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Problems of challenging the beliefs of older women

(104 Posts)
CailinDana Fri 27-Dec-13 14:00:04

Both my DM and my MIL were brought up in deeply misogynistic environments, my mother in Catholic Ireland and my MIL as the daughter of a single mother in England. They both married men who hold blatantly sexist views. My father said when I was 12 that educating women is pointless as their place is in the home. He holds this view in spite of the fact that my mother is highly educated with a very responsible job and has been the breadwinner throughout their marriage while has barely worked at all. He still left almost all the domestic work and household organising to her and her life was far more difficult than it needed to be due to him.
FIL has similar views and is in general an insecure asshole who likes to big himself up at the expense of others.
Both women have the underlying belief that men are important, come first etc and have put up with treatment they shouldn't have due to this belief.
As an example when I moved in with dh

I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Cailin - if she fights back too hard now and gets anywhere, she'll start to realise that she could have done it before and had a much better life; and that realisation might be just too much for her to cope with, so yes, it's easier for her to stay in her martyred cocoon.

What a bloody waste. sad

My own MIL is a bit of a surrendered wife; except that she's been widowed for nearly 20 years now. But she told me some stuff, for instance "nagging doesn't work - my husband told me not to nag and when I persisted, he threw his dinner into the air, spaghetti went everywhere, even on the ceiling. It took me ages to clear it up but I never nagged again..."
My inner response was: Jeezus fuck, woman, what in hell were you DOING cleaning it up after that little temper display?!

thecatfromjapan Sat 28-Dec-13 01:17:49

You know, I hear what you're saying, but I would add that, still, "society" steps in here.

Your mother and your mother-in-law are not going to walk straight out of their marriages and into a marriage with a forward-looking, or just plain reasonable, man.

Instead, they face a gamut of questioning - perceived or real - as to why they have left their marriages, followed by a period of social, financial and emotional upheaval when they leave. They then face a good , long stretch as a single, older woman. Society is not so kind to many older, single women. Not least because they often have less financial clout than single men/heterosexual couples but also because of the sexism of society. Even simple things, such as travelling around at night, without the "protection" hmm of a man.

My theory is that society actually makes it quite hard for women to leave. That way, women stay in marriages/partnerships and a lot of men realise that it will take some seriously bad behaviour on their part to make their female partners leave.

Having said that, I really think there is a real place for bigging up the virtues and joys of (single) autonomy versus a life lived with someone who crushes you - even if it is "only" a "little bit" of crushing. I think we all need to hear more of the joys of life outside of a crap relationship. I don't think we hear nearly enough of that, do we?

By the way, Andrea Dworkin, years ago, wrote an essay about "right-wing women" and their (supposed) mistrust of women's ability to deliver power to women as women, rather than the power (some) women achieve (sometimes) by way of men. I'm not sure how I feel about the essay - I wonder if it doesn't stereotype women, and conjecture, and blame women, rather than men - but it is an interesting hypothesis as to why some women will side with men against other women, even their own daughters.

StickEmUpSideways Sat 28-Dec-13 17:13:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CuntyBunty Sun 29-Dec-13 11:09:56

"Behind every abusive man is a whole society telling him it's OK to be a shit." Is that your own "saying"? Cat? Spot on. Grim though.

Callin, I have a similar thing going on with my parents, but Mum is sooo passive, I am worried about being a victim blamer. We are in a mess after dreadful behavior from Dad when they were visiting. He does it everyone in a while and it is swept under the carpet. Mum is mortified at the time, but then likes to go and pretend it never happened.

I am too old for this and the old adage, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got". I haven't spoken to him him since the last episode in November and I feel a very cold, long lasting fury. Mum expressed surprise when I asked her to make sure he didn't phone to wish us Happy Christmas on the big day (He would do this as it's Christmas and could hide behind it) and pretend nothing had happened. She said, "You mean you don't want to speak to him now, after we've spoken?".

This means she does the matyr of being the one who, "Had to tell Dad Cunty didn't want to speak to him". It somehow puts the blame on me and it's tearing at me because she's had a rough life, abusive father, then what I would call abusive, Husband and I am upset because of her collusion in this. I can't go back to the way it's always been, I have a lovely DH who would never behave in that way, so why would I want our sons to see that this is tolerated and acceptable?

