Modern Woman – Evolutionary Adaptation or Chesterton's Fence?
This isn't f*****g easy; this isn't mother f*****g easy. I'm not the best at asking for help – as I write this to you, I am sitting in a shed at the bottom of a 55-year-old man's garden. I shit you not, after booking an Airbnb to process my latest therapy session. Society tells me I should be grateful for my lifestyle. I think most people envisage I sit on my privileged ass moving from turmeric latte, to the gym, to a coffee, to therapy, to writing a blog post, to a bottle of wine, to dinner, then to bed – which is true, mostly.
But being a modern woman isn't always easy. I'm not here to say having children, running a house and looking after a relationship is either, but then I’ve not yet had the chance to find out – so I make the best of what I’ve been given, despite societal constraints. I’m not here to say my life isn’t exciting but having to get the morning after pill at 35 because you don't want to be on hormonal contraception permanently when your sex life resembles that of a nun (90% of the time) is not exciting. Not my fault, by the way, Durex is just not durable. Having to make small talk to the pharmacist about feeling like a teenager whilst she looks at you like you've just done the walk of shame is also not exciting. Having to aimlessly worry about the small stuff so you don't have to process big stuff, like, can I even have children – not fun.
And yet, in society, when does the modern woman (independent, childless, business owning, community activist, constant learner, innovator (I am using my definition here of what is actually a never-ending spectrum)) get celebrated? Why don't we get to celebrate making it through this life with no one to rely on but ourselves - yet hen parties exist? Why don't we get moving in cards when we are on our 5th house share? Where are our congratulations on looking after No. 1? Where is the celebration of being an absolute warrior of a woman?
The unknown evolutionary space we as modern women find ourselves in is fiercely evident when talking to women just two generations older. Recently two of my friends – of different cultures to myself (Polish and Latvian) had a similar experience to me with my Granny. After transporting, my mother (and father) swiftly to Brum like the confident driver I have had to become, unlike my mother, who is forever chauffeured around (another female generational juxtaposition). We jumped out at my nans care home to go and give her some post covid love. Unfortunately, Nanny Butter can no longer use her voice and so communicates via pen. Though often incoherent we still managed to have the following conversation:
Nan – “are you courting anyone”
Me – “no, none of the men are good enough Nan”
Nan – no written response “gurgle, grunt, dismissive look”
Me – “I haven’t met my prince charming yet
Nan – looks into distance
After re-living this story to my pals, my Polish friend tells me her nan accused her of having had as many men as she has socks (to which she replied she might choose to wear them all at once). And my Latvian friend was asked by her Grandma. "HOW MANY MEN DO YOU HAVE" to which she replied one, to receive the response "HOW MANY HAVE YOU HAD". To have these stark differences in deep-seated values separated by only two generations is perhaps suggestive as to why the experience of being a modern woman is just so jarring.
With all of this in mind, there was nothing as poignant as walking out the petrol station (after purchasing logs for my Airbnb log burner, which I hoped I was capable of lighting) to have a man shout; "do you need some help with that" prompting the simultaneous thoughts:
“Piss off. I can weight lift your body mass”
“YES! PLEASE HELP ME. (In fact) I don't just want help with this. I want help with it all."
My actual response was a cocky well-practised stab; "it's not that heavy, darling". As I purposely threw it into the boot, nearly taking myself with the logs.
After finally reaching the ‘Shed’, trying out the local (do not bother if you’re ever in St. Leonards, unless you like trippy carpets and old men) and pontificating on this over several glasses of wine, it came to me I need, to explain. It is not about being single and unhappy, it is not just about sometimes being lonely, and it is certainly not about being dissatisfied with my life.
It is about finding a way to keep my pride as a modern woman and still be emotionally vulnerable (which is in part why I write to you now) - we know being vulnerable opens up your world and allows for connection (1), but when your brain perceives you’ve survived by being anything but, that’s hella-hard.
It is about having a society that celebrates my way of living so that when others in my community start to follow the ‘norm’, I don't feel that all my anchors are lost. As discussed in the CBT blog (2) feelings, aren't facts, yet feelings and thoughts shape behaviours and physical health and the feeling of not belonging is a driving force for poor mental health (3). This being, why those from the trans community, who are a strong representation of people who cannot find belonging due to our dichotomous world, are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than not have them (4).
It is about your society supporting your way of living through its policies, and procedures - creating opportunities for all.
Why don’t we have:
- Incentives for singletons to get on the property ladder - as opposed to mortgages and help to buy schemes based on two individuals contracted (as supposed to self-employed) salaries.
- Services to check fertility, despite not trying for a baby and support to freeze eggs.
- An equivalent to marriage allowance – I mean, why does this even still exist.
- Support at work for single women to pursue ventures that are our equivalent to starting motherhood.
- Moves to stop exclusion of singletons from “couple-specific” deals on insurance, hotels, gym memberships & banks accounts.
Just as a starting point.
As Dolan argues:
“Our insistence on advocating committed relationships through marriage may be caused in part by a desire to defend overarching power structures, such as government, political frameworks and religion.” (5)
There are clear libertarian and egalitarian reasons for society to stop incentivising marriage at the very least. Why not instead allow for a range of contractually binding options for all kinds of relationships of two or more?
This brings us to the final question, which loosely brings this blog back to the premise of the website for which it is, designed, although if I was honest, this post is just an outright rant. The psychological question of: am I an Evolutionary Adaptation or an example of Chestertons Fence? (don't worry all, will be explained).
Evolutionary adaptations are argued by (some) evolutionary biologists to be shapers of genetic traits. For example: instead of saying 'nature or nurture', evolutionary adaptations say: nurture can equate to nature, e.g. culture shapes genetic traits (6). Therefore, could it be the case that the rise of the modern woman is an example of us pushing evolution forward and not being harnessed by the usual conforms biology would encourage.
‘Chesterton’s Fence’ is a concept coined by Chesterton (funnily enough) who argued:
“A core component of making great decisions is understanding the rationale behind previous decisions. If we don’t understand how we got “here,” we run the risk of making things much worse.” (7)
Or, in other words, don't hop over a fence until you know why it was, put there and concerning this blog, don’t un-conform until you're sure it is beneficial.
Non-conforming concerning the modern woman is not just relative to hopping over the fence and choosing to be single (as for me, that is only in part choice (although god knows why because I'm fucking fabulous)). But as life goes on and more generations come to fruition, it will be interesting to see if there was ever a fence, and whether culturally, we adapt to ditch hen parties and instead begin celebrating those who wear the most socks.
Signing out at 11 pm from the Shed, living my best modern woman life trying, to ignore the weird noises outside and acknowledging my best self-defence weapon is a wine bottle – because who needs a man when you have that by your bedside.
Lots of love, your Modern Woman Becky.
1. Brown, Brene (2014) on Vulnerability TED Talk
2. Few, Rebekah (2019) CBT blog
3. Jetten et al (2015) Having a Lot of a Good Thing: Multiple Important Group Memberships as a Source of Self-Esteem. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0131035
4. Youth Chances (2014) cited by Stonewall here.
5. Dolan, Paul (2019) Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life
6. Heying, Heather and Weinstein, Bret (2021) A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century.
7. Chesterton, Gilbert (1929) The Thing. Chapter: The Drift from Domesticity.