I don’t know about you, but for me, living as a woman has been a challenge. Of course, life is a challenge for everybody, even the white, middle-aged man on the top of our society has their hindrances and sorrows. However, women usually play an unfair game, don’t you agree?
Every morning, from since I was five, something looked wrong in my life. Like I was in some sense, the right person in the wrong place. Being the eldest of two daughters, many responsibilities were put on my back. Be an example to my sister, respectful and obedient to my parents and above all, be kind and servant. Yes, servant. Serves others putting myself in second was the mantra in my family. I had to give my bed for others, have food that others like, even when it was my mother, and I who was cooking. The utmost point was the men should be served before the women and children. I thought all those rules were biased, but it was what it was.
My adolescence was a nightmare, not for my parents but myself. I was divided between the duties I was raised and the eagerness for freedom. I want to make choices like study English or ballet. Put food on my own plate, have time to read whatever book I wanted; and dream the dream I chose. My mother, on the other hand, wanted a good man in my life, a home for me to care and children. My rebellion against my mother desires for me did not last long.
The young adult I become, someone studying in a university – the first women in the family to have a university degree – and experiencing the first step far from family (even I was still living with them) was an eye-opening but not in a good sense. At university, again, we women saw as a different kind of individuals. We chose to study engineering only because there were more opportunities to find a good man. How many times we, the twenty or so women studying at the university did not hear the comments about the real reason we were there. Even the teachers, the one who should have learning more about life and be open to chances, even they looked at us like unnecessary change. Why should a woman be an engineer?
Those who accept us, on the other hand, prefer to make choices for us. It was a tragic world where women, in a concession, could be an engineer since her choice laid in three types: civil engineering, chemical engineering or food engineering. Takes it or suffer. I suffered.
Finally, after ending the university, have my first job in a Dutch company and climbing the work leader so quickly that many colleagues felt I was doing something not virtuous to have those promotions. Oh, yeah! Women are promoted only because they have an affair with their bosses. That was the murmur behind my back, a sound many women heard every day and still do.
Then, I made a choice. I married someone I thought could be a support to my fight to changes. A man with an open mind, an intellectual well-read, well-travelled, and above all, he seemed to see me as I was. A person who was driven to make my own choices taking the future on my hands. Again, what I bought wasn’t what was delivered. Step by step, I was put in a situation I had to work double. First from 7 am to 5 pm as an engineer then from 7 pm to midnight as a housewife. It was exhausting, my sexuality was dragged to the bottom because I was so tired the only thing I would able to do after all day was sleeping TO a newlywed that was a strain in the relationship.
Not enough having to handle the double journey, the family pressures were overwhelming. I should be what they think I should be. A wife and a mother at first, a daughter and in-law second, finally, if there were space, I was permitted to be myself, not wholly myself only the part of me who fitted on the definition of a married woman. It was depressing. Hurting myself become a way to run away from the pain. Yes, make one pain more significant than the other, until you think you could not feel anymore. Of course, anybody around makes any comment about it. It was a phase.
A phase. Yes, a step intensified by the maternity. A stage that prolonged for years when I put myself aside to live my husband and son lives. I was the servant again — the one cleaning, cooking, helping, listening to. I was also silent. Nobody cares about my feelings. My dreams were dead, and nobody even wanted to know about them. I was happy, right? I have a husband, a home, a child, what else I could expect? A life?
The thing becomes a focus when I open a pandora box. From that box, a book comes out; not a good one, but a cried and vengeful one. I felt liberated. I travel the country promoting the book alone. In an impulse, I went to another country to learn about other people, other women, and to my despair what I saw was resignation, little changes and more and more oppression.
Again, life makes its choice. I move to another country. I place where people were free and opened minded, I thought. Expectations were high. I would find, at least, a place where women had choices, value and life by themselves. Maybe, only maybe, in that space, I could see my own truth.
Nope. As an outsider, I saw the same stereotypes pinned to women. It was like I hadn’t travelled thousands of kilometres and years. I was again watching the same double journey, the same finger-pointing when a woman was promoted, the same tv shows selling the same house cleaning products to women. Everything had changed. The world was connected through the internet, social media make our ideas and opinions easy to share; however, women still being harassed, raped, being paid less and working double. It was a moment of truth and delusion for me.
Then, the pandemic came. During almost ten years I had spent most of my day alone in my flat. Writing, studying and naturally doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, but I did it on my time. My husband and son were at their job or school. I had the silence for myself. The time to sit and write, the moment of solitude to read and collect ideas. I made some excellent coursed courses about things I had an interest. I was almost free on those more than eight hours alone.
The pandemic changed the equilibrium. Now, we are living 24 hours together, and it brought the reality closer to me. Now, my obligations were above my dreams. I had to cook, clean, do laundry, as usual, but now I was sharing my space with my husband who had his calls and meeting and needed of silence. I couldn’t hear music without earphones or go to the kitchen to have a coffee or eat fruit without asking first if he was in a meeting with free video. But the worse part was having someone observing me all the time.
How many times I was writing, and my husband was reading it over my shoulders. How many times I was in the middle of a sentence and had to stop because he or my son needed something and couldn’t find it. How many times my studies were put aside because it was time for breakfast or dinner (at least I dared to cut the lunch of our daily life). I began to feel exhausted again. Each cloth my husband put to dry was an enormous sacrifice he was making to help me. Each, plate or cutlery in the dishwasher a given gift I had to thanks profusely. Each one of those small bits of help was made, of course, after I ask for help. How many times I hoped for someone just remove the bag from the bathroom bin. Or, when I am having a bath, someone prepared the bed. How many times I did not hope for my son and my husband just have initiative and do what needs to be done without me to asking or saying.
I don’t have a place to go to. I don’t have the silence where my mind can flow and find shelter—a place to create and enjoy my creation. I am tired, and the pandemic seems not ending any time soon. Can I survive sane and healthy?