If anyone has read this, thanks and to OP. I really needed to get this out. It's so, so toxic ad damaging as a pattern.

CailinDana Sun 29-Dec-13 11:39:33

That sounds really hard Cunty. It's all so complicated. My dad is generally quite a nice person (believe it or not) but has awful social skills, very old fashioned views and lives with his head in the clouds. He was an ok dad but is a rubbish grandfather and an absolutely horrendous husband. He basically suits himself and my mother puts up with it.

My childhood was quite shit and I put the blame for it on my mum. It's only since really developing my feminist views in the last 10 years or so that I've come to recognise that while she wasn't a great mother she had an incredibly large amount to deal with (full time stressful job, 3 kids - one of which almost died at birth and has a disability - thyroid problems, migraines, fibroids and awful periods, lack of money while we were young, her own terrible upbringing etc etc) and my dad gave her the absolute minimum of support. In many ways he was like a teenage brother - into his own thing, willing to do specific things like give us lifts but took on no responsibility, not even a job for many years. His longest period of unemployment was 14 years; which wouldn't have been a problem if he took on a SAHD role but he didn't. Considering all that I actually think she did a damn good job of keeping the show on the road. She failed me in other ways but they are a separate issue.

Yet I can't help feeling some anger towards her for putting up with it, which really isn't fair. As others have mentioned, leaving would have been nigh on impossible. Divorce wasn't even legal in Ireland till I was 11 ffs! I know one Irish couple who are divorced. One. It is still a rare and remarkable event. Add to that the fact that her own father was an abusive alcoholic (so my extremely mild mannered dad seems far "better") and that she's a practising Catholic and you are pretty much guaranteed she won't ever leave.

I do feel in many ways she prioritised my lazy father over her children. I can understand why but it still hurts. Now she seems to be prioritising him over her grandchildren. I want to tell her to wake the fuck up.

CuntyBunty Sun 29-Dec-13 11:55:43

Yes, I am in no doubt Mum prioritses Dad over us and the kids, to the extent she will actively avoid any confrontation and put us in the line or fire or to take the flak. I feel curiously peaceful now I have accepted this is the way it is between them and it isn't going to change. It is going to change for me though as I am in control on my own life. If there was to be any contact in the future, it will be minimal and polite. If he can't be polite, there will be no contact.

I have yet to voice this to him as it's not a conversation I relish having and I am under no obligation or duty to have it unless I feel like it, I have realised. He released us as a family from any obligation with his inexcusable behaviour in my house.

CailinDana Sun 29-Dec-13 12:24:17

I have similar feelings towards my dad. Him saying he wasn't going to visit to see my dd was the final straw. I told him he had to visit on that occasion and he will obviously see the children when I visit but other than that I'm not going to put any effort into maintaining his relationship with my children. He's a grown man and should be able to do that himself. My mother will visit on her own, thankfully, but it will complicate Christmas in particular. If my mother loses out because she would rather let him be a selfish git that's her problem.

CailinDana Sun 29-Dec-13 12:31:07

Foolishly I expected better treatment from my dad than the treatment he gives other people but I don't know why. He didn't attend the funerals of his two brothers and didn't visit his identical twin brother when he had cancer. I always thought he wouldn't cut me and his gcs off in the same way (and I suspect my mother thought the same) but he has. If I was in my mother's shoes I would be disgusted with him.

CailinDana Sun 29-Dec-13 12:42:02

The sad thing is my mother always did her best to protect us from my dad's selfishness. It's for that reason I was actually happy that she told him he had to talk to me himself about not visiting my dd - normally she would make up some bullshit excuse.

CuntyBunty Sun 29-Dec-13 13:58:00

It would always have been better and easier if my Mum had visited without Dad; better than him turning up and being a shit when he feels like it.

Mum says things to me like, "I don't know why he gets like this. What is it that sets him off?". And you know what I said last time? The gist of it is that I don't care why. There is no reason good enough to excuse this behaviour. We haven't done anything to set him off, he acted as he wanted. Well fuck him. I can't believe I am so resolute and cold and furious. I have just come to the end.

