One of the first “big” fights I had with my husband regarding our daughter was over whether or not we should have her ears pierced. She was less than a year old that time.
Having a girl’s ears pierced at that age, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that big of a deal. The entire family was for it. It was pointed out, several times, that it’s a really quick procedure. And it would be easier for our daughter to have her ears pierced while she’s too young to remember the pain rather than later, when she’s older and can remember it.
Long story short, I relented. But not without a few more fights and tears. And I cried through the entire thing.
It would be easy to dismiss my reaction back then to my maternal instinct and post-partum hormones. But every time I look back at that incident, I can’t help but wish I fought back a little harder.
I didn’t want her ears pierced at that time not because I didn’t want her to wear earrings. Nor was it simply because I wanted to spare her from pain she’ll forget. As a mother of a girl, I wanted to spare her from unnecessary pain. I didn’t want her to suffer pain that she didn’t choose to accept.
To Live Is To Suffer
As women, part of our indoctrination to life is the acceptance of pain. It’s the price we pay for the major milestones in our life. Way before Buddha and Nietzsche made it cool, women for several millennia has come to accept suffering as our lot in life. I’m not just talking about the pain and oppression women have suffered (and continue to suffer) throughout human history. I’m talking about the physical and emotional pain that all women go through.
Early on, we program our daughters to anticipate and accept pain.
Puberty and menarche might bring you pain.
Your first sexual enounter, consensual or not, might bring you pain.
Pregnancy and childbirth will definitely you a world of pain.
Your monthly menstrual cycles could bring you pain.
Maintaining societal standards of beauty will bring you pain.
And just when you think you can leave all the pain behind once you enter menopause, surprise! The symptoms are there to bring you some degree of pain.
We’re inculcated to accept pain by our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends because we see that suffering has purpose. We choose to accept pain as our due to be part of the human race. We accept it even when there are times it can be overpowering. Even if it costs us our lives.
For those of us who survive, ultimately the pain breaks us. But it also rebuilds us, makes us stronger, and fulfills us as human beings.
To Find Meaning in Suffering
The decision to accept pain might seem like an illusion. A lie we tell ourselves to make unavoidable pain more palatable. But we don’t choose it because we have to. We choose because we want to. That choice has meaning because it gives us the hope that the pain we suffer is a small price to pay for the rewards we reap.
The pain of puberty and menstruation is worth the price of entering womanhood.
The pain of childbirth is worth the pain of unconditional love.
The pain of sex is worth the exploration of sexuality.
The pain of beauty is worth adulation, respect and acceptance.
The pain of menopause is worth the wisdom it brings.
As women, we have trained ourselves to accept pain, IF it has purpose. Pain for respectability. Pain for love. Pain for acceptance.
So when we are subject to unnecessary pain, pain we didn’t choose to accept, that’s when it becomes traumatic. Unearable.
But bear it we must because life goes on. We suffer in silence. We howl in pain. We accept pain with purpose as part of our lives. We endure senseless pain and carry on.
That’s why it’s cruel when we are forced to suffer pain that has no purpose. Why give us more pain when we willingly suffer it throughout our entire lives?
Fortunately (or unfortunately), women have the superhuman capacity to endure pain. But just because we can bear it doesn’t mean we choose to accept it. So we fight, with every generation, for our right to refuse pain without purpose.
It’s our right to choose what pain to accept. Do not burden us further with purposeless pain.
[Wo]Man’s Search For Meaning
I guess it all worked out in the end. We gave our daughter the choice whether or not to wear earrings. Eventually she decided to wear earrings only on special occasions. She didn’t think it was worth the pain.
She’s willing to scrape her knees to learn to bike.
She’s practices her trumpet ‘til her fingers and lips cramp because she wants to stay in the marching band.
She’s willing to suffer through insect bites when hunting for spiders with her friends.
But she won’t wear earrings every day. She’ll only wear them on special occasions, when she feels like it.
Welcome to the human race, little girl.