Since my book “The Mother-Daughter Puzzle” was published in June 2017, Keara, my amazing communications manager and I have mailed out over 500 books to mostly women around the world who we thought would appreciate it. We have sent free copies to women’s studies professors, women’s organizations, and counseling and psychotherapy training organizations. So far I have received 6 thank you emails, and 4 of them were from women I know. I mailed 28 books to women’s studies, psychology, social work, and marriage and family professors at the University of New Hampshire, my local university, and so far not a single person has emailed me to thank me or to express interest. I emailed 10 women listed on a European Family Therapy Association website offering to send them a free copy of my book and only 2 responded. I reached out to my local New Hampshire feminist organization, the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, sending 3 copies to different women in the organization and offering to do a free workshop, talk, or fundraiser, and so far nothing. My emails and phone calls are being ignored.
Sadly, I should be used to this underwhelming response by now because this is how it has been for the last 20 years. I have knocked on countless counselor training organization’s doors wanting to talk about the possibility of including the mother-daughter relationship on their training syllabus. And the response I most often get is either silence, or a lack of willingness to recognize that the mother-daughter relationship should not be missing from their training syllabus. And I often get the same response when I approach women’s/feminist organizations. They too seem to be unwilling to recognize that the mother-daughter relationship is missing from the conversation.
Why is this happening?
It is all too easy to internalize this lack of interest as a reflection of my worth. In the past I have had to fight against believing that the lack of interest in the mother-daughter relationship was my fault. Today I now know that it has nothing to do with me. And it is also not about people being too busy to respond to emails and phone messages.
This is happening because I am a woman doing women’s work.
It is happening because the mother-daughter relationship remains one of the most disregarded topics in women’s studies, mental health professions, and women’s organizations, and women have internalized this omission.
It is happening because the mother-daughter relationship has, as Adrienne Rich writes in “Of Women Born” (Rich, 1977), the power to overthrow patriarchy, and women are colluding with patriarchy’s effort to limit the mother-daughter relationship’s power. I’m not saying that all women have internalized this sexism, because I am incredibly grateful to the women who support my work. Without you, I couldn’t do what I do.
This is happening because I am hitting up against my profession’s glass ceiling. Even though the counseling and coaching professions are highly female dominated, as a female I am less likely to be respected as a thought-leader, psychotherapeutic model creator, and teacher. The gender discrimination that places greater value on what men have to say still reigns supreme. When a woman contributes a brilliant idea, she is often ignored. But when a man says the same thing, everyone, including women, listen and applaud him for his brilliant idea. I have no doubt that if I were a man, I would have been inundated with speaking invites a long time ago.
Jealousy is another reason why this happens. All too often I get a reaction from my female colleagues that they wish that they had thought of specializing, like I have. And instead of admitting that they feel jealous, or follow my lead, they do what patriarchy teaches women to do to each other. You ignore her and question her worth, so that she can no longer make you feel bad about yourself.
So what am I to do?
If I sound angry, I make no apology for this. As the #MeToo movement has shown, women should feel angry when their experiences are dismissed, their voices silenced, their boundaries violated, and their power ignored. Anger is a healthy response to being silenced and ignored. Without anger I am in danger of normalizing the disinterest and blaming myself for it. And if I blame myself for how patriarchy marginalizes the mother-daughter relationship and my profession’s gender discrimination and glass ceiling, I cannot be a good ambassador for the mother-daughter relationship. And I am in danger of dismissing the support and encouragement I do get from wonderful women and men around the world.
The solution is to keep speaking! Keep knocking on doors! Keep not taking no for an answer! And like the #MeToo movement is doing, and I’m doing in this blog post and my book The Mother-Daughter Puzzle (Hasseldine, 2017), call sexism out for what it is! Call it out when the mother-daughter relationship is being dismissed! Call it out when I’m not being treated as a thought-leader just because I’m a woman! And call it out when society’s sexism is allowed to continue unchallenged!
Gladly, change is happening. Colleagues have stopped questioning why I specialized in the mother-daughter relationship, and women are recognizing the power the mother-daughter relationship has to create self-awareness, emotional empowerment, and generational change. The #MeToo movement has blown the lid off the sexual harassment we all know exists in epidemic numbers, and we must continue the momentum that’s been created and call out all sexism wherever it lurks.
Hasseldine, R. (2017). The mother-daughter puzzle: A new generational understanding of the mother-daughter relationship. Durham NH: Women’s Bookshelf Publishing.
Rich, A. (1977). Of woman born: Motherhood as experience and institution. London: Virago.