A little girl will tell you what she wants with zero hesitation: “I want a pony, I want a castle, I want to fly.”
Women, on the contrary, can struggle to show that they want anything.
Most of my clients even struggle to say they want love: “I don’t want to appear needy.”
So, what happened?
Look at all the heroines we grew up with. Were they ambitious women or warriors? Very rarely.
Mostly, they were poor or powerless, accepting of their fate until the day someone wanted them and saved them.
I am French but I bathed in Western culture: the fairy tales, the movies, and later on the series where the savior was always a man and more than likely a white dude.
I remember the first woman warrior I heard about was Jeanne d’Arc during primary school. And she was burnt as a witch!
Indeed, there were powerful women and queens in French history, but they are mentioned almost nowhere. Historian Titiou Lecoq talks about all the women history forgotten in her last book, and mentions these mistakes start from cave men times. The beautiful mural paintings were attributed to the men (women were busy cooking, you know), when in fact recent research show that, according to the different sizes of hands, women were painting too.
Women are inherently capable and powerful. But for millennia, they were considered property.
In Europe, they were property of the church because of how Eve f*cked it up since the beginning, according to them. And property of the state, as both went together.
And finally, they were property of men.
They were often told how to be, what to wear, how to behave. And even if they weren’t told exactly what to do, they were certainly told what not to do.
They were to be pleasant and not demanding. Content with what they had, as they were not the ones in charge of the decisions and the expenses.
Smiling and at men’s disposal—physically, emotionally, and sexually.
And a woman without a man was a woman without protection. Potentially, a witch to be burned if she was knowledgeable in the healing field, too old and therefore a burden for the group, or attractive and a temptation for an honourable man.
Today, laws have changed but we can sadly witness a tendency to go backwards in many countries.
But even when the structures around us are different, our internal structures—our nervous system and the way we are wired—takes time to catch up. The conditioning still runs deep, transmitted by our grandmothers, sometimes our mothers, the stories we heard as kids, what was on display on television, our culture, and our religious background.
I coach women about power. And I often witness behaviours (the same ones I’ve noticed in myself in the past) standing in between them and their desires:
“I know what I don’t want but not what I want.”
“I don’t want to ask. I don’t want to disturb.”
“I’ll do it all alone.” (I was good at that one.)
“I let my partner be in charge of the finances.”
“Even though I have the money, I only buy cheap or second-hand.”
“I struggle to initiate sex or say no to sex when I don’t feel like it, or talk about what I like in bed.”
These statements are evidence that one belief is strongly embedded. The exact formulation of this belief will vary from one woman to the next, but it’s something along the lines of not wanting to be demanding or too high maintenance.
And it highlights our fear and shame around being seen as “needy,” when you think about it. There’s even shame about wanting love—the most basic human need.
Being a feminist and marching in the streets to protest when our rights are taken away is essential.
But to deconstruct a system that can still mistreat and ignore women, we have to watch ourselves when we unconsciously perpetuate the “damsel who doesn’t want too much” story in our everyday life.
So far, I haven’t seen one woman well served by that scenario.
Because deep inside, the damsel who doesn’t want too much usually wants things. But she waits. She waits to be noticed, to be chosen, to be saved—to be wanted.
She waits for the promotion, the raise, the hug, the sex, the love, the protection, the dinner in a nice restaurant, the invitation to travel.
And while she waits, she builds resentment.
The damsel who doesn’t want too much in the movie of her life is making a huge mistake, because by waiting to be wanted, she chooses to play a secondary role.
If she wants to be the main character, she has to make some changes:
She has to own that she wants love (and maybe tons of it).
She has to know her desires.
She has to learn and dare to ask.
She has to heal her relationship with money.
She has to embrace, not shame, her sexuality and her body.
She has to be ready to receive.
It’s simple, but not easy. It might even feel counter intuitive. Maybe just reading that list triggered you.
The good news is these are skills. We can learn them and in doing so learn to experience our own power—the power to create what we want.
The power we claim when we walk through our life feeling like the main character.