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  • Rosalind J.Turner

Who gets to decide?

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Do you ever wonder about rules and roles?

I have become increasingly curious about these as a I navigate my way through the ever-shifting sands of contemporary culture.

Recently I was invited to contribute to Yvonne B's new platform. Yvonne and I often talk about the societal expectations that we all live with, wherever in the world we are situated or whatever the norms of the culture we find ourselves within. One of our shared interests, and indeed part of the focus of her platform, Permission to Thrive, is that of helping to liberate women from some of those often unspoken expectations. Ideologies often passed through the generations and then frequently reinforced by the prevailing culture, this invitation prompted me to write about my early observations in this particular arena.

Rules, according to a quick Google search, are sets of ‘shoulds’, ‘ought-to's’, ‘have-to's’ and ‘musts’ that describe how people are "supposed to" behave, (perform their roles). However, it seems to me that for many of us, without regular examination, these rules and roles can inadvertently become a strait jacket. Their tentacles or straps if you prefer, reaching into the many intersecting spheres of our lives, tying us up in knots, restricting our essential nature and humanity, and ultimately preventing us, either consciously or unconsciously, from living more authentically.

Growing up in a small, end of the line, northern seaside town, I found myself from an early age questioning our familial and cultural assumptions. Beginning to notice what would later become my strapline, 'curious about the stories we tell ourselves and the tales we tell others'.

I was especially inquisitive about those perceived 'rules' applied to the then very binary choices, in terms how we might express ourselves in the world.

What was publicly visible in a small, parochial, coastal town throughout the 1960's, and thus translated into familial expectations, was a very meagre selection of tightly defined jobs, sports and even hobbies. Divided as they were, strictly along what we can now perhaps appreciate as both antiquated, and certainly very restrictive patriarchal lines, this, for the girls or that, for the boys. These very specific rules for men and the very different set of roles for women, have defined many of us. Reflecting back, at that particular corner of the northeast in the 1960’s, it was definitely no Woodstock.

Countering the glib explanations given to a small child in a moment of distraction, my curiosity to get to the bottom of things meant I frequently became like the lightening rod that draws the charge. A skill I latterly been able to develop, but back then, in those immediate and wider circles I inhabited, with their expectation that 'nice girls' didn't ask questions, that observations of inequality, or an inadvertent glimpse of a potential lurking skeleton, were simply to remain unspoken. The prevailing narrative, it all should remain, unquestioned, under no circumstances mentioned, and not unlike blue beards chamber, kept firmly locked and barred! A set of rules guaranteed to send many of us hunting for the key . . . and like the story of Pandora, definitely desirous of opening the box whatever the consequences.

Now, many years from those formative experiences, I have chosen to work creatively with these questions. I relish examining our cultural stories and help others unpack their familial tales. Perhaps today, as many of us intermittently wrestle with making sense of our lives amongst the chaos we dare to call civilisation, why not take some time to consider just how well the particular rules that you abide by, and the roles you inhabit, are serving you?

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