Are you one of the GAT (Guilty All the Time) generation? Do you reproach yourself each day for failing to spend enough time with your family, for neglecting your friends or for having eaten unhealthily? Are you feeling remorse this Christmas for not having been nicer to your mother or for not having gone to the gym?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then you are almost certainly a woman. As Erica Jong famously said: ‘Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilty and I’ll show you a man.’
Now, we learn from a new survey that almost all women — 96 per cent — feel guilty at least once a day. Naturally, we are somehow expected to feel guilty about feeling constantly guilty, but in fact it is cause for celebration.
Guilt is what makes us nicer than men. It’s the spur that drives us to ease the daily grind for others because we’d rather do that than feel guilty about not doing our bit. It impels us to do the family ironing, put on endless loads of washing and fret over how to create the perfect festive occasion whether for Christmas, a birthday or a wedding.
It’s why we play endless games of dolls’ tea parties or cops and robbers with small children, even though we’re exhausted and want nothing more than to slump in front of the TV with a glass of wine.
It’s why we answer the phone and say ‘No, no, of course I’ve got time’ when a heartbroken friend calls just as we were planning an early night with a good book.
And yet a ghastly and highly profitable industry has been built around encouraging women to feel that guilt is somehow bad. Only yesterday the author of a book called Escaping Toxic Guilt was explaining that the reason women feel guilt is that they’re brought up to be ‘good’. Well, I’m afraid I simply fail to see what’s wrong with that.
Yes, I know that the fashionable notion today is of ‘me-time’, the holy grail of those whose personal mantra is ‘Because I’m worth it’. The spa industry is eloquent testimony to the perception that we guilt-ridden, harassed modern women need to unwind, revive and think about ourselves.
Heaven knows we all deserve some time to relax — but for most women that means not a week at a luxury spa but a pilates class or half an hour with a cup of coffee and a glossy magazine. What I really object to is the way the ‘Because you’re worth it’ industry constantly encourages us to escape our responsibilities, as if me-time were the most sacred of human rights.
Real life is difficult. The irony is that happiness lies in battling through despite the difficulties, not avoiding them. The reward is in the glow of satisfaction you gain from not giving in, whether that means sticking to a diet or doing without a new dress so that you can pay for your child’s karate lessons.
In theory it would be lovely to treat yourself to an expensive spa holiday. But if you’re anything like the women I know, you’d find it impossible to spend a week just thinking about yourself (and you’d be feeling far too guilty about your children to enjoy it anyway).
When we’re older and our children have grown up, we can expect to have plenty more ‘me time’ — endless hours of it, stretching into what we pray won’t be a lonely old age. Until then, let’s hang on to our guilt — because those we love really are worth it.