I’ve just been reading all sorts of wonderful and terrible things on this fantastic website called the Good Men Project – http://www.goodmenbook.org, and (ironic or no?) it makes me think about being a woman.
I remember a time when I learned about feminism and a glass ceiling, and I was quite certain that this is only true for women who let it be true. While I had my share of insecurities, I never felt slighted by being a woman (and that remains true). I am so thankful to be a woman – it seems to suit me well.
And what were the messages of my generation? I remember being ten years old and getting out of the bath, and looking in the mirror. This was the first time that I noticed my thighs touching each other as I stood with my legs together. While I was always a very thin child, I was also quite aware that I needed to maintain this in order to fit the cultural norm. Barbies or not, the message was clear all around me. Thin, beautiful, and very sexy. At 10 years old I had no idea about sexiness, but I could try hard to be thin and beautiful.
Over the next few years I spend more hours pouring over teen magazines than I can even imagine… It was amazing how I learned everything about putting on makeup, to obsessing about boys, to being increasingly insecure and dependent on the opinions of others, all largely from these magazines. And this was my transition into womanhood.
In those years, to be a middle-aged woman was to be past prime. Clearly everyone beautiful was young, thin, and sexy. While I had no fear of aging, I didn’t really pay much attention to older women. I didn’t look up to them like I do now….
Women and girls today are taught to be strong like men, and to look a certain way, and to speak out loudly and clearly, and to excel at sports, and drugs, and sex, and school, and fashion, and.. and… and it’s all quite confusing.
What about being a lady? Now at a ripe 31 years old, I am SO happy to be older. I am so happy to be in my thirties! Life seems to get more delicious by the year. One of the great joys has been having a partner who opens my doors and carries my bags and lets me be soft and sweet. And it’s almost as if I should feel bad for this, being a modern woman educated in feminism! But yet he lifts me up.
When I lived in the mountains of Colorado, I was a firefighter and a Yoga teacher. I threw away all of my heels, proclaiming that they are bad for my back (true, they are). I never wore makeup, and I finally learned to enjoy hiking uphill (a story for another time). It was good. I was happy.
When I moved to California, things were difficult. It must have been in the stars! But one thing I really gained from living in the San Francisco area is how to really enjoy being a woman. One by one, I put the stereotypes back on, and relished them. I bought heels again, and discovered how incredibly sexy they make my legs look. I bought low cut shirts and noticed that as I age my breasts continue look great. I started wearing make-up again, and felt sexy, beautiful, and vibrant. And the people around me responded. When I would dress a little up, people literally responded to me differently. And you know what? I liked it. It could be the Leo in me…. there’s plenty of it! But seriously, who doesn’t love positive feedback? Who doesn’t want approval? We are trained to crave it by our beautiful, albeit, far from perfect, culture.
I have encountered the glass ceiling. I have encountered just as much classism and ageism. I see that what I was taught is true – that women are not valued in the same way as men. I also believe that I am an incredibly fortunate human being. I am sitting here in the computer lab at one of the finest schools in the world, with a wide vocabulary at my fingertips, graced by education and life experience abound, with a cozy home and a bright future. And even more simply, I have heat. I have hot water. I have a home. I have amazing supportive people that love me. I am deeply blessed. And so are you.
Above and beyond being so blessed, as a woman I am not ready to throw out the advantages of my sex appeal. Granted, I don’t often realize that I am using it… sometimes people think I am flirting when I am just being the kind farm girl I was raised to be! But seriously, if I can dress and present myself in a way that is a bit more appealing, and use that to give me a bit of a leg up, then so be it! I’ve had plenty of disadvantages over time, why can’t I use this one? And it’s fun. Why not enjoy? I was always an artist at heart, and I like letting my art show through my dress and presentation.
And as women, why would we deny the beauty that comes from our sweetness? I like that my heart is super soft underneath it all. I like that I love honestly and vigorously, even if it has kicked my ass in the past. I like getting all emotional every month as my hormones spike, because that emotion all flows from such deep love for a beautiful experience.
And on the backside of it all, I enjoy stepping into the role of homemaker more deeply than I might have thought possible. I am a nurturer. Why would I reject that just to be modern? Can’t I be modern and bake and cook and nurture and succeed and be sexy and be professional and be intelligent and be my own flavor of feminist all at once? Can I just enjoy that I do enough, and I am alright with letting him carry the bags and open the doors?
My mother is an amazing woman. She is stronger than any woman should have to be. She held us together through the worst of times, and she has taught me a few things about being a woman. My mother doesn’t wear much make-up, and used to give me a hard time in high school for the thick layers I would wear on my face (in retrospect, yes – I wore too much make-up!). She has always been a bit more simple, and refreshingly real. She does what needs to be done, in the face of any challenge.
As an adult woman so shaped by those early magazines, I think one of the most challenging things has been to learn how to stand in what I know, regardless of the feedback from others. It’s been confusing enough figuring out how to be an adult, and be a woman but be strong like a man but be soft and vulnerable so men are not intimidated but keep going for success but you should stop and have a family soon but what’s the point of dating if you know he’s not the one? And where did I learn it had to be a he to be my partner anyway?
So over the last year and a half I have been gifted (I use this word carefully) with situations where I have had to learn how to care less about the opinions of others. Maybe the hardest was letting go of pleasing Mom. Sometimes people will not agree with our decisions. But if your heart is true and your intention is pure, then maybe it’s time to learn to stand it the center and let go of the child that wants to please. I think my mother taught me this best, by staying on her course despite the intense challenges she faced as a young mother.
I believe it has been this lesson, this ongoing lesson (smile) of learning to stand in the center and stay on my course despite others’ opinions, that has shaped the latest in my journey to understanding how to be a woman. Something feels a bit more mature, a bit more like a capable light in the world, because I have weathered through one of these deepest of challenges. A challenge that had no opportunity to present itself until this ripe decade of thirty-something. And now I know a little more about how others view me, and I care a bit less. I know a bit more about the passion that drives me, and I am humbly surrendering to it a bit more. I enjoy dressing up, in a way that may not be so different than the 5 year old, but I like it on the cover of the woman I am now. Pure heart, clear intentions, a bit more sure, with big plans to keep pressing love out into a world that likes to think it is bleak…. and if the sparkle of my smile, the joy of my heart, or the tastiness of my fresh baked cookies can make someone’s day a little sweeter, then hey – always glad to be that woman.