It seems we’re living in a time when women are feeling a universal spotlight and we’re figuring out what to do with it. Our suffragette forbears fought for us to have an equal legal and governmental voice. For so long women have fought to have what the men already have as they’ve ruled the echelons of the world for ages. And there’s still so much work to do. Sexism is alive and well. The inequities abound, both passively and aggressively. Many countries are even blind to the evils of rape, the necessity of education or other essential rights.
Unmistakably, whether consciously or not, the subject of rights morphs into a discussion of identity. In the United States, where equality has arguably progressed a bit further, there seems to be this persistent crisis of identity. The definition of WOMANHOOD changes from country to country, minute to minute, and culture to culture. A woman living in Ethiopia in the 1970s is going to have a different definition than a woman in modern-day Nebraska. I wish I could say that we can just abandon definitions altogether. But the truth is, our brains are going to generate a definition regardless, so it’s wise that we give them a good one.
I grew up in the 90s, and it’s overwhelming to think of all that has transpired in the discussion of gender, equality, etc. Everyone is affected by it and eventually comes to terms with it in their own way, and I am no exception.
As a young girl I was very drawn to the martial arts. I can’t explain this as neither of my parents went out of their way to promote this idea. I just remember admiring it, longing to learn more, and pouring into a book on martial arts. I loved the physicality and the inherent strength. I don’t remember being a particularly aggressive kid—to this day I’ve never been in any kind of fist-fight, I just found martial arts fascinating. (Side note, as I’m writing this, I’m watching Mulan on Netflix and remembering that this was the first Disney-princess movie I saw in the theater. Maybe Mulan’s epic character piqued my interest).
I BEGGED my mom to enroll me in Karate. She had originally signed me up for ballet, but it was evident early on that I was not patient enough to hold my arms and feet in rigid, suspended positions. So she let me quit. She finally compromised that I could do Tae Kwon Do, because it was cheaper than the Karate place in town. I threw myself into it as an 8-year-old and earned a black belt in two years. I broke boards with my hands and feet, sparred with kids older and bigger than me, took my first punch to the gut, did the splits, and learned about perseverance.
To my parents’ credit, there was NEVER a moment where they took me aside and said “this is not a girl activity; it’s not feminine and you need to do something else”. They understood, consciously or not, that a woman is capable of sensitivity AND strength, and that my desire to do martial arts was no indication that there was something wrong with me.
Now here I am 16 years later, punching in the clock day in and day out with the persistent nagging thoughts of “Am I really living up to my potential?” “Is this really what I want?” One of my best friends recently asked me: “Do you think long-term you want to be a career woman with kids or be a stay-at-home mom?” I don’t know. I want to end my work-day feeling like I’ve helped someone, made a difference, acted creatively, and solved problems. And a little appreciation would be nice too. Isn’t that what everyone wants? I think you could find that satisfaction (or the lack thereof) within a career or staying at home. Neither scenario is going to be fulfilling all the time or without sacrifice.
Back to the spotlight. What do we want? Who are we? What does it mean to be a woman?
Our society thrives on definitions. Our brains need it to make sense of the world. We observe countless details and analyze what makes a “man” and what makes a “woman”. And if someone or something doesn’t meet that constructed definition (i.e. women can’t be aggressive, men can’t be sensitive, etc.) then we ostracize them at least a little. I believe as a society we’re finally starting to validate the idea that HEY, WE’RE HUMANS AND WE’RE A BIT MORE COMPLICATED THAN THE SIMPLE BINARY OF MASCULINE VS. FEMININE, as if they’re mutually exclusive. As a side note: I personally feel like we’ve since accepted that women CAN be tenacious and physical, BUT it’s still hard for us to stomach a man being truly vulnerable. We’ve got to fix that and teach our sons to be emotionally intelligent, but that’s a whole other conversation.
Maybe our identity crisis is driven by a heartache to understand ourselves and to be understood. We’re still figuring out who we are. Maybe we don’t fully comprehend our power.
If we go back to the Christian beginning, Eve was the “mother of all living”. A definition like that makes me think that a woman can be universally described as a creator of infinite capacity. But does that mean men can’t be creators? Does a definition of womanhood have to be something that DOES NOT apply to men?
Maybe it’s deeper and more eternal than that. Maybe our finite minds keep trying to attach a worldly status to something that may be less finitely tangible. It’s hard to pin down something so nebulous. All I’ve got is my faith.
My dream is to have a man and a woman stand side by side fully respecting each other’s abilities and gifts and having an equal voice in all things. Men shouldn’t tyrannize or patronize. Women shouldn’t have to claw their way to dignity and respect. Neither should they speak degradation against men as a sort of passive-aggressive revenge. Neither gender should apologize for their greatness. Men and women need to accept their inherent gifts and equality, step it up, and be who they were born to be for each other.
I make sense of the world with my religion, in which motherhood is revered as the holiest calling. Yet, is motherhood synonymous with womanhood? Yes and no. Sharon Eubank, my personal hero, and a woman currently with no children, defined motherhood in this way:
“Charity, or the pure love of Christ, is motherhood in a very practical and real way—sacrificing so that others might thrive and seeing beyond present circumstances to the way things really are. This motherhood is part of my covenantal identity. My mother-work will come directly through the whispers of the Holy Spirit. And it is no less real for being unrelated by blood and bone.” (Reference below).
If we go back to the beginning, we see the divine progenitors of our current, human roles. I love that my religion purports the concept of a reigning Heavenly Mother; I just wish I could see what that looks like. How does she communicate? How does she lead? How does she create? What are her responsibilities? What’s her superpower? Part of me feels that if I could just see Her, up close, I could come home to myself in the way I’ve always yearned.
I’ve never heard it better articulated than this:
“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
– Glenn L. Pace (Reference Below)
Until that moment, I’ll keep trying to find echoes of my Parents in all the noise. This post is a bit scattered. I don’t have all the answers. I won’t stop trying to figure it out. I believe men and women need each other and always will. I believe we were always supposed to be a team. And I think my Heavenly Parents feel the same way.
Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936.
Eubank, S. (2018, May 11). The Idea of ‘Mothers in Zion’ Made Me Mad—Until I Learned What it Meant. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/blog/the-idea-of-mothers-in-zion-made-me-maduntil-i-learned-what-it-meant?lang=eng
Pace, G. (2010, March 6). The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women. Retrieved from https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/glenn-l-pace_divine-nature-destiny-women/