I am part of a generation that grew up being told that “women can do anything they set themselves up to”. This is the generation that could finally enjoy the fruits (voting, an education, birth control…) of years of struggling and fighting that started with our grandmothers, if not earlier. From grades 5 through 9, I went to an all-girls hardcore catholic school where we were led into believing that we were going to be “agents of change”, that it was our calling to make a difference in the world. We had classes and conferences by empowering role-models, successful, worldly ladies, explaining how women, by their own psychological complexion were ideal candidates to reach the very top of all kinds of businesses and professional roles, as values such as compassion, empathy, connection and our innate ability to communicate were natural to us girls. At the same time we received parallel messages telling us of our important role in the home, how we were meant to be the pillars of our families, how a feminine touch (like leaving flowers by your husbands’ workplace or knowing how to cook a perfect meal, complete with sauce hollandaise) could make the difference in a bad day. How we were to be the rock of our husbands and families. They went on to explain that all of these things were our duty along with other things like managing the household’s budget frugally and efficiently, and yes, emphasizing how our main and most important mission along with all of the above was to procreate and take care of all the children that would be sent to us (those were the words they used!!!).
Trying to succeed at all of those spheres at the same time sounded contradictory. We might be super girls, smart and funny, tough yet romantic, but I have not yet discovered my own superpowers. I cannot be in two places at the same time and I certainly don’t have any control over my crazy hormones. There are so many cultural messages, coming from media, literature, our education, telling us what we are supposed to do. If you take a dip in Art history, starting with the earliest civilizations, one of the first pieces that you study are Venus statues. Those big stone women with a huge belly and big breasts, the earliest dating back to 35,000 – 40,000 years ago, were already telling us that our uttermost important role was (and is?) to bring new humans to the planet. From them on, the role of women in society has very slowly changed, but has, overall been limited to the backstage scenes. Through high-school and university I really enjoyed reading “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir. Her in depth study about the female condition along time and history is so clear and straight forward that I formed my own ideas and ended up convinced that yes, against all odds, us girls were ready to join Pinky and the Brain and take over the World.
So what does being a woman mean in 2013? Apparently it means that we can finally “have it all”. When I hear such claims I can only laugh. And when I see women discussing these issues and tearing each other down because apparently whatever you do it will be wrong, I can only conclude that we haven’t quite figured it out just yet. It is so sad, this fight between "women”: it seems that whatever choices are made someone will come to tell you how you are not doing it right. And one can only assume that we are all intelligent beings, making the best choices that we can, with the resources, possibilities and information that we have in our hands. We are all just trying to make our best.
As I go through life being unemployed regardless of the fact that I have two scientific degrees, while, at the same time I struggle with what the medical community refers to as infertility (though I refuse to use that term), I think of my junior-high school days and wonder what I did wrong, and when. If I am to judge myself according to the standards I was taught I am clearly failing in all womanly spheres at the same time.
And then I read the news and it breaks my heart (not to mention enrages me) to learn that little girls are sometimes not even allowed to be born, and when they are, they are mutilated, they are forced to work, forced into arranged marriages, are not allowed to study or pursue their dreams, cannot be independent or get positions of power.
It is international woman’s day and I think there is still a fight to be had. We have to fight so that every girl and woman gets the choice to live the life she wants. We have to change the structures in society to ensure that professional success and a family can finally be compatible. And among us girls that have been lucky/blessed enough to enjoy such luxuries as an education, the right to work and develop careers, the choice to have children (or not) to stay at home (or not), to go and work in the world (or to do so from the living room, while dressed in pajamas), to be scientists, lawyers, politicians, doctors, writers, to make a difference… so much kindness is needed. I seriously wish we would just start being nicer to each other, we would stop the judgments, because the beauty of feminism, is that we can *choose* who we want to be. This fight is not over and we should make it possible for every woman and girl in the planet to be able to make these choices for herself.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------It's International Women's Day. Over at 'Any Other Woman', there will be a day long extravaganza of posts, where many of us will share views and stories (or art, poems, photos) on what it means to be a Woman, today, in 2013. Head over there, I am sure there will be wisdom galore.
Images via here , here and here.