When did you become a woman? It’s common across many cultures to link our first menstruation with womanhood. Some cultures consider the crossover to happen around our 15/16 birthday. For some it’s when they move out of their parents home. And for others they feel that sense of metamorphosis (okay that’s the biggest word I’ll ever use here) when they get married, buy a house, or have a baby. But when did you feel it?
For me, it was honestly none of those. To be completely transparent, I didn’t start connecting to the identity of “woman” or conceptualizing the value of that identity until somewhere between 23 and 25. Before that I still connected more with girl (even after I had a child). Before 25-ish, I was still in a mindset of worrying how I appeared to others. I was strung out on the thought of growing up and what it meant to do so. I held on to beliefs I had about myself, who I was supposed to be, and my “role” like they were life or death. Some of those stories were true, some not so much. Some are still revealing themselves (go figure, the older I get the more deeply rooted they are). Stories revolving around what a good or bad woman looks like. Stories about how I should relate to the women around me. It’s often hard and confusing because we have to deal with the way we saw the women growing up treating each other, the way we saw men treat those women, the way society as a whole treats women, and the way we have been treated as a woman. But in digging through those stories I found myself beginning to truly walk into my own womanhood.
It’s one thing to own your identity, but it’s another to even know what that identity is at all. Part of allowing myself to know who I am, had a lot to do with discovering what I felt about women in general. Did I really think that I needed to shrink my size, or grow my hair, to be beautiful? Did I really think that I needed to have a career to be a good role model for my children? Did I really believe that anything outside of my character was directly correlated to my womanhood?
What I have discovered is this: I believe that women have the capability to be magic, even in our worst moments. I believe this because it is often during our hard moments where we get the nudge we need to step it up. It is in those moments that we get to see that we are worthy of love even when we “mess up.” Somehow, despite our failures, we still manage to spread warmth and nurture those who are around us. Somehow, despite our internal battles, we still manage to be the safe space. I have been making an effort to no longer allow myself to feel guilt over things I cannot change or control, but when those feelings surface anyway (hey, I’m still human) I look at what it could really mean. Do I feel guilty because I could do better? Or do I feel guilty for not being or thinking like everyone else? For “messing up”? There’s a huge difference there, right? Because the truth is that I’m not less of a woman when I mess up or find myself doing things differently.
I think we have spent a lot of time- I’m talking hundreds of years – being way too hard on ourselves. We all know that nearly every facet of being a woman is double edged. Our sexuality (or lack thereof), our parenting style, our career goals, who we marry, how we get married, where we live, what we do or don’t eat, the clothes we wear, how or if we exercise… the list goes on and on. And if you don’t fall in line with the ideal that you identify most with, you’re kicked out of the club or denied entry all together. But by who? Other women? Or by you? Could it be possible that when you don’t fall in line, you are actually stepping right into your own magic?
I also believe that women thrive together, but we have been led to believe that we are in competition. Realizing this was a huge part of owning my particular version of womanhood. Looking back I can see so many times that I favored competition over authenticity. I deeply believe we raise girls to compete for marriage, and male attention… but on top of that we have begun to teach them to compete for female attention.
What I mean is that many of us walk through spaces wanting to be seen in a certain way by the women around us. We either want their adoration, or we just want them to see us as a woman who belongs. We want them to see us as a certain kind of wife, a “fun” mom, a loving sister or daughter, a loyal friend, a good woman. We want to be seen as one of them.
This is why we hide our failures, or as is the trend these days -broadcast them widely. We want to be seen. Not only do we want it, but I truly think that we need it. And I think our need for that is both intuitive and instinctual. I think today’s obsession with competition is simply a twisted way that many of us try to find our tribe, or try to convince ourselves we don’t need one (these are the “I don’t get along with other women” or “I’m not like other women”- women). If you look back in our history as a species you can find incredible amounts of evidence of the ways in which women gravitated toward each other. “The tribe” was so much more than a catch phrase, or a way to sell something, it was an actual way of life. Women helping women day in and day out to do what needed to be done. Women just being there for each other for the sake of it.
As social media pushes us further into isolation, you can see the pushback… from women. About once a week I see women post something like “in need of friends!” in the local military wives Facebook group I’m part of. In the breastfeeding group it looks like “I love my baby and husband but I feel so lonely, is this normal?” (Hint: yes, but no). And if you follow literally any multi level marketing ladies, you’ll hear them say something like “the products are great but it’s the WOMEN I love.” It’s the women. We need each other. More than we need coffee. More than we need a clean house. More than we need a vacation.
*This post is a two part post. Part 2 will be available next week.