CailinDana Sun 29-Dec-13 14:05:02

My MIL does that "I don't know why h's like this" thing too. I feel like saying "because he's a rude selfish racist cunt," but I won't. I just ignore him. The thing is dh and mil have now started ignoring him too when I'm around. It'll be interesting to see if it makes a difference over time.

I think the quickest and most obvious answer to "I don't know why he's like this" is "because he's been allowed to".
No one has challenged him.
No one is allowed to challenge him.
And so he (they) keep on doing it, just because they can.

CailinDana Sun 29-Dec-13 14:29:48

True thumb although it's also the case that both men feel entitled to behave like that and both women feel they have no choice but to put up with it.

youretoastmildred Mon 30-Dec-13 09:47:05

This is a great thread, thanks to CailinDana and all the other posters.

While curlew is right in saying "it's about the attitude that many women -and men- of all ages still have about the role of women in society" - there is something really specific about older women in that you are in danger of them seeing your pro-woman attitudes as "your whole life's work has been worthless".

In talking to younger women, especially English, non-Catholic ones, I am constantly struck by how they have no conception of how some women were brought up to consider the complete erasure of themselves to be a virtuous life's work. It is nonsense to them. They literally see it as meaningless, the extent to which some women have been trained to not even register themselves as beings with desires. (I am "only" 42, and am English, but all my family are Irish and I have clear memories of a Catholic education in the 70s and the 80s, which was somehow the tail end of a culture in which the 60s had not happened - I think even Catholics don't train children now the way we were trained then, or I bloody hope not, and will not be sending my children to Catholic schools to find out)

Thinking about how the knock-on effect of my mother putting my father first, herself last, was actually to the detriment of her children, (especially the girl ones) is a formative part of my own thinking about being a parent. As a mother you need to empower yourself to look after your children properly. It's not uppity, it's your job.
I battle every day with confusion over how you can protect yourself enough to give enough. Christianity doesn't help (for this) - there is no safeguarding of the self in Christianity, no point at which you have given enough and need give no more. Your reward is in heaven, for giving to the extent that you cease to exist. But this is no good to your children!

I can't give advice on your sitatuation, you sound as if you are managing very well. But it's hard

CuntyBunty Mon 30-Dec-13 09:59:20

Hi Mildred, it is a great thread, I am finding it really helpful at the moment.

I spoke to Mum on the phone yesterday and made sure I told her, "Dad has done this and broken us all up. We've done nothing wrong". She repeated a few times, "And I've done nothing wrong". I didn't have the heart to argue (the victim blaming quandry thing), but I did feel like saying, "Oh, so leaving with him at his say so at 6.30am on a Sunday morning without saying goodbye to us all means you've done nothing wrong". That fucking hurts and she colluded in it because she is intimidated by him and wants "anything for a quiet life". She wouldn't have mentioned it if I hadn't brought it up.

It's now a bit broken between me and my Mother because of all this, the fall out feels so huge. Nan died earlier this year, so my whole bedrock has gone. I wish I could have Nan back and show her how much I loved her, because she loved me unconditionally and I was "too busy with my own life" in her final years. I am really feeling it. I had a good cry last night and am trying not to at work now.

CailinDana Mon 30-Dec-13 10:52:31

Oh Cunty you poor thing.

Was your gran a widow? My gran put up with unbelievable things (including 9 c-sections) while her dh was alive but once he died she changed completely. She got a job that she adored, the first of her adult life, persuaded her beloved sister to move back from England, got a dog and took up pitch and putt again (she'd been all Ireland champion in her early 20s and was champion again in her 60s!). It's sad to say but her dh dying was the best thing that happened to her. I think unfortunately the same might well be true for my DM and MIL. Their dhs need them and will flounder if they die first but they definitely don't need their dhs, far from it.

CuntyBunty Mon 30-Dec-13 11:06:18

Yes, she was a widow for over 40 years and did as she pleased then, thank goodness.

How are you today?

Mollydoggerson Mon 30-Dec-13 11:10:06

A very interesting thread.

I understand wholeheartedly the bitter annoyance and feeling of rejection by mothers who collude in the negative, toxic, mysogenic behaviour.

