Jane Caro: The older I get, the less shame I feel about things

Jane Caro
Jane Caro as she features in the book 200 Women. Image: Kieran E. Scott

What really matters?

“I’m driven by the ‘Why?’ As a young woman, I struggled with an anxiety neurosis and with obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I went on a journey to understand what had led me to become so. Therapy helped me to learn about other people. So, now I always ask why. Why is a person reacting this way? Why do so many men regard women as objects ore as something contemptible?

“My work involves coming up with theories to answer all these ‘whys,’ then asking how the ‘why’ informs a person and their opinions. I can’t prove my theories, but they make logical sense to me and I explore them. I am interested in finding answers that enlighten, in getting to the truthful, unvarnished core, where all pretence is lifted. Doing this allows you to accept yourself completely.

“What brings happiness?

“My happiness is getting to the end of a day in which I feel I’ve been productive and have done things that interest me, and sitting down with my husband and a glass of wine, connecting and talking about what we’ve both been doing.

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“It’s playing with my grandson.

“It’s the ordinary, banal, human things that everybody gets an enormous amount of pleasure out of. I don’t want to be anything other than ordinary, because there are such expectations around women – and expectations crucify people. Look at Hillary Clinton, people are always saying ‘Of course, she wasn’t the perfect candidate.’ But there has never been a perfect candidate, so why do we have to apologise for the woman not being perfect? Because the expectations are that, if a woman aspires, then she had better never have to make a mistake or done a wrong thing. Expectations kill happiness, they kill joy and they kill courage.

What is misery?

“Shame – it’s very debilitating. Yes, some shame is necessary – we’ve all been in that place where we’ve done the wrong thing and we know it. But the sick feeling of shame is horrible. I think women have an almost constant experience of shame. We’re made to feel ashamed of just being women. We’re made to feel ashamed of our bodily functions. We’re made to feel ashamed because we don’t look the way we should, or because we look too much the way we should or because we talk too much, or too little. There is a constant measuring of how much women are allowed to do, to say, to be, to want and to aspire to. Fortunately, the older I get, the less shame I feel and the happier I become.

“I would try to get rid of shame. In my view, every human being can be redeemed. It’s important to condemn behaviour and opinion, but never the person who has behaved in a certain way or who had opined something foolish, or even hateful. For example, people will call certain politicians liars. But no one person is ‘a liar’ – we all tell lies. No one person is ‘a sexist’ – we are all sometimes sexist. No one person is ‘a racist’ – we are all sometimes prejudiced and bigoted. When you recognise this, suddenly it stops being ‘us and them’ and becomes just ‘us’. It’s that connection and ‘us-ness’ that I’m after.”

200 Women: The Listening Ground, sponsored by Westpac, is an interactive exhibition, book and podcast series featuring interviews with 200 notable women from around the world, including Maggie Beer, Susan Carland, and Margaret Atwood. Author and social commentator Jane Caro was one of the women interviewed – you can listen to more of their stories here.

What brings you happiness?