Guilt

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I think I’ve addressed guilt in a lot of my articles, here, going deep into its roots in gender inequality and religion (with the two roots sometimes intersecting). If you feel that you are inherently sinful, but bought and “saved” from the fires of hell by the bloody death of your Savior, you may feel obligated to do everything you can to pay Him back for His worthy sacrifice. When you fail to achieve perfection- as you inevitably must- you may be wracked with guilt and continue to feel “dirty” no matter how much you try to cleanse your soul with repentance.

Your level of guilt is likely to be higher if you’re a woman- and higher still if you’re a Fundamentally religious woman. Fundamentalist adherents of the world’s three main religions encourage guilt in women in many ways- these are just a few.

Fundamental Christianity: The woman is the “weaker vessel” and must “submit to the authority of the man.” She must be chaste and reverent  (“She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives”). She must keep her head covered, be silent in the church, and “not exert authority over a man.” It is her duty to “bear children and guide the house”.

Fundamental Islam: It takes the testimony of two women to equal that of a single man. Women are to cover their hair and bodies as not to prove as a temptation for their male counterparts. A woman can inherit only a fraction from a dead relative of what her male siblings/relatives can inherit. Fathers and brothers are mandated with “maintaining the purity” of their daughters/sisters.

Orthodox Judaism: Women who are on their periods are considered “unclean” and have to be housed in separate housing during the “days of their impurity.” Women are also considered as “unclean” following childbirth, and the length of time that they remain unclean is longer if they give birth to a female child than it is for if they give birth to a male child.

Of course, teachings of the world’s three great religions are harsh towards men in many ways as well (think male circumcision), but it’s easy to see how women might feel “less than” as a result of some of the teaching of the more “orthodox” brands of the three main religions. It is also noteworthy that even in areas where people do not adhere to these strict interpretations of the teaching, the effects of these beliefs being held so long still trickle down into modern society.

1) Women are still invalidated/“defeminized” if they cannot- or choose not to- give birth to children

2) Women are taught to marry before a certain age or “be an old maid” or
“spinster” whereas men are taught to pursue their careers and social development

3) The natural process of women’s menstruation is still thought by many to be “disgusting”

4) If a woman is strong-willed she’s considered “bossy” or a “man-eater/hater” whereas men who are strong-willed are seen as “confident” and “commanding”

5) Terms like “feminazi” are still used against women who stand up for gender equality

6) You can be an “old cat lady” but there’s no equivalent term for men

7) We have “purity balls” for daughters and fathers, with no corresponding event for parents and their sons

8) Women are still held responsible if they are sexually assaulted by someone i.e., What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Did you really tell them no? Is this your partner? Did you lead them on?

9) Promiscuous women are “sluts”, promiscuous men are “players”

I really could go on and on with this list, but I think I’ve made my point. So really, on top of being saddled on with the religious guilt of being a “sinner” I am also saddled with the cultural guilt of being a “woman.”

So when I feel guilty about overeating, oversleeping, overworking, or underworking, some of it has to do with what I have or haven’t done- but more of it has to do with what I am. A huge part of it is thinking that if I make myself feel bad about not doing something, that I can go ahead and not do the thing- as long as I keep on feeling bad. It’s about a fear of letting go- a fear of speaking up and saying “I’m tired, not now” or “I would rather work on something else” or “I would rather not go tonight”. I’ve become so accustomed to being told how I should live, who I should be, and what I should do that I have forgotten there is a key operative word here-

No.

No, I don’t want to. No, I don’t have time. No, and I won’t feel guilty.

I used to think that guilt was a good motivator for doing things. Like, if I could make myself feel just bad enough, I would be able to fit into the mold of what other people wanted me to be. I could finally do something for my dad for once, and have him be impressed and happy with me. I could finally “pay him back” for not living life according to his desires and principles, if I could just compromise with this one thing.

The problem is that it’s never just one thing- if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Like, right now I’m doing a job for him, and he’s given me neither a time limit or a deadline, but him supporting me financially in order for me to live in the apartment is contingent on this one thing. I had been working on the project faithfully, then I had to take another month off due to summer classes getting really intense. I’ve reached a snag in my working on the project though- for the life of me I cannot figure out how to fix this one issue.

So I started to get frustrated. I started to think about how his financial assistance had helped- the money which is probably so little to him- and made such a difference for me- and previous projects that he had financed and that I had been unable to complete. I started to think about how I had much more time now, and i should be able to figure out this one problem.

I started to feel guilty.

So I had to take some time off, to think and really pray about it. To come to the realization that it wasn’t about the project- I could do it, even if it would take more time- but rather that I was holding myself to some ridiculous standard, a standard that my dad didn’t even hold me to- and a standard I certainly didn’t hold him up to.

Even if he was going to complain about all the times he’d funded me and I’d failed, I would never bring up all the times that he didn’t fund me- when I did what my heart was calling for- and I succeeded. This wasn’t about me failing or not failing. My dad even admitted that really the project was for me, that I would need the skills from this project to succeed when I inevitably failed at my music career. So essentially, this whole project is based on the assumption that I am going to fail at what I’m really passionate about doing. Is there any wonder that my heart isn’t totally in it?

So yes, I feel guilty. Though the more I look at things, the more I see that guilt is counterproductive to motivation. After it’s robbed you of your joy and peace of mind, it also stops you from doing the very thing that you think would bring that joy back- and that’s move you closer towards your goals. Guilt is an emotion that sweeps the rug out from under you, and then blames you for falling.

I may fall, but I’m definitely rising up again. I won’t be ashamed of being tired, I won’t be ashamed for putting something off, I won’t be ashamed for “not being good enough.” The fact that I want to do well and am with all my power working towards that makes me good enough.

I won’t ever allow guilt to permanently derail me from reaching my destiny.

That being said, I don’t think my guilt issues can really be dealt with by logic alone- or even adding to that encouragement from friends. I was able to deal with a lot of my issues in therapy but had to discontinue when I phased up into a different mental health program at the clinic. I think I am prepared to seek out a therapist again- I’m pretty sure there is someone who is covered by my health care.

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