I have watched many women redefine femininity after losing their hair, losing their breasts, and even losing their minds. And I can think of no better a time than now, just days after a former First Lady has announced her intention to hold our country’s highest office. One of my personal heroes, Oprah, likes to quote a concept she first heard from Maya Angelou:
You are here because of everything your mother, and your mother’s mother, and your grandmother’s mother fought for.
Every step your mother took, every hardship your great grandmother endured, was to help you be where you are today, have access to the freedoms you have today, have the right to the liberties at your fingertips today. Without even knowing you or what you would do, they endured in big and little ways so that you may be the independent, outspoken, voting, free individual that you are. In realizing such a lineage present in all of us, we might wonder:
Are we living up to our responsibility as women?
When men ask this same question of us, it’s offensive. It’s oppressive. But we’re not asking it in those terms today. We’re not asking to assess whether we are being good enough wives. Or if we are being pretty enough to please men. Or if we are being subservient enough, accommodating enough.
Today we’re asking ourselves so that we can realize what level of our potential we are living up to, and what we in turn are doing for future generations of women. Because our great, great, great grandmothers didn’t burn their bras and be the first on the block to get a divorce just for our sake. They did so for all women. They began a succession of powerful females who were willing to stand outside the status quo, expanding the boundaries socially, politically, and professionally of what a woman could do and be, and silently, leading by example, traversing the many years that separate us, asked us to do the same.
The answer has nothing to do with how often you wear lingerie or how long your legs are or how chipped your manicure is. I’m certain the gorgeous Grace of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals surely can’t keep polish on her guitar playing fingers. This time, the question of ‘Woman Enough’ is about so much more than the physical attributes that make you wanted for reproductive purposes.
So let us bravely ask: are we living up to our potential as women?
Are we filling the shoes and raising the bar of women’s rights and capabilities, collectively and individually?
Are we creating the foundation for an even stronger and more liberated woman to come?
Are we living up to that responsibility of Woman?
There is no ‘Right Nose’
The line of every woman has it’s own set of hardships. Looking back on your own family, what did the women before you overcome? Were they immigrants, women of color, people who overcame extreme poverty? What did they endure? What obstacles did they overcome so that you would never have to know the same kind of struggle?
In looking to these clues, we can find the resonating strength that we often didn’t realize we already possess. It’s ingrained in us. When we see that a woman with our blood, that gave birth to our soul, conquered more than we can fathom in this modern world, we can see the potential within us that we’ve kept hiding. What kind of triumphs run in your blood, and what kind of courage and strength can you draw from her stories to help you forge your own path?
In a more literal sense, proof is written all over faces… My family used to joke that big noses run in our blood; and I had inherited one, and I hated it. But then I realized it’s the same nose my dad has, with a touch of my grandmother’s nose mixed in. I realized that I look just like my great Aunt; a similar bone structure. I am the composite of hundreds of traits from hundreds of people over many countries and generations. They all gave these traits to me. Suddenly I appreciated that nose that reminded me of my dad and my grandma, and my eyes that look just like my aunt’s.
The point is: Stop shaming all those quirky traits about yourself, and start saying thank you for them. Because damn it, there are babies born without fingers and without ears and without hearts even, and your mother’s mother’s mother carried that nose or those hips throughout her whole life and painstakingly (child birth is no picnic) passed it on to you, and down it went through generations for you to hold it now.
It is a gift, not a burden. Learn to say ‘it’s mine and it’s special and I’m thankful for it’ instead of it’s ‘not good enough’.
There are many qualities for which women have always been praised: their maternal instincts, their gentleness, their trueness to heart and their romantic sensibilities. Despite that life no longer resembles a Bronte novel for most women, honoring our innate qualities can still serve our purpose of advancing women. Let us embrace our ability to be both ruthless and compassionate. Let us utilize our maternal instincts to tap into our intuition, to be peace makers in a troublesome world, to feed the hungry minds of the masses. Let us use our gentleness, our grace, to make our message more tolerable to close-minded individuals, despite that brashness and boldness of what we have to say. The term ‘kill ’em with kindness’ was certainly coined by a woman. Let us be kind, giving, loving individuals, yet brave, relentless, determined activists, whatever our cause may be. If women are to be praised for such dainty qualities, then under them let us hide swords. Use them to your advantage.
A Place in the Sisterhood
The day that women end the cattiness and bitterness and stand together, unified, is the day no man will have a chance in hell of bringing a single one of us down.
In a recent article from the always-inspiring Brain Pickings, an excerpt by Wild author Cheryl Strayed helps a young woman, Elissa Bassist, find the courage to write:
“Pointing to Bassist’s litany of women writers who ended their own lives — perhaps Plath, Sexton, Woolf — Strayed calls the young writer out on perpetuating the dangerous mythology of creativity and mental illness. Reminding her — reminding all of us — that the stories we tell ourselves shape our horizons of possibility, Strayed reality-checks this perilous narrowing of attention:
In spite of various mythologies regarding artists and how psychologically fragile we are, the fact is that occupation is not a top predictor for suicide. Yes, we can rattle off a list of women writers who’ve killed themselves and yes, we may conjecture that their status as women in the societies in which they lived contributed to the depressive and desperate state that caused them to do so. But it isn’t the unifying theme.
You know what is?
How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured.
The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you—,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us — straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”
The Art of Motherfucktitude: Cheryl Strayed’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility
by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings (source)
Becoming the Muse
The truth about tapping into your greatest potential is that no one must believe in you more than you believe in yourself. You must be your greatest advocate, your loudest cheerleader, your strongest ally, your biggest source of strength and reassuring beliefs. No one else can prove your beauty to you but you. No one else can explain your worth to you but you. And in fact the more insecure you are, the more you doubt yourself, the more others will doubt you too. Because if no one can know you better than you do, and if you go out into the world with the belief that “I’m not worthy of great things”, everyone else will surely believe you.
Do not wait for someone to tell you you are beautiful; tell yourself. Do not wait for someone else’s validation to make you feel better; validate yourself. Do not rely on the opinions of others; opinionate yourself. Do not believe that negative little voice in your head who’s only goal is to sabotage you; believe in yourself. Be your own muse, see your own strengths, live up to your bloodline, and believe in yourself.
In everything you do today, you help to shape the responsibilities of women to come. Will you have them be catty, insecure, 77-cents-to-the-dollar second tiers, or will you have them rise, and be called to live up to even more than the modern woman of today?
The future of women depends on it.
Turn on some Joss Stone, pour a glass of wine,
and get ready to connect with your inner Goddess.
Write down 5 qualities that you feel are your strongest, most vibrant, and most uniquely yours. It could be your natural ability to give tough love. It could be your sexiness, your sensuality. It could be your hugs. It could be absolutely anything, as long as you are proud of it. Write down 5, and if the list keeps going – keep writing!
When you’re finished, read over them and think of a moment in your past that you’ve used that skill and felt really proud of it. Then take that gratitude, that light, and that energy you feel resonating from realizing your true self, and move it down into your heart where you’ll keep it safe like a vault.
Next, write down your five core beliefs. It will help you identify where you are in life, what you want most, and where your greatest fires are burning. Here are five of my own to get you started:That every moment, and every element of existence from the sky to the dirt on the ground, is a opportunity to feel wholly and completely at peace, connected to the divine depths of the universe. You just have to pay attention.
That all women are magical, mystical beings that deserve to see the beauty and wonder they embody. Women are heaven embodied on earth.
That the world needs more kindness, yoga and meditation
That I am made completely of love, and that I am a voice for peace and must honor that duty
That the universe will provide everything I need if I pull my own weight.
One of the great ways I feel more connected to myself as an individual and a woman is by becoming more physical with it in a fun way. I like to use nights I have alone at home to take a long hot bath with lavender epsom salts (available at any drug store like Rite Aid or CVS).
For you it could be a new Zumba class. It could be a bi-monthly massage. It doesn’t matter what the ritual becomes, as long as you find a way to connect your physical and mental selves, so that you can learn to let your body talk to your mind, and your mind to talk to your body with kindness and joy.
Because that’s what it’s really about. It’s about being your own best friend, your own cheerleader. It takes training but it’s absolutely possible to let the vivacious, fierce voice in your head be one that gets you into so much more fun, more success, more happiness, and more pure, unadulterated JOY.
They say that when you are feeling helpless, the best thing you can do is to help someone. One of the pillars of personal fulfillment and contentment is to give back to others. Even if only for one day in the entire year, as much as you hate giving up your only afternoon free time, get out and do some kind of good for another woman. It might be donating your clothes – and I’m talking about a lot of clothes. Not just a few tops. It might be giving one afternoon to a women’s homeless shelter. In fact, back when I volunteered at a local shelter, one of the foremost needs of it was underwear. Women rarely donated underwear but it was one of the items many of the shelter residents needed. Save up for a few weeks to get a spare $100, go down to your local food back or shelter, and ask what they need. Promptly go out and get it, and donate it.
Better yet, find your own way to contribute. Can you become an online mentor to another woman or young girl? Can you reach out in a way that is personal to you? Can you spend an afternoon at a rally, or listening to a lecture, or supporting local art by your neighboring women?
What can you do to not only be part of the community of your sisterhood locally or globally, but also to give what you have? You have so much more to give than you realize!
(Much more than excuses, so get on it.)
Speaking of supporting other women…