“We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving… We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation. We drink coffee, a lot of it. We are on birth control, Prozac, and multivitamins… We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others. We never want to be as passive-aggressive as our mothers, never want to marry men as uninspired as our fathers… We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.” – Courtney Martin
I am a feminist. Unapologetically, enthusiastically, I am a feminist. What’s harder for me to say out loud is that I’m also a perfectionist. My kind of perfectionism runs much deeper than striving to get all A’s or color coordinating my closet, it is the kind of perfectionism that permeates deeply through my inner being, my relationships, my work, and most importantly – the way I see myself as a woman.
I know from reading work by Courtney Martin, and articles such as Deborah Spar’s Where Feminism Went Wrong, that I am not the only one struggling with a “feminism that ironically and unintentionally, raised the bar for women so high that mere mortals are condemned to fall below it”. We are expected to be educated, funny, social, sexy, intellectual, in-shape, compassionate…and more.
For the past 26 years, I have been told that I can be anything. My life-long goals have ranged from becoming a famous ballerina (that changed at age 8) to a school teacher (thanks to my amazing 2nd grade teacher), make-up artist, and nonprofit rockstar. My privilege granted me access to the best schools, programs, teachers, and counselors to ensure that I was always on the right track.
For the past 26 years, I have also believed that I need to do everything – and do it well. I worked hard in school and received good grades. I followed a career that I am passionate about working in the nonprofit sector. I have been a devoted daughter, providing the glue to hold my family together. I have been a caring partner in relationships both volatile and fulfilling. I have been a loyal friend, who is understanding, empathetic, and there to lend a joke when a smile is needed. I have learned to love exercise for both my health and appearance. I have found my voice as a leader and advocate willing to stand up for myself and for others. But I am still plagued by the idea that it is not enough. As a woman, I should be more.
Over the last few months, I have been awakened to my own redefining of feminism. After what I like to call “a series of unfortunate events”, I am learning to relinquish control and accept that many things in life are far from perfect. I am not perfect. The stress and pressure to be perfect causes more damage than its worth and leaves many of us feeling inadequate, exhausted, overwhelmed and unfulfilled. My new kind of feminism focuses less on controlling my own life and takes a look at the larger picture. I am learning to embrace my own imperfections and celebrate the things I am good at – along with the women around me. We have set impossibly high standards for ourselves and by changing the internal conversation we can reap the benefits of a less-than-perfect journey. Because it’s true – we can be anything. But we certainly can’t be everything. And that’s perfectly okay.
Elyse Mathos currently resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Elyse is a nonprofiteer, volunteer, vegetarian, people enthusiast, triathlete, daughter, friend, and lover of pretty things. Elyse is the Manager of Fundraising and Special Events at the American Diabetes Association and Marketing Co-Chair for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids.