This Is Why We Freeze
There is an epidemic of frozen women in the world.
I was, and sometimes still am, one of them. It’s one of the few ways to cope with living in our culture, and I want to change that.
Most women have been and still are frozen, for reasons that make eminent sense, but need to be cast off and discarded if we are to feel free and vibrant and alive.
What does it look like when we’re frozen?
We mute our voice. Bite our words. Silence ourselves.
- A frozen woman is a woman who has been taught that her voice does not count
- A frozen woman does not have a sisterhood of women that have her back
- A frozen woman does not know who to turn to
We get stuck in being ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’ (or bitchy and brittle). We defer to others. We place everyone into positions of authority over us.
- A frozen woman is a woman who was taught that being ‘nice’ means not saying no, even when she feels uncomfortable or violated
- A frozen woman was taught that everything is her fault, including any kind of sexual trespassing/assault that has happened to her
- A frozen woman was never taught healthy consent
- A frozen woman knows things shouldn’t feel as rigid, difficult and locked up as they do
We strive to be the ‘perfect woman’ but can never quite get there.
- A frozen woman often looks incredibly efficient, busy and capable
- Frozen women know how to hide their state under self-sacrifice and exceptional niceness
- A frozen woman is someone who has not yet realized ‘the perfect woman’ doesn’t exist, and thinks if she just tries hard enough, she’ll finally get rewarded for her efforts
- A frozen woman is carrying multiple generations of expectations and trauma related to the myth that women can ‘have it all’
- A frozen woman is passing on techniques and strategies of freezing to the younger women in her life
We simultaneously don’t feel much and overreact to everything. We feel overwhelmed, dragged down and despair nips at our heels.
- A frozen woman often has chronic fatigue or some other sort of challenging and hard to understand somatic condition
- A frozen woman is coping as best she can in a misogynist patriarchal culture
- A frozen woman is a traumatised woman
- A frozen woman despairs of ever, ever feeling alive again
Frozen women are hitting their cracking points because the truth is, most of all, frozen women long for wholeness.
But first, why are so many women frozen?
I have a few stories to illustrate my point.
I lost my virginity at the age of 16 to a man five years older than me.
I’d had a huge crush on him. He had been my boss for the previous two months in an intense job that sometimes involved camping and traveling together as a group of 7 people, he was 21 years old, and that was the extent of our connection up until that point.
A few days after our last day of work we had an enormous wrap up party – my six-person crew plus the crewleader, three other crews and assorted friends.
I was excruciatingly shy (frozen woman symptom: losing our voices), very inexperienced with partying and with drinking alcohol and very excited to be included; eager to please. So flattered to be part of something cool.
That night, my former boss and his friend (another 21 year old crewleader who’d been notorious for inappropriate sexual commentary and putting his hands down his pants and fiddling with his genitals, all in front of crewmembers) flirted and fed me drinks and got me drunk enough that when he suggested we go to his friends’ empty house I agreed.
Halfway there, stumbling along with him supporting me, because I was deeply intoxicated, we ran into some of his male friends, including the man whose house we were heading to.
No one said, “hey! Weren’t you her boss? Isn’t she a LOT younger than you? A bit of an innocent? No one said to me, “do you know what’s happening? Are you ok? Do you want a ride home?”
We had sex at his friends’ place. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember his friends’ brother pounding on the door of the bedroom, and I remember feeling terrified and mortified, and then there was getting home the next day to my parents who were frantically worried about where I was.
I was smitten by that man and I know that what happened wasn’t right, it wasn’t what I wanted, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone.
Ashamed, because I thought it was my fucking fault.
This is what we teach our girls.
This is why there are so many frozen women.
Why do we freeze? Because these are the ways we’re told that it’s always our fault.
- If something happens that you don’t want, it’s your fault.
- if someone takes advantage of you, it’s your fault.
- if you attract someone’s attention and you don’t want the attention and you say so, you’re a bitch.
- If you attract someone’s attention and you don’t want it, but you get assaulted anyways, it’s still your fault because you were so [fill in the blanks with any number of blaming behaviours] that it’s obviously your fault.
- we’re told that we must have been asking for ‘it’ [fill in blanks with any number of blaming behaviours] (even when you aren’t) so it’s your fault.
When I went to that party I wasn’t asking for ‘it’. Whatever ‘it’ is or was. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to be liked. I didn’t want to be fed alcohol by older men in recent positions of power over me who also knew me well enough to know I was inexperienced with drinking and partying, until I was so drunk I couldn’t walk without help, then taken to someone’s house and fucked.
What the fuck.
I was too ashamed to tell anyone, because I thought it was my fault. This is what we teach our girls. This is how we freeze our girls.
And I’m not just talking about sex, sexuality and consent. I’m talking about simply exist as women. We’re taught that because we are women, there is something wrong with us in every way possible. And what can anyone do with that constant messaging? Most of us, we freeze.
This is what happens when women freeze up.
We lose a sense of connection with our bodies.
- We feel constricted. Like we’re wearing a coat that’s 3 sizes too small.
- We feel like we live in a head which floats along like a bubble over a mostly invisible body.
- The only time we feel anything in our bodies is when they hurt.
- Pain is the only language we allow in our physical selves.
- We compare and criticize and mistreat our bodies.
We lose a sense of connection with our creative fire.
- We become frustrated. Boiling inside, like there’s a tamped down tornado whirling inside, with no release.
- We become disconnected with our physical cycles, menstrual cycles, lunar cycles, yearly seasonal cycles.
- The desire and drive to create remains, but is thwarted constantly so we start to consume others’ creative work instead.
- We become unable to rest, instead, getting trapped in either overwhelm and envy, or deeply distressed busy-making and comparison-itis.
We lose a sense of connection to our deep inner knowing (intuition).
- We start to feel like danger is everywhere.
- Fearfulness and mistrust run our lives.
- We become steeped in doubt. Regret. Overwhelm.
- Overthinking and rationalization become our routine ways of relating to the world.
So, why are so many women frozen? We live in a sick culture where:
- Women are told they are too much (too sexy, too fat, too forward, too desireable, too bitchy, too shrill).
- And women are told they are not enough (not pretty enough, not thin enough, not good enough, not available enough, not nice enough).
- Women are told that they are asking for ‘it.’
- ‘It’ is code for sexual assault, rape, molestation, abuse and harassment.
- Women never ask for ‘it’ when ‘it’ means the above.
This is what we (and when I say we, I mean collectively and culturally, as well as individually) teach our girls. That it’s always her fault, especially when it comes to sexuality, consent and assault.
And our boys. We teach them that they’re blameless.
Afterwards, the night I lost my virginity turned into a warped story that spread to the elite hockey team in my town, which had players in my class (and we were a one highschool town at that time). I started getting asked out on dates by young men he had played hockey with. Fuckers. As if they were interested in me. They just thought I was someone who’d have sex with them, because of the locker room talk, the rumours.
Here’s the thing. No one looked out for me that night. Not the men, not the women. No one asked me if I was ok, if I needed a ride home.
Because it seems, somehow, I was asking for it by being desired. Desireable. Innocent. Inexperience made it easier to take advantage of me.
And here’s the thing too.
As I came into my sexuality and beauty and height as a teenager, I heard constant comments around me, addressed to my parents, about how ‘you’ll have your hands full’ and ‘she’s going to be trouble!’
Here’s another thing. I have a beautiful and spirited teenage daughter, and I hear that refrain all the time. People keep telling me that “She’s going to be trouble!!” I don’t buy it.
She’s not going to be trouble. She’s not going to fill my hands up with whatever-it-is.
Everyone expects that if a young woman is a young woman, PERIOD, she’s going to somehow, in some fucking way, BE TROUBLE by being alive.
I don’t buy it.
But guess what I did the other day?
In my car, driving down the highway, I yelled at my daughter in the backseat with her friends.
“Don’t wave at strange men!!!!!”
Then I launched into a lecture about how it’s dangerous, foolish, and embarrassing. And really, it’s prudent not to talk to strangers. But, that’s not actually what my outburst was about.
She’d been looking out the window of the car as we zoomed past the slow lane, entertaining herself and her friends by waving at people in cars across from her. I happened to look back at all of the laughter just as she’d waved and then shrieked with her friends because the person she’d waved at was waving back.
I saw a creepy looking older man very intently staring at my young innocent beautiful daughter, as we slowed to a crawl towards the stoplights and so I yelled at her.
This outburst is now legendary in her peer group.
I’m THAT mom. The over-the-top over reactive mom. They pull it out as a joke every chance they get. ‘Don’t wave at strange men, you’ll get raped and murdered!!!”
The thing is, I didn’t say the last part, but they didn’t need my words to read my subtext.
And my subtext was this: ‘You’re asking for it.’ And I’m going to have to scare the bejeesus out of you to keep you safe.
Even though I don’t believe it, I am still so goddamned scared that my young and beautiful daughter will be assaulted, coerced or taken advantage of, simply for existing, simply for drawing attention to herself, that I also fell into the trap of putting the onus of dealing with any sexual energy onto my daughter, and onto women, just like our culture does.
So, why do we freeze up? Because:
- We’re taught that we should be ‘nice’
- We learn that being ‘nice’ means not saying no
- We learn that being ‘nice’ means you let people walk all over you
- We learn that being ‘nice’ and being female means doing unpleasant things without saying anything about it
- We learn that we don’t have voices
- We stop speaking
- We stop speaking up for others
- We start hiding our vibrancy, our joy, our sexuality
- We turn our beauty on and off, trying to be stay safe and also be ‘hot’
- We learn that the perfect woman does it all
- We learn that perfect women shouldn’t ‘complain’
- We learn that ‘complain’ is code for ‘speaking the truth’ and speaking up
- We learn that if something bad happens to us we’ll be questioned about what we were doing and how we looked BEFORE we’re believed
- We learn that other men and women don’t always have our backs
- We learn it’s safer to stop feeling our feelings
- We learn that it’s safer to stop feeling our bodies
- We learn to retreat into fatigue and overwhelm and just try to do it all
- Because we learn that the frozen woman is the woman who has it all
And then we start teaching the younger women and girls in our lives how to also freeze up in order to stay safe.
But why do we pay-it-forward, the fear and shutting down strategies?
Well, imagine that my experience at that party had happened nowadays. Cell phones and the internet weren’t widespread 18 years ago.
But now, how easily could my experience have become Rehteah Parsons’? At 15 she went to a party where she was gang-raped by four teen boys while also photographed, then shamed and bullied continuously throughout her high school via social media for over a year, with no intervention from adults, until she committed suicide.
This is what happens to that version of me, 20 years later. This is not a far leap.
This is why we freeze. As women, we freeze in every way possible, trying on the one hand to stay safe and likeable, trying to fit the mythic norms of womanhood, yet on the other hand, wanting to be viewed as attractive, sexy, desireable, because that’s also considered likeable.
We freeze ourselves.
So what happened to me? How did I freeze myself?
I became deeply mistrustful of all men. I didn’t feel like I could trust a man to respect my boundaries if I liked him, so I stayed far away from men. I also didn’t feel like I had a man in my life who would defend me and stand up for me if I told him what happened.
I became deeply mistrustful of women too. Although I didn’t question it then, I do now. Why didn’t any of the older female crewleaders at that party look out for me? They saw what was going on. Some of them were sitting right next to me. They knew what the male crewleaders were like. They had a sense of how innocent I was. I didn’t have any older women friends I could talk to either. So I lost my trust in women, and my sense of having a sisterhood.
And so we also teach each other how to freeze up. You know. Because it’s safer that way.
My mom took me bra shopping. I wanted the version in black. She said I couldn’t have it, but got the one in white. No explanation. This message was confusing, yet clear as well.
I had an older cousin, five years older, like a big sister and meltingly beautiful. Like a curvier Christy Turlington. To me, at 13, she epitomized ‘the perfect woman.’ She was always dressed so glamorously, with impeccable makeup and men turning their heads to look at her all the time. I idolized her. And for a time in my teens, she was my only friend.
We would pore through Victoria’s Secret catalogues together. In the catalogue I saw a cute nightgown, it came down to midthigh, with sleeves, not much cleavage, but in black. I said I liked it and she told me “oh no no, it’s way to sexy for you, you don’t want that.”
