and brothers and uncles, the reflex frustration was coming out on their mothers. Why was this? The answer was right there. We were all unlearning our patriarchal teachings. So a lot of therapy sessions would have to go into understanding why they were so angry, and what kind of unlearning did we all have to do? These young adults came from a place of concern, seeing their mothers not express themselves fully, feeling like their mothers are not standing up for themselves and so discussing the possibility of asking our mothers how we can help them was to be crucial. It would take a while to even entertain the thought that maybe, it's not our mothers’ problem maybe it’s just ours to solve. Maybe they're okay with the situation or maybe they need our help to do something about it. We also needed to discuss how to deal with the disparity these young adults witness in their families to what their feminist literature is telling them.
Something which will be difficult to get through in therapy is the answer to their own expectations- how can I grow when my mom keeps giving into patriarchy? And at this point, we have to ask what would change for these males and females if their mothers became as feminist as they were expecting them to be?
We might not find a perfect way to deal with these thoughts and emotions, but now the frustration can reduce and the empathy and gratitude towards our mothers can find growth. We have to explore this from a place of understanding and not judgement and still wonder, is there a resolution to these feelings?
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