The BA Haugen Women: Auntie Monica, Olivia, Elisabeth, Grandma Mary, Auntie Natalie, Cousin Katie, Abby, Kristin
I have been a girl since the day I was born. If you have seen pictures of me as a child, this is only a mild surprise (the surprise coming from the fact that my parents dressed me like a boy for the first couple years of my life).
Since the day I was born, however, I have not known what being a girl means. What being a woman means. Of course, I know that whatever I am, I'm a girl, but what does that mean, really?
So. I love watching football. This is a "boy" trait. So am I only 99% girl?
My car is messy. Girls are supposed to be organized, so now I'm down to 98%.
The more traits of my character I go through, the more I lose track of being a girl in terms of societal norms today.
But still, I am a girl.
These societal norms, then, must be flawed in concept at least minorly. Instead of relying on overused, blanket theories that have been passed down through generations of what makes a girl and what makes a boy, I like to define things for myself.
I think a woman is made of intelligence. And strength. And creativity. And kindness. And passion. And understanding. And self-assurance. And resilience.
A woman is not defined by how a man views her, or even by how another woman sees her.
She defines herself.
In any way she wants, a woman can choose to alter the rationale she carries in her back-pocket called life. She can wake up and say, "Today, I want to be kind to everyone I meet." Or she could say, "Today, I am going to kick some ass." Or maybe, "Today, I am going to kick some ass by being kind to everyone I meet."
The only thing that matters is that a woman can be what she wants to – unruly, undefined, unlimited.
Being a woman is hard. Anyone who tells you different is probably lying.
Being a woman means always having to speak a little louder, crane your neck a little farther.
Being a woman means having a set of labels specific to your gender.
Being a woman means you are supposed to be beautiful, and if you aren't, you will spend every day wishing you were.
Being a woman means you will be strong in ways that are not always acknowledged, but that doesn't mean they aren't important.
Being a woman means you are instantly placed in a secondary category with far fewer subscribers and far more critics.
Being a woman means you walk a very fine line between easy and a tease, bitchy and too nice, too loud and silent, trying too hard and stagnation. Being a woman is a battle that leaves scars and memories from a war we didn't have the opportunity to draft-dodge. We just went.
But in the midst of battle, when the sun glints off the metal of our swords, we realize being a girl is beautiful.
We realize being a girl is a gift.
It is a curse, but it is a blessing. I would not trade this blessing for the world.
There is a reason the universe is controlled by Mother Nature. We create beauty, but we can also throw lightning bolts. We grow flowers in damaged nuclear soil in Hiroshima, and we are hurricanes threatening destruction. We are the perfect combination of grace and resilience.
One thing that I struggle with is that some women do fit society's stereotype of a girl, and that that's okay. I want to say, "You are playing right into their hands, putting bullets in their gun and letting them fire." But what I instead need to say is, "This is who you are. You do not have to apologize. Embrace every moment."
The world is hard enough on girls without women being crude to each other. I want to be proud to stand next to my sisters of the universe and know they are proud to be by my side, too.
Being a woman is to love being a woman, and all others who share the same blessed curse.
It's a united front.
This blog post holds such a special place in my heart. There are fewer things I am prouder of than being a girl. I feel such pride in being a woman that I want to spend the rest of my life fighting for women's rights as a lawyer.
I have grown up with the most incredible women role models, and one day, I want a little girl to look at me and think the same thing.
To know that power and woman are synonymous.
To know that she can do the greatest of things.
One day, I want to shake Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren's hands. To tell them they changed my life.
When I walk through heaven's gates, I hope I'm reciting the words to Maya Angelou's poem Phenomenal Woman and I hope she's there to join me in shouting the last stanza:
"Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say, It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
In my women's studies class, I have studied the different waves of feminism. The first and second waves were similar, women fighting for equal rights in terms of gender. The third wave, the most modern, however, is composed of women fighting not only for equality in terms of gender, but also in terms of sexuality and race and socio-economic status and not just for women, but for men, as well.
I think most of all, this is what being a woman is – knowing that you are not quite where you should be, but not letting the people who you stood next to at the starting line quit the race.
We as women still haven't quite found the finish line. Really, we've just found a lot of freaking mountains to climb. But we do. We climb them. We reach the peak, celebrate our victory, and then begin the descent so we can ascend the next rocky hillside.
So lace up your shoes, girls.
We've got a race to win.
This is the most daunting post I have ever written. Probably ever will write. There is so much to say “On Being a Woman.”
I have this philosophy about most things in life: Nothing is just one thing.
So, what does this mean in terms of being a woman?
It means that every woman would answer differently to the question, “What does it mean to you to be a woman?” And even so, they would probably still relate to other answers.
I’m saying this because I can only say what it means to me to be a woman—not what it means universally. Because I believe there is no universal truth to this.
Being a woman is amazing and awful. It is fulfilling and lonely as hell. It is brutal and beautiful (or brutiful as Glennon Doyle says). It is the ultimate juxtaposition.
It is not just one thing.
