Hi guys, I know I’ve been away a bit. I’ve been letting myself get caught up in all the depressing mess ‘m surrounded with. Sorry, It’s an apology to you as well as to myself. I should know better, than to let go my fighting spirit, but sometime last week or was it week before. In a moment of reflection, with a friend, after one such depressing thing, happening simultaneously with a pretty wonderful thing, I got it back.
What does that have to do with this? Well…you see one of the things I’ve been struggling with is what is expected of me, what I expect of myself and where the two should meet. One of the huge factors it seems that affects that is my sex. I am a woman. As such I should, do, be, act like…
Seems like everyone has an ending to that sentence. Maybe I shouldn’t even be confused. What with all thee girl power and ish flying around. All the rights and the roles and the freedom. All conflicting sadly. Not that this is a new thing, I’ve been struggling since primary school. But now my definition of self takes on an even greater weight, as my kids are knee deep in puberty and looking at me to guide them.
So what is womanhood? What is womanhood as it applies to me?
- My physical self: One of the first things I learned about being a grown up woman was that I would grow boobs and be all curvy. I learned this by observation, after I figured out that there actually was a difference between girls and boys. I learned, secondly, that women had the babies, they grew inside us and somehow got out. I learned that boobs were used in feeding those babies. It came later, and with a bit of trauma, the actually mechanics and monthly obligation of that task.I learned it was my truth, irreversible and something from which I cannot divorce myself. It is a natural part of me, and so it has formed part of the framework of who I think myself to be. I am someone capable of ushering life into the world.
- Motherhood: If it’s one thing I have learned definitively in my working life, if not my personal one, it’s that giving life and nurturing it are two different things. I was raised where there was a mother, or a mother figure in every house I knew. For that matter, not having a father or father figure was a rarity among the folks who inhabited the landscape of my early life. One or two folks had grandparents for guardians, but even then we just dropped the “grand” and that was that. It was never a question that I would raise my children. So much so that up until recently I have shunned every opportunity that would separate me from them for any extended period. I don’t mean weekends at grandma’s, I mean like 3 years abroad. The thought still makes me uncomfortable. I need to be there to make sure these folks grow into people they can be proud of. In my mind, children are the greatest legacy anyone can leave behind. I want to be a part of making my legacy great. Therefore I am a mother. Not the best one by far, but I try my best, I think that’s worth something. Right?
- My sexuality: “Society has taught me to regard a woman’s sexuality as currency”- Piper, Orange Is The New Black.
I learned about sex from a Dr. Ruth book I found lying around. It was taken from me when I was caught with it, but that was on like the third read so that was OK. I learned a lot about the mechanics, but also about the attitude, about the importance of my satisfaction and that of my partner, and about being open minded and able to communicate about it. Somewhere I got the impression that my sex/sexuality was something special not to be shared willy nilly. Yeah I’m snobbish like that, I am the living example of Ms. Mia’s diamonds at the meeting of my thighs, and diamonds are worth the struggle of living up to my standards. Sadly not a whole lot of the populace makes the grade. But for him that does, that open minded stuff and that communication stuff serves well when it’s time to get busy.
You see, for some reason my parents missed that memo when raising me. I was clean, and fed, and the focus many times was not on how cute I could be but on how smart I should be. So I never learned, until my teen years, and late into those at that, to associate myself with my sexuality. Hell, I’m still going through my boy phase, comfortable, functional and cool are for me far more important than being perceived by an entire society as sexy.
As such I don’t know how to use my sexuality as currency. Not really, most attempts go horribly wrong. I do however know that I am a smart cookie, and thus try to use my intelligence the way folks use their sex. Given that intelligence, as far as I know is not a gender specific thing, I expect all my peers to regard me the same. While I am a sexual being and fully satisfied with it, it’s not my leading characteristic. Call me prudish, I’ve been called worse. I give a hard reprimand to anyone who tries to contradict that with my kids. I lead with my brain, not my bosom.
The only thing sad about that is that it seems I’ve missed out on some potential dalliances through the years, but maybe that was for the best.
- My place in society: One of the great things about my parents missing the memo about sexuality is that they also missed the one about me being locked into any one role.
I remember the day someone said to me “You better learn to do this or that if you plan to get a man.” I remember that person being shut down so hard and so fast it made my 11 year old head spin.
I was taught to cook, sew and clean, not to make me a suitable wife, but so that I could do for myself. So nobody could “cut style” on me. I never assumed that my life would be spent in someone’s kitchen. I bristle at the idea that any work at all should be considered “woman’s work.”
I think it has to do with being a Caribbean woman too. We are a strong bunch, accustomed to bringing home our own bacon. One need only throw a stone to hit a woman in a position of note.
Come to think of it, I also remember when I started primary school and the boy two rows back used to tease me relentlessly. About my weight, my hair, my lunchbox. I remember coming home crying and getting reprimanded for it. I remember them telling me to fight back if it came to that. I remember knowing that fighting wasn’t right, but if I did have to, win. Because if I didn’t, I would get a licking on top of a loss when I got home. This is far at odds with what I later learned from the church and the politicians and the news and the radio etc etc etc. Maybe that’s why I find myself many times off kilter, or at odds with many of the gender arguments set before me. I blame my parents, and I thank them.
I am not weak. I am equal to anybody out there.
I understand the perception of womanhood varies from place to place, family to family, social group to social group…you get the point. But I’ve concluded that outside the genetics which is something we can’t control, it’s pretty much as fluid as we are in our thinking. There is no general definition of womanhood. It certainly isn’t the stereotype we see everywhere or the garish impersonations we tend to get. Swear to Baby Jesus, I never met a woman who fit either of those molds. Well maybe one, but that’s a sad story for another day. So in the end I don’t think there is a standard definition. I think trying to find one is a task that would only serve to confuse me more. So it might be better to try to describe myself by way of definition. Here goes…
Hi I’m Michelle. I am someone capable of ushering life into the world. I am a mother.I lead with my brain and not my bosom. I am not weak. I am equal to anybody out there.
I love fun, the boring kind, most days. I love food, the fattening kind, and a good cocktail. I love beer.
I don’t like ignorance, or illogical folks. Too much emotionalism makes me uncomfortable, though too little makes me suspicious. I’m a good person most days. Faithful, loyal, all that good stuff. Unless you are one of those people who have violated me, then I tend to be less so.
I am of Afro-Caribbean decent, which means I got rhythm even when I don’t want it, and am creative, colorful and sometimes loud. My sister tells me that is called having “A big personality.” lol,
That’s me, does it qualify as a definition of womanhood? Probably not, but writing this, reflecting on it, has lead me to think it may not be as important as my character and my sense of that.
So what is womanhood? Socially and culturally? Who knows? But it’s not something in a little box, it’s not about clothes or hair, or appearance. It’s not sex, it may not even be sexy. It isn’t determined by society.