Planning, Power, and the Patriarchy

I’m a planner. I have no less than three “five to ten year plans” at any given time. I have a family calendar and personal daily planner in addition to my various digital calendars. I plan work, family functions, themed cocktail series, travel, school, social events, etc. I plan planning. (I literally set aside a few hours every Sunday as “planning” time – where I review and revise my to-do list.) That list? It’s color-coded using very specific pens (and I always maintain a backup set.) Some folks have praised me for my organizational skills, and others are deeply annoyed, even concerned about the anal retentiveness. 

They see this planning as a control issue, one that should be treated by medication or therapy. They see it as an obsession of an uptight, unhappy perfectionist with clear, unresolved neuroses. These critics find themselves in good company. If not outright hostile towards those who plan, prepare, and control – there are plenty of folks who promote the idea of giving up control. They share memes and quotes urging us all to “let go and let God” or resigned captions like “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” 

I want to be clear here, I do not judge you if you’ve made these comments. They are comforting, and I made a few similar comments or posts in my lifetime – especially as a Marine turned diplomat. And if you’re using them to stay sober, strong, or happy – do it. Whatever works, works. 

But I wonder, when we think about this as a trend, what sort of message we’re sending. Aside from the religious overtones here, take note of the common denominator among folks preaching to cede control – they’re mostly women. 

I’ve heard some version of this push to “let go” throughout my life, but never more intensely than when I announced I was pregnant. Among the onslaught of unsolicited and often conflicting advice, I was often told, sometimes not so subtly, that my days of control and planning were over. Other parents painted me a bleak picture of the next 18 years of my life as beholden to my child, ready to respond to their every need, nap, and nighttime cry. I was told I’d need to give up my running, writing, work, travel, friends, hobbies, hell – myself. 

Even in preparing for the arrival of my child, I was told not to even create a birth plan because that plan will likely go right out the window. If it made me feel better, some books advised, I could create birth “preferences.” Some “nice to haves” while I grunted and bled and screamed and pushed a human being into this world. 

But no plan. That’s silly. To plan is to pretend that you have some control over your future, and life doesn’t work like that, at least not for women. 

As it turns out, there is more and more truth to that every day. As we face a shortage in baby formula and tampons as we wait, with dread, for the final SCOTUS decision to likely repeal Roe, it seems as if women are given less and less control. What control isn’t being stripped from us by the courts and capitalistic monopolies, our culture tries to steal. We, as women and mothers, are taught (explicitly or implicitly) that good women, cool women, are those women who flow through life, adjusted and responding (only when necessary) to the whims and wills of our partners, our children, and our society. (Don’t forget, you must do this effortlessly). We all know the image of the shrill control freak of a woman, picking out her spouse’s outfits for pictures, monitoring their drinks, and (gasp) sleep training her children. We hate that woman, we pity her husband and children, suffering under the weight of her tyranny. We mock her uptightness and need for order. We tell her to loosen up, go with the flow – “Messy hair, don’t care,” (but also here is my 15 step tutorial on how to do a messy bun). 

Chalk control up to another one of those sacrifices that martyrs, I mean mothers, are just expected to make. 

But, careful, don’t confuse control with contributing. Because the truth is, women have been organizing and planning and preparing behind the scenes in the homes and offices for decades. We’ve been put in charge of the social calendar and dinner parties and group projects – and that’s fine, as long as it’s behind the scenes and benefits others (usually men). But when we exert control over our own lives? Our own choices? Hell, our own bodies? 

No thank you. Leave that control at the somehow-perfectly-decorated-without-trying-or-being-too-uptight doorstep.

I’m calling bullshit on this war on control. It’s a trap, a way to make women feel good about giving up their power and their agency. I’m trading “Jesus take the wheel” for “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

It’s time for “control” to make a comeback.

Do I think we can control everything? Of course not, I’m not naive. But that uncertainty inherent to life, inherent even more in some lives, that’s exactly the reason to plan. It’s not really for the times that things go according to my color-coded calendar, although those really are my favorite days, but I plan precisely for the days when shit goes haywire. Planning helps me prioritize and helps me make sure how I spend my time reflects those priorities. 

Planning breeds flexibility, adaptability, and resiliency. It creates power, if not only over the events of your life, but over your reaction to them. It builds calm and control in situations that quickly spin out of both. 

So I’m not giving in to the false promises of losing control; I’m not willingly giving up any of it; and I’m not even going to pretend that I’m not back here, pulling strings and moving pieces around to get exactly what I want. I’m proud of my plans and my planning, and, while I’ll never fool myself into believing I have all the power, I’m sure as shit not letting the patriarchy convince me I have none. 

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