Is there less stigma today placed on an unmarried woman living her Vision of Success than there was in the Victorian age?
How have expanded choices for “modern” women affected our ability to live our Visions fully?
Have the expectations tied to gender roles really changed that much? Consider these scenes from the movie Ms. Potter about the life of mycologist, artist, conservationist and author Beatrix Potter (1866-1943).
Scene 1: Potter as a young girl is already a budding naturalist, artist and story teller. She and her brother have just chased a rabbit around the garden and Beatrix returns to her mother her dress and face covered in mud. Upon seeing her daughter, Potter’s mother is asks… “What man wants to marry a girl with mud on her face?” She goes on to explain that Beatrix must marry. Reminding her that her grandmother married and she married and that one day she too will marry but Beatrix says “Well I shant. I will draw.”
Her mother’s response? “Oh those silly drawings. Then who will love you?”
Who indeed? How many of us have received this same message from well meaning mother’s? Stay clean, be ladylike, demure, quiet, don’t intimidate men with your smarts, or other abilities? Is there truth in this admonishment?
What was Beatrix’s response to her mother’s question? “My art and my animals…I don’t need more love than that.”
Scene 2: As an young unmarried woman in her early 30’s Beatrix has finally decided after years of drawing and writing short stories to take her work around to try and get it published. Narrating, she says “an unmarried woman was expected, after all, to behave in a very particular way, which did not include traipsing from publisher to publisher with a gaggle of friends.” These friends, by the way, included her characters Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny and she tells them “We can’t stay home all our lives and we must look at this as an adventure.”
What were you taught about how you were to behave as a woman? Did it include striking out on your own, without the aid or protection of a man, to live your Vision?
How many times have you been told it is best to stay home, where you are safe? Perhaps warned of the dangers of putting yourself out there.
Have these same Victorian ages been passed down to you, to many of us?
Scene 3: Beatrix is introduced to her publisher’s unorthodox and also unmarried sister. The sister asks Beatrix “When did you know you wouldn’t marry?” Potter explains that after a trail of suitors were trotted before her one of her remaining suitors married someone else and that “I knew my mother would bring me no more suitors and that I would never marry, and that shocked me. Then I felt relieved and that shocked me then I went into the garden and filled a whole notebook with sketches.”
What does this say about the possibilities for where one might channel her energy if not toward a marriage, running a household, raising children or care taking others? Are we modern women encouraged to view this as a favorable choice or outcome or to see it as some fate that just might await us if we are unmarried.
Consider the image of the “successful eligible bachelor” think George Clooney v.s. “the successful unmarried woman” think Oprah. Are the expectations and the value given to these roles equal? Does it sometimes seem that the reward for a (heterosexual) woman who pursues and obtains her Vision of Success is a sort of second-place spinsterhood?
What’s your experience?