Oh. I picked up on the confusion on this message pretty quick.
Somehow it wasn’t ok to be sexy. She could be sexy, but, because she was looking out for me, I couldn’t. That was dangerous.
My parents had a rule that I couldn’t date till I was 15 years old, but they wouldn’t tell me why. At the time they weren’t able to discuss sex, safe sex, consent, or even pleasure with me. (Why? Multigenerational trauma that they were still sorting out, and thus, passing on down.)
I picked up on so much shame and fear every time I argued with them about that rule, which felt so unfair, especially when my friends had boyfriends at 14, but they still wouldn’t explain why.
This is why we freeze. Because the messaging is in the nonverbal, the messaging is in the unspoken emotions, and it’s all about how dangerous it is to be a girl, to be a woman.
That if you end up violated or in trouble, no one will understand you or believe you or defend you.
And if you use your voice, you’re pushy, bitchy, shrill and overly emotional.
So, instead, we freeze.
I froze up so much I got chronic fatigue. If life tired me out, I couldn’t find the energy to get upset or offended or do much besides just survive.
I froze into a mired fear of men.
I froze up around women. I longed for but never found a sense of sisterhood.
I froze up around myself. I couldn’t connect with my own body, I couldn’t use my creativity to feed my soul, I was completely unable to listen to my intuition (and that led me into some scary situations.)
We freeze, we freeze, we freeze.
We freeze up because we’re taught that our natural state as girls and women is somehow dangerous, and the things that are forced upon us are our own damn fault.
This is why we freeze. We don’t know how to protect ourselves any other way. And then we pay it forward in the most hurtful ways possible, driven by a desire to keep our girls safe.
In our own ways, we keep lighting this torch of misogyny by continuing to pass on the message that the biggest danger is ourselves, our own bodies, our own vibrant and beautiful, expressive, sassy, seductive, erotic selves, and that we must, we must, we must NOT grow our busts.
Instead, we must shut life down. Freeze it. Kill it. Stop it.
Taken to extremes, there is breast ironing. Done by mothers to their own pubescent daughters, desperately trying to hide the evidence of sexual maturation by hot ironing the developing nipples (one of the first most obvious signs of puberty in a young woman) to hide and thus protect their girls from attention from men that could lead to harassment and rape.
Because why? Because she’s getting breasts.
We freeze because we’re taught that being female is enough to put us in danger. That being female is both too much and not enough.
We freeze because we’re told that if we can somehow figure out a way to be nice enough, accommodating enough, pleasant enough, pretty enough, sexy enough (but not too sexy), thin enough, curvy enough, capable enough, if we can somehow be everything that we are naturally not, we will be safe, we will be desired, we will be acceptable.
And if we can’t figure it out? If we continue to be our own wild, exuberant, lively, happy, joyful, sexual female selves, well then.
Clearly we were asking for it. In which case, the message goes, no one needs to look out for her. She’s trouble. She’s asking for it in a thousand ways, even when, perhaps especially when, she doesn’t have a clue.
Innocent? Asking for it.
Sexual? Asking for it.
Dying to be liked? Asking for it.
At a party? Asking for it.
Growing nipples? Asking for it, let’s iron them off.
Waving at people from inside a car? Asking for it.
I never said it, but my daughter and her friends read the subtext.
I’m so fucking scared my daughter will be violated because she draws attention. And she draws attention because I was also so fucking scared that she’d start shutting down and freezing up the way I did that I’ve raised her to be happy and confident and bold and fearless.
This is why we freeze. Because we place the onus on women’s safety on the ability of women to freeze, hide and blend in.
Unfortunately, we also place the blame for women’s danger on women, and their desire to feel alive and live their lives.
We just can’t win.
Not once did my parents speak to me of sex, consent, sexual safety or predatory behavior. Nor did my school in the mandatory sex ed. classes. Nor did any other older women and men in my life.
And pleasure? What was that? Nothing I heard about from people with power and influence and an ability to guide and teach me. No, pleasure was something mysterious that you find out in whispers from friends with boyfriends, from sex scenes in movies and books, from silent and secretive research.
