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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Four.

MayBE 2019: Day 24

On Woman.

There is no good answer to how to be a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

I was on the phone with my eldest yesterday and I had to hold back the tears. We had the most honest conversation about naming ourselves and more specifically, naming our dual natures, and all the ways the outside world and other people distract us from this work of seeing ourselves.

But how can I want my independence and feel taken care of? How can I want to stay small and safe while yearning to be big and courageous? How can I be vulnerable but never want to be hurt? How did I want this yesterday and not want this today?

I nod because I still ask these questions today.

Before self-love, before acceptance, we have to name.

I am a 40 year old woman with four daughters. I looked in the mirror in my twenties and thirties and thought, “Good God, I barely know how to be a woman myself, how am I going to prepare them for this?”

I did a lesson block on “Power” with one of my daughters when she was fifteen. We read Mary Beard’s book, Women and Power and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, The Mother of All Questions.

I also bought these books for my eldest to read when she turned nineteen.

We started the block with a lesson in anatomy on the spine and how we stand. Are our feet completely on the floor? Can we feel the ground giving us energy to stand upright? How do we carry ourselves? We looked at the angle of our hips to our knees, and due to the wider hips, I told her how we have to have a wider stance to feel more stable than men.

We talked about our voice. The subtle ways we are silenced.

There are different standards that have been established by a system that had nothing to do with what we really wanted: what a woman should look like, how she should dress, “the message” she is sending, what is appropriate behavior, how to walk in the world and when and where we can walk without “getting ourselves” into trouble.

We are all given that “extra” advice from this system that has even turned our own against us so that it also comes from our own grandmothers, mothers, and aunts. Don’t scream, don’t fight, don’t make eye contact, dress appropriately, don’t make a fuss, don’t disagree, don’t speak up.

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

Silence is a language that has been imposed upon us whether we are conscious of it or not.

Needless to say, I messed up a lot trying to project my own shame and insecurity onto my own daughters.

I will never forget the day my eldest called me out on my bull shit and told me that I had made her feel ashamed about her body for the first time in her life when I made a comment about her clothing choices. I said I was concerned for her safety (which was a lie). And she saw right through it and named the thing that I was ashamed of – that I cared what people thought of me as a mother, that her choices reflected my abilities as a mother. What if people knew I really didn’t have control? What if they all figured out that I wasn’t the woman everyone thought I was – this peaceful mama who packed perfect lunches? What if they knew I was a raging banshee half the time because I was just so tired of this bull shit to be everything to everyone? What if everyone knew we had problems and issues and tears and late-night conversations where I cursed and fucked up over and over again?

That was a huge fail for me because I knew it had nothing to do with her but my own confusion about what it means to be a woman and a sovereign woman at that.

I am not perfect. I am a hypocrite. We all are. We all have had moments when we have had to choose to speak or to stay silent and weigh the costs involved. That is the nature of being a woman today. I am not proud of the times I have chosen stability over speaking out. I am not proud of the times when I have shamed my daughters. I am not proud of the moments I rolled my eyes at other women’s struggles or belittled their progress because they weren’t moving at the patriarchal pace expected of us. I am not proud of the way I have judged other women and their choices. I am not proud of competing with and betraying women instead of collaborating and celebrating with women.

But to say that I haven’t done any of those things would mean that I can’t name myself – my whole and the pieces of it – so that I can love all of it and give permission for my own daughters to give a name to these things that we remain silent on. This is what’s going to change the course for all of us and our commitment to each other.

In Toronto and here in my little community of Costa Rica, I have been able to sit and do this work alongside some of the most courageous women who tell the truth daily. My daughters and son witness the way we communicate, the way we support each other, the way we are vulnerable enough to be honest when we disagree and still show up for one another.

Yesterday I had the most honest and amazing conversation with a group of women at our community space about something I disagreed with and they met me with compassion and held that space to listen to my concerns. Later in the afternoon, I was at the beach with another group of women because all of our kids were playing together. These are the women who I have depended on and needed and who never once hesitated to support me when I made the call.

We totally fuck up with each other too but talk it out and ask how we can do better again the next day. We are women who are also mothers telling the truth about our lives and our frailties and our missteps and all the ways we feel we come up short because we are still measuring ourselves again a standard we never created in a structure, as Mary Beard says, that is “already coded as male.”

I agree with Solnit. There really isn’t a good answer to how to be a woman. The question itself is the problem. Maybe all there that has to be done is to reclaim the name for ourselves to help our daughters do the same.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • What does it mean to be powerful? In what ways have you been silenced?
    • Draw/paint your name.
      • Copy any quote above.
      • List all the aspects of your dual nature.
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