Mothers try to enlist the daughters as little martyr soldiers but then the mothers turn their backs on us and collude in rejecting us.

All we can do is try to rise above it.

CuntyBunty Mon 30-Dec-13 11:12:55

Hurts though, Molly. Hope you are ok.

Mollydoggerson Mon 30-Dec-13 11:27:28

Hi cunty and Cailin, yes I am ok! Thanks.

My DF died a year ago, and was by all accounts a very good man, very funny and well meaning when he was well. My mother behaved in a slavish way towards him, and enabled awful sexist behaviour and enabled unhealthy drinking patterns. While the sh1tty up and down bits were not her fault, I believe they weren't really either of their faults. The toxic approach to family life is deeply embedded in that old-school approach to life.

Mum created a stick to beat herself with, she worked, had 4 children and enabled a problem drinker. I believe she enabled the drinking
partly to get Dad out of her hair and partly to live life in a bubble. They both made very selfish choices, they both lacked and lack self awareness. Mum projected a heavy burden of responsibilities on to us, me mostly. She became overwhealmed and leaned too heavily on her children. Instead of recognising this, she becomes very mocking and belittling of us.

The toxicity continues.

At any rate since Dad died, she is no longer caring for him, enabling him, so she has a new lease of life.

It is all very complicated. Mum tries to paint a picture of what life is like, what she is like to the outside world. But the reality is, she is very harsh on her daughters and she has no concept that daughters require support as well. She was quite cruel to my sister, when my sister suffered a miscarriage. It makes me feel distant towards my mother. Honestly I believe most Irish people above the age of 50 or so are pretty emotionally stunted. In order to protect yourself you need to have very limited expectations of them.

Mollydoggerson Mon 30-Dec-13 11:30:11

Sorry for the me-fest!

I just don't really have any advice on all of this, as I am very much muddling through trying to make sense of my own annoyances and life.

CuntyBunty Mon 30-Dec-13 11:34:32

Yes, I definitely feel calmer with the acceptance that things are shit and they won't change and I won't change them.

My Mum is quite distant to the grandchildren too. She's lovely when she's with them, but then it's out of sight, out of mind. When logistics allows, I don't even as her to baby sit anymore. It's more of a chore for her and after all, she's "had four of my own, I've done my bit". Fair play, a pity, but I accept this. My poor little sister was crying about this the other week, and while being sympathetic, I did tell her that I had accepted it, this was the way it was and I felt better for that....I will phone and check on her later, I think.

2013 has been a bad old year for lots of people.

grimbletart Mon 30-Dec-13 17:37:19

I sympathise with the problems above posters are describing. It's crappy. But without trying to antagonise may I suggest that this self-effacing shit by wives is not necessarily about age, but more to do with the the type of person. I was married in 1966 and am now in my 70s but there is no way I would put up with this shit (nor would my husband - who is even more ancient than I am) inflict that shit on me or our children.

Yet, in the relationship thread you can see this similar self-effacement attitude going on from some posters who are only in their 30s and 40s. It's an attitude problem, not an age one though it may be more common among older women.

Perhaps I have no place on Mumsnet and should stick to Gransnet sad but I can't help feeling a bit shock at the way the older generation tends to be stereotyped on Mumsnet.

There are a few posters on Mumsnet (not above I hasten to add) young enough to be my grandchildren whose attitudes sound more like they are old enough to be my grandmother - to join in the stereotyping grin

Sorry for the rant, and I truly do sympathise with those with Dads from hell.

You do have a point, grimbletart, but so do the people who have mentioned the entrenched behaviour that is even taught in schools (and probably churches/church-based communities), implicitly if not explicitly.

My Dad is 80, but he never treated my Mum like this either - he wasn't THAT much of a help around the house, but he was all for Mum doing what she wanted to - working if she wanted, not working if she didn't want, taking courses if she'd wanted to, doing her local politics stuff. He was a firm believer that women had as much right as men to do anything they wanted to.

CuntyBunty Mon 30-Dec-13 20:07:58

'Course you belong here Grimble. Or can I call you "Tart"? It's a good reminder not be be ageist and you are right about some of the content of the relationship board.

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