Numerous studies have illuminated an unfortunate fact: As women are at work, eating, trying to sleep, and probably just breathing, counterproductive thoughts creep into our heads telling us to feel guilty about our very existence.
Perhaps the most insidious part is that we’re so convinced our guilt is justified, we feel guilty for not feeling guilty.
So, without further ado, you are officially excused from guilt over the following behaviors – and permitted to do whatever you want with the mental energy you currently expend on guilt.
1. Politely exiting a conversation
There’s always that one person at every party who attempts to suck the attention from anyone who will listen. And there’s always that one person who listens indefinitely because she can’t find a polite enough exit route out of the conversation.
You don’t have to be this person. It’s your evening to spend however you see fit, and you don’t need an excuse to value your time. You can simply say “it was nice talking to you” or “excuse me – I’m going to go see what my friends are up to.”
2. Turning down a “nice guy”
Men and their advocates often try to guilt women into dating them by pointing out how “nice” they are. It’s great that they’re nice – I appreciate the nice guys of the world. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sleep with all of them.
Oh, and the men who use their “nice guy” status as evidence that you owe them a date or sex or anything are not actually nice. Neither are those who complain about being “friend-zoned” or call themselves “nice guys” on their OKCupid profiles but contradict this label with their actions.
A recent poll found that over 60% of women have eaten in private because they feel ashamed about it.
The belief that we don’t deserve food is a symptom of a larger cultural belief that we don’t deserve to be allotted as many resources or take up as much space in the world as men. Our deeply ingrained associations between eating and negative personality traits like laziness and carelessness perpetuate this attitude.
Hunger is typically a sign that your body needs nourishment – not that you are a greedy, selfish pig lacking moral fortitude. Eating that last chip won’t make your friends leave the party malnourished. It’ll probably just prevent someone who didn’t really want it anyway from mindlessly eating it.
4. Asking for sexual pleasure
According to a recent Cosmopolitan survey, 72% of women “have had a partner climax but not attempt to help them finish.” Only 57% say that they climax all or almost all the time, while a whopping 95% say their partners do.
Some might argue that there are biological reasons behind this asymmetry, but research shows that sexual satisfaction is much higher in lesbian relationships and heterosexual relationships in which men care about their partners’ pleasure. One obstacle is that male pleasure is privileged in our culture, so straight women often feel guilty about demanding their own. A woman in one study said,
I think I felt kind of guilty almost, like I felt like I was kind of subjecting [guys] to something they didn’t want to do and I felt bad about it.
Yet women don’t apply this same judgement to their partners. “I will do everything in my power to, like whoever I’m with, to get [him] off,” a woman in the same study said.
So basically, heterosexual women feel guilty about trying to get themselves off, but they feel guilty about not trying to get their partners off. There’s no reason we should hold ourselves and our partners to these opposite standards. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” applies here.
5. Prioritizing work
Depending on your age, you may feel guilty about ignoring gchats from friends while you’re typing away at emails, missing calls from your parents because you silence your phone in the office, or going to the office in the first place when you have kids at home.
But cutting off non-work-related communication during work hours is totally reasonable because multitasking doesn’t work. The time you spend answering your texts and IMs can creep into your productivity. Besides, focusing on work while you’re at work allows you to focus on home while you’re at home, rather than spreading yourself thin in both arenas.
Moms feel particularly guilty about working hard at their jobs, while dads feel less conflict because their jobs help them support their families. But so does yours – and your work also contains intrinsic value for your own mental health.
It’s no wonder moms feel guilty for working when a third of Americans believe children are best off with stay-at-home moms. But research shows that this simply isn’t true. Most studies have found no difference between children with working and stay-at-home mothers. Some have even found that children with working mothers demonstrate better academic performance and fewer emotional problems. And in a survey on how children feel about their parents’ work-life balance, the biggest complaints were overworked and underpaid parents. Kids who wished their parents spent more time at home were usually referring to their fathers.
Nurturing your family is important, but so is nurturing your career goals – and your kids won’t resent you for it.
6. Feeling guilty
You don’t have to feel guilty for not feeling guilty, but you also don’t have to feel guilty for feeling guilty. Are you still with me?
I’m presenting these as behaviors you can – not should – quit feeling guilty about because there’s no “should” with feelings. And, of course, getting into a cycle of guilt over your guilt defeats the purpose.
There’s no Strong Woman Club that excludes guilty people from membership. The point is just to recognize when your guilt is unnecessary. This recognition isn’t a pause button to that obnoxious broken record playing “you’re being selfish” and “what about his feelings?” and “that’s going straight to your thighs!” through your head. But perhaps it can be the “play” button to a new record that says “you deserve good things!” – because you don’t deserve to beat yourself up for things that wouldn’t make most men think twice.