This question was raised in my awareness by the classic myth of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnelle, where King Arthur is charged with finding the answer to this question:
It seems that we are still intrigued by this question even today, and many people just shake their heads in bewilderment when asked to find an answer. In the Arthurian story, the answer to the question is that women want autonomy and freedom over their own lives.
This makes sense in the context of that culture and the gender roles of the times.
So has anything really changed in the present day?
Do women still just want to be mistresses of their own destiny?
I would say that as a society, we are still grappling with this. In some ways, women have achieved equality; the right to vote, workplace rights, the choice to bear children, or have a career or both. You could make the case that women are in charge of their destinies. But here is where I find things get interesting.
I was having a conversation with my partner this week, and it wasn’t going smoothly. Whenever this happens I know something is up for me internally. I am usually triggered on some level.
I knew I wanted to get something across to him, but I just couldn’t seem to make him understand.
At first, I tried blaming him for this lack of flow. (I know, I know, not the best place to start) I felt like he wasn’t listening, he wasn’t trying to put himself in my place, he wasn’t loving..... Etc. Etc. As you can guess, this didn’t improve our conversation and we were both becoming frustrated.
What I realized from this experience is that even with all my work on finding myself and speaking my truth, asking for what I really want is still hard. Why is that?
I asked my partner if he found it difficult to ask for things he wanted, (He is male) and we came to the conclusion that there is still a gender gap with feeling comfortable asking for what we want.
Perhaps the age-old answer ‘women want to be able to choose their own destiny’ to essentially ‘ask the universe for what they want’ has still not been fully realized in our society.
Girls are still conditioned to put other people’s needs before their own, to ‘be nice’ and ask what those around them want. These kinds of messages are often so unconsciously communicated that we don’t even know we are sending or receiving them.
So what does this have to do with you? Well, I would offer the idea that we could pay attention to ourselves more. When was the last time you asked yourself what you really wanted? When was the last time you listened?
If it has been a while, I would offer the suggestion that autonomy comes from within as much as it does from without. It is all very well to blame our perceived restrictions on external forces, but what would we do with freedom if we were offered it anyway?
Having the right to choose for ourselves is a gift. We can give this to ourselves and receive it from others. Like me, you may be surprised to find your own censorship is stronger and more constricting than any outside influence.
Gently exploring the edges of our autonomy, without shame or judgment, is an opportunity I offer my clients when we work together.
I gradually hand over the reins to them as they gain the confidence to take control of their own experience. This process requires trust, vulnerability, and a deep sense of being loved and accepted.
What would you answer to the question, “What do you really want?”
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