Perfectionism. It’s often toted around jokingly: “I’m such a perfectionist”. I have heard it so often (and I’m a culprit I admit) that it has kind of lost it’s meaning altogether. I hadn’t really thought to much about throwing it around. Since I saw Reshma Saujami’s talk, “Teach Girls Bravery, not perfectionism” (see where I talked about it here) I have been questioning this.
I started thinking about who I usually hear tossing that phrase around. I could not recall an example where a guy said that. It’s almost exclusively women. Why?Why is there some hidden expectation that it is acceptable for women to be perfect? Hmm, not acceptable, expected.
No one bats an eyelid when they hear “I’m such a perfectionist” from a woman.
I think it comes from socialisation.The way the world is constructed. It’s something that is taught, albeit implicitly, from when you are a child and then constantly reinforced throughout life.
Take clothing options for example. If you haven’t already, check out this girl’s explanation:
There’s definitely different expectations placed on young boys versus young girls. For girls to be pretty, happy, cheerful and agreeable. Boys on the other hand, are encouraged to make their own adventures, to give things a go, to take risks. It doesn’t matter if boys take those risks and make a mess of things. After all, boys will be boys. The same can’t be said for girls. They should be clean, tidy and organised – all things that can be related to perfectionism.
Now surely these same gendered standards don’t continue into adulthood. Or do they?
It appears that the fashion world is improving in the portrayal of men and women. Increasingly men are photographed in “low power” positions such as clutching their own legs and arms. Women are more and more being photographed in powerful poses. While this is great, it seems that the same can not be said about a lot of the culture.
The importance of female perfectionism is still inherent within society, though understated. There’s that suitableness of men often being rewarded for taking risks. When things go wrong? When the wrong things are said? When there is a lack of empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence? There comes that saying: Don’t you know that boys will be boys. So that makes it okay to lower our expectations of the human condition? That phrase, gives an exemption to perfectionism. Why is it okay to grant this concession based on gender?
This concession, is it internal? Or is this something that is being imposed by other people Previously I had considered it to be purely a societal thing – now I am not so sure. Does self-talk play a part?
While I believe that people should not be treated differently, I find myself trying to be perfect at everything I do. I find myself avoiding risks because I am not confident I will be able to make it work. Am I part of the problem? Am I unknowingly perpetuating this concession? I don’t have that expectation on others, why then should I have it on myself?
I do not believe that this concession can truly be done away with until we change our self-talk. Change the expectation on yourself to be perfect. You are human. Why then should you have to be perfect? Why should that be something to aspire to?
I believe when I focus more on taking risks and less on achieving perfectionism, that I will be able to say with confidence that I am not perpetuating this gendered concession. Imagine what would happen if everyone would do the same.