This is why we freeze. We don’t even know who to turn to.
In my extended families I’ve witnessed the traumatic results of alcohol abuse, violence, drug and alcohol addiction, emotional and sexual abuse and disturbingly blurred boundaries.
I’ve witnessed ugly and ancient patterns of putting our sexually fertile and achingly vulnerable teen girls in danger. I’ve witnessed fear, shame and despair. Hate and envy and vindictiveness.
I’ve witnessed the above, and also known that this ugliness, these patterns of shame, addiction, continued abuse and harm, to self and others (usually loved ones) come from deeply rooted cultural attitudes and multigenerational trauma. Teenage grandfathers who went to war, got PTSD, coped by becoming alcoholics and abusive to their families? This gets passed down the line.
Taken even further, the witchhunts in Europe and North America, that killed millions of women and created a culture of fear – any woman that was different or skilled was at risk of being labeled a witch and burned at the stake. These witch hunts and massacres went on for centuries. This is a wound that gets passed on down the line.
Religious shaming of sexuality, body image and the body.
Passed on down the line in a million tiny and subtle wounds – death by a thousand paper cuts.
Passed on down the line – freezing because of hundreds of numbing moments.
So, to cope, we freeze, we freeze, we freeze, and then we despair of ever feeling free and at ease, and we think it’s just us.
That there’s something wrong with us as individuals (rather than a cultural history and value system that shames and freezes us).
I felt it all, but never had the words to articulate it. So, instead, I froze. I shut down and stopped feeling anything, so that what I did feel couldn’t hurt me. I lost my voice.
So many of us as women have frozen up and it gets expressed differently, depending on personality and circumstance, but the results are the same.
This is what freezing cultivates to women:
A scorching sense of despair
A sense that something is fucked up and that stench of female expectations is unbearable
A deeply rooted knowing that all is not well with the world
We freeze because the weight of expectations, the imperative to perform the perfect woman, is so huge.
It’s a Sisyphean task. All women are set up to fail, convinced it’s their own fault, and persuaded that all they need to do is keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, because the rewards of looking like you’re the perfect woman are relief from the efforts required to get there.
Only, it’s a false fable. No woman has ever gotten ‘there.’
That’s the seduction in the trap. The honey, the bait.
The only benefit that comes of the intensely weighty effort of trying to be the perfect woman is the breakdown that happens when it all cracks apart.
Because this is when we discover how frozen we’ve become, and start making the changes needed to become free, light, happy and alive.
Dirty, messy and imperfect.
Fleshy. Full of voice.
When we start to thaw, when the ice starts to crack, and everything feels like it’s falling apart, that’s actually when we become able to ask for support, build up a sisterhood and start standing up for girls in our lives, and start demanding a healthy education of the boys and men in our lives.
When we unfreeze, we melt. We grow. We heat up, become loving and passionate and FIERCE.
We become fierce. We say to the young girl in the room, “Hey, are you ok? Do you need a ride home?”
We say, “you’re smart and powerful and intelligent and loving and beautiful, and I’m going to look out for you”
We say, “go, explore your sexuality, date boys, and here are the ways to stay safe and happy and healthy as you learn about your erotic self.”
We say, “wear that sexy nightgown, because it makes you feel good. You!”
Instead of saying, “no one looked out for me, so I’m not looking out for you” or, “you’re a handful,” we say, “look at you, you gorgeous woman child. Owning your juicy sexuality and glowing with vibrancy.”
“Look at you! THIS is what is our birthright, and I’m going to make sure you have the space to own your body, keep your creative fire intact, and stay connected to your deep inner knowing.”
Don’t freeze up little girl.
I’m here, and I’m going to make sure of it.
You’re safe now.
I’ve got your back.
Do you hear that? Younger me? Current me? Older me? Daughters, friends, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunties, ancestors and descendents. All women everywhere.
Don’t freeze up. You’re safe, I’ve got your back.
Now go and live your luscious life <3
By the way, this is my life’s work. Getting you into a state of freedom and fluidity. If this piece of writing resonated for you, I know we’ll click.