So let me start off with something I believe is extremely important, and possibly not what everyone would expect this little liberal lady to say:
Being a woman does not mean hating men.
Like, whoa. Really? Are you sure?
Yes. I could fill volumes telling you about the amazing men in my life. Do they understand everything about being a woman?
Hellz to the no.
But do I understand everything about being a man?
Also no. Of course not.
Women struggle with so many issues, many of them at the hands of men. But women are also supported by DROVES of good men.
And to be fair, men have their own gender biases to live down. Their own struggles. They have a societal mold of tough guy, bread winner, provider, leader, never-let-them-see-you-sweat-er, and more to uphold, or justify why they aren’t. They struggle with how it feels if their wife makes more money than they do just like some women struggle if their husbands are better nurturers than they are.
Their fathers were taught not to show emotion, and now they are being told they have to, but only in front of the right people.
Honey, our men are a confused people. Give them grace.
I could say a lot more on this, but it is, after all a post about what it means to be a woman.
Another important acknowledgement is that not all women have the same struggles. But when we refuse to acknowledge another woman’s struggle simply because we have not also experienced it, I think this is where we go wrong. We judge each other.
So freaking hard.
And why??? Are we really so desperate to one-up each other? To have survived something that someone else didn’t? Does that really make us feel superior? Because that’s total bullshit.
The best thing we as women (really as people) can do is NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER judge someone else. You just don’t know what is going on in their lives. No matter how much “you’ve heard” from the grapevine, no matter how “credible” your source, you absolutely do not know their whole situation.
Give THEM grace, too.
I really need to take my own advice on this more often.
Elizabeth Gilbert said, “The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it.”
And it is none of our freaking business how that went down for someone else.
So part of what “being a woman means to me” is that I have always had to protect myself—not just from sexist, douchey men—but from women. And that is incredibly sad.
But not all women are mean. (Just like not all men are evil.) You will also find women who are like you. Women who want to help other women—and not just the ones who are like them. They will want to help the ones who don’t share their privilege.
Those are your people. Your tribe. Glennon Doyle shared this amazing little nugget at a speaking event I was privileged to attend:
Putting a supporting piece of wood next to a joist is called sistering.
You. Guys. Do you know what this means? Women hold the roof up—but only when we help each other.
How many sisters reading this are good at asking for help?
I know! So get over it! It is just as stupid as our men not asking for directions.
(By the way, I’m the worst at asking for help, because if I do I won’t have a reason to complain about said situation. <Palm to the forehead>)
Ok, so back to the question, “What is being a woman about to me?”
Being a woman means…
…while at a party with your husband, another man talking to him turns to you and says in a condescending voice, as if he were talking to a ten-year-old, “We must be boring you.”
And in your head you say, “Heh-hem. Excuse me? Please feel free to assume that I can follow your conversation about rocks, you arrogant prick.”
But out loud you smile sweetly and say, “You’re just fine.”
Being a woman means…
…scrolling through Pinterest looking for Paleo recipes and graduation decorating ideas, but being bombarded with pins about “why women over 40 shouldn’t wear leggings…or powder-based makeup…or sparkly eye shadow…”
Who decides this for me?
Being a woman means…
…everyone has an opinion about everything I do, but failed to notice one important detail:
I didn’t ask for it.
Being a woman means….
...catching sight of your reflection in your computer screen when your chin is down and your brow is furrowed, and wondering when you started to look like Shrek after 8 p.m.
Being a woman means…
…gravity is not your friend, but life goes on and you need to just let it go, or you will literally teach your daughter to hate herself.
And although being a woman means…
…having your body ripped apart to get A FREAKING HUMAN OUT…
It also means…
…knowing because you can do THAT, you can do ANYTHING. And also, now you have a baby. A real live one. Which, by the way, is also not just one thing, but it is mostly incredible.
And men can’t grow people.
But there’s more…
Being a woman is not about being seen as less than or feminine, as weak or strong, as vocal or submissive…
…It’s about being seen at all. Heard. At all.
It’s not about being powerful or willful, spiteful or prideful, hopeful or doubtful…
…It’s about being full. Filling up when you inevitably become depleted.
And speaking of being depleted… We want our kids to love themselves, but we don’t teach them how when we think it is selfish to love ourselves. To take time to care for ourselves. There is no honor in being a mom who puts herself last and loses her self.
Why do we compliment women for being selfless? Why is it a badge of courage to lose yourself?
Here’s a hint: It’s not.
“What it’s about” is different for every woman. But it’s safe to assume that every woman wants to be meaningful. Some women find meaning in starting companies. Other in raising children. Still others in raising husbands. Some in climbing mountains. Others in climbing jungle gyms.
And the good news is it doesn’t matter how you, as a woman, find and create meaning.
That is solely your decision. And you could cure cancer and someone would tell you that you are doing it wrong anyway, so you may as well do what you truly want to do.
There are two enormous topics that I won’t do justice to—I think they constitute a post of their own: body image and rape culture.
But I will say this: Culture sends so many shaming, objectifying messages about our bodies