But I Could Have Been a Ballerina

When I want some inspiration for something to write about, I often turn to Lori Alexander at the Transformed Wife. Recently, she talked about women’s unrealistic expectations.

Too many women these days carry a burden they were never meant to carry. All of their lives, they are told they can be and do whatever they want to do. They can be an astronaut, be a CEO, or even become President. “Yes, young women, go get your college degrees and maybe a master’s or doctorate, then pursue a career. Work five days a week away from home. Forget about having a family or if you have one, forget being with them often. Your worth is far more important than being a wife and mother!”

This is why women view being a wife and mother as drudgery. They’ve been programmed their entire lives to not be a wife and mother. If they are wives and mothers, they feel like they’re missing out on something grand.

First, practical advice:

A lot of a mother’s duties are something like drudgery — to which I say: cut back on the drudgery. Today, things like laundry and cleaning don’t take much time, unless you insist on stretching it out by 4x-5x, as many women seem to do. The big drudgery today is: Chauffeuring. If it is too much, try to find a way to reduce it. Leave time unscheduled, and just kick the kids out of the house until the street lights come on.

But, then there is this idea that a woman should be doing something else instead of, or in addition to, being a wife and mother. Today, they are supposed to start their own companies, or something like that. In the past, in the 1950s, a common fantasy for housewives was: to become a professional ballet dancer.

No, seriously.

Marie Robinson was a professional therapist for women, who heard this stuff a lot in the 1950s. In The Power of Sexual Surrender (1959), she wrote:

Women who suffer from frigidity often have, in addition to negative feelings toward the male sex, another very marked characteristic. They are subject to powerful fantasies which militate against the recovery of their lost sexuality and their psychological maturation. It is extremely important that these fantasies be ruthlessly explored and exploded. If they are not, they serve the unhappy function of preserving the unhealthy conviction that one deserves a far better fate than that of being a beloved wife and mother.

Such fantasies are often half hidden from view, just as are one’s negative feelings about men. They are daydreams left over from adolescence or earlier. Their destructive power derives from the fact that the daydreamer either still believes that the dreams are realizable or that she could have achieved them if her husband and family had not prevented her from doing so.

It is amazing how powerful and persistent these fantasies can be. They generally spring from an early desire to become an actress, a dancer, or a concert artist However, they may also express wishes to become a doctor, lawyer, athlete, diplomat, or whatever. Their impossible, Walter-Mittyish character is blithely ignored by the daydreamer. I have had frigid women of forty and even fifty, who, just beneath the logical, sound surface of their minds, still believed that someday (tomorrow perhaps, next year certainly) they would go to acting school and soon obtain leading roles in a Broadway drama, or resume their piano lessons and become famous concert artists.

Such fantasies derive their power from the fact that the daydreamer feels unable to deal with reality. Since a woman who is frigid is dealing with her real-life situation in an inadequate manner, it is not strange that she should hold onto such fantasies with passion. They protect her from her feelings of inferiority. What matter, says her unconscious mind, if you are unable to love; what matter if your husband exploits you, attempts to enslave you. Tomorrow—someday, at any rate—you will show them all that you are beautiful, glamorous, a great performer, or doctor, or lawyer, or Indian chief.

Most people, realizing that such daydreams, formed in the heat of youth, have no function in reality, have long ago given them up in favor of living as passionately as possible in the present.

The frigid woman, however, having a reason for keeping them alive, has never scrutinized them in the cold light of rationality. I know of one woman who, at the age of thirty-eight, with three children under fifteen years of age, still felt she could become a dancer. As she looked more closely at this conviction she became increasingly surprised at how seriously she really took this fantasy. At length, when she felt really ready to face sacrificing her lifelong fantasy, she wrote a list of facts and questions. I present them here.

1. To become a dancer I would have to study the dance for a minimum of five years; during that time I would have to practice dancing for about eight hours a day. Could I take this discipline?

2. If my mind were able to take such discipline would my body be able to stand up under such arduous work?

3. If I were able to arrange it would I be willing to give up my daily contact and relationship with my three children?

4. If I overcame every obstacle and became a well-known dancer, achieving my wildest dream of success, I would have to go on tour for at least eight months of the year; this would mean separation from my husband and children during that time. Do I want this? Even if I do, could I take it emotionally?

Where did this come from? Probably, a lot of women were trained in ballet and piano as girls. They may have gone to college, but in those days, it was expected that a woman going to college was going to find a husband there, or soon afterwards, so they didn’t have so many CEO fantasies. Today, a young woman is given all kinds of male-life-track advice, which conflicts with motherhood and family. College today is a step toward a career for women, not a place to find a husband on track to a career.

Then as now, women seem to have had little ability to make any rational sense of these things they were told. They were just told what to do, and they did it.

Published by proprietor

Happily married, with children.

One thought on “But I Could Have Been a Ballerina

  1. At length, when she felt really ready to face sacrificing her lifelong fantasy, she wrote a list of facts and questions. I present them here

    I struggle to imagine any modern American woman today having either the self-awareness or a sufficiently analytical mind to be able to write something like this. In fact, any woman who could write something like this would probably be well enough adjusted to never need to write it.


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