Last night I was watching an episode of Bewitched in which Darren Stevens once again demands Samantha stop using witchcraft. Most of the time I don’t pay much attention to his tantrums because you know somehow they’re going to be ignored anyway, but last night it really hit me. Perhaps it was because of a conversation with a friend during which we discussed deliberately dimming one’s light for a spouse, or parent or other loved one. It made me realize what has annoyed me about Bewitched (and to a lesser degree I Dream of Jeannie) for many years.
As a child I simply thought Darren Stevens and Major Nelson were silly not to enjoy the benefits their partners’ magical abilities could bring. I always though it would be wonderful to have such powers! As an adult woman facing impending cronehood I see it from a very different perspective. What I see now is a woman whose special gifts are being deliberately denigrated by a loved one. In both these examples it’s a husband/partner who does the damage but in reality I suppose it could be anyone we care about – a friend, a spouse, a sibling or even a parent. How many time in your own life have you deliberately downplayed a talent so as not to hurt the feelings of someone else?
On one level I find it outrageous that Darren Stevens feels he has the right to tell Samantha anything. She’s a grown woman and his partner not his child, but of course these shows were made at a different time with different attitudes and expectations about such things. Even if Darren or Major Nelson didn’t demand their magical partners not use their gifts, they could just as easily convey the same message by subtle emotional blackmail. Have you ever found yourself restraining your gifts so that you don’t insult a friend? I remember times when I would play trivia games with friends and I would deliberately miss answers because I was afraid they’d be insulted if I won again. Of course the implication is that if I keep defeating a friend at a game they won’t be my friend anymore. As an adult I don’t believe this has happened to me (or at least not very often) but I clearly remember times as a child when someone wouldn’t play with me anymore for similar reasons.
To be perfectly fair, I suppose there have been times when I had a similar effect on someone else – friends and family who were reluctant to share their good fortune with me because I might feel envious. I think incidences such as these are part of all relationships. I suppose the key to them become too much of a problem is to simply be aware of and address them. However these relatively minor incidences aren’t really what I mean. Samantha Stevens Syndrome is a persistent, consistent effort by a loved one to restrain, destroy or limit one’s gifts; an external force exerting pressure for us to conform.
I think that’s the part I find most offensive – the implication or outright statement that we must conform and confine ourselves to do so. I see it most frequently in women but that might be a generational thing – perhaps it has become a more equal opportunity offense now. How many assertive, outgoing, aggressive women have I seen tone themselves down in order to be more accepted and viewed as more traditionally feminine? I was very lucky in that my spouse has no problem with my pugnacious, aggressive side – in fact he enjoys it. However I can’t say that other men I’ve met in my life felt the same way. I’ve noticed that I have an especial problem with male authority figures – the Emperors of the world. I tend to lock horns with them, perhaps because I challenge their assumptions and they push my buttons. It’s a no-win scenario all around. Of course realizing it and changing the behavior are two very different things. I accept that my attitude limits me in ways that conforming would not but I’ve accepted that.
So I guess the takeaway from this post is simply to put it out there – have there been times in your life you’ve had to dim your own radiance, downplay your gifts for someone else? IF so , maybe now is a chance for you to reclaim and celebrate those gifts. Let’s stop hiding our talents, our gifts, our beauty and our brains because of the tyranny of others!