Karla, send me this message this morning in response to a piece I wrote the other day about my wanting to leave Maria something when I die:
“Jon, I loved this. I have warned my husband many times, NOT to “princess” me. It feels infantilizing. His Dad “princessed” his Mom their whole marriage, and when he died, she was lost, can’t do many things for herself or around the house, and worse, she needs constant attention. Ugh, no thanks. I love that you have more respect for Maria and her talents and capabilities.”
I think Karla created a new word definition when she wrote about the idea of being “princessed.”She turned it into a verb.
I “princessed” Maria when I first met her and thought it was my responsiblity to leave her enough money to be secure for the rest of her life. Since I don’t have much money now, this has kept me up at night.
Maria has made it clear to me – and it is clear to me – that she doesn’t need or want me to take responsibility for her life when I die, it is, she says, her responsibility.
I am older than Maria and grew up in a different time.
My mother, a repressed feminist paralyzed by existing middle-class and social conventions, never forgave my father for not leaving her enough money to be secure when he died.
He never took out a single insurance policy on her life, something she held against him until the day she died.
In fact, all of the women I knew when I grew up, young or old, wanted men to take care of them and expected men to do that. I gather from watching the news that many women still feel that way. It can be tough out there.
Back then, this male obligation was considered a prime tenet of male responsibility – protect your family, whether you are alive or not. The highest compliment a family man could receive was that he had provided for his family. The worst thing you could say about a man was that he didn’t.
I never heard a woman say when I was a child that they were sorry they couldn’t leave more money behind for their families when they died. This was the terrain of men.
I am getting older, and I hear a lot of white men grumble and moan about how women have changed. I don’t feel that way. And I am selfish. The better they do, the better I do.
Watching Maria rise to the level of her great strength, creativity and focus has been one of the richest experiences of my life, I am in no way responsible for that – you can’t put that inside of someone – but I am proud to think that I have always supported it.
And she has always supported me.
I won’t lie, I felt some twinges from time to time as Maria has exploded as an ascendant blogger, artist, photographer, videographer and writer. She is also a remarkable handywoman and house repairer and gardener.
She even hauls hay out to the animals in her wedding dress and important French rubber boots ($8 in a Thrift Store.)
Once, most of those things were my exclusive province. And she does all of them as well or better than I do. I thank God I do not resent her for that.
I no longer worry about her being okay, I’m more likely to worry about me. I sometimes ask myself the question in the face of all this talent, “okay, so what it is that I do?”
Maria has it all, and it turns out she has the ego and drive to do it all. Her life is not perfect, nor does she aspire to that, but she, like Karla, has no wish to be “princessed.”
She even gets pissed off when I buy her a gift, but I won’t give that up, no matter what she says.
Maria is not coy about anything.
She gets furious when she is “princessed,” and that’s gone from my head, even though I do try to spoil her when I can get away with it. But I no longer every assume that she needs me to take care of herself or live the life she wants to live.
And I don’t miss that feeling, I sleep better than ever before. I have enough trouble being responsible for me. The idea is to do my share, not take it all over.
It is infanticizing. to “princess” a woman, I believe. It is also patronizing and the literal definition of sexism.
Changing this idea of male obligation, or women’s dependence, is also, I should add, liberating for men like me. It isn’t just good for Maria. I am free to live my life and pursue my work as I see fit, I need no be a slave to work I hate but do for money to leave behind.
The most important and precious gift I can leave behind for Maria is my respect and appreciation of her strength and competence. She can take care of herself.
And I get something too.
I am free to do what I want. This is why I was so happy to come up with the idea of leaving her the blog, and hopefully the spirit and reality of the Army Of Good. Both are two things much more precious than money. She will know what to do with both of them.
Maria has come to learn – she taught herself – that security is not about money, but the soul and strength inside of us. To “princess” women is, I have come to learn, a way of imprisoning them, stunting them, keeping them in our place, not theirs.
To “princess” a woman is to enable their vulnerability and fear and dependence.
Good for you, Karla, and thanks for the note. I hope you husband gets it. I am doing Maria no favors by taking responsibility for her life, it is the literal opposite of love and support.
Some men don’t like it and some men will fight it, but no man can stop it. It is too powerful now, it is unleashed.
Women are Coming Home. They are looking inward to their own Gods and goddesses, trusting that they will help one another and have what they need. Their whole lives have been spent running, seeking the full promise of life, and the time is coming when that fearful and uncertain search is over.
Home is where they are truly safe.
Home is where they can receive what they desire. I can almost feel their new reality coming, they will find the love and freedom to bring rest to their hearts.
I am sorry my mother is not alive so I can try to tell her to stop blaming my father for not doing something she could always have done herself, and would have done better.
It is no way to feel safe, as she came to see. There is nothing secure about being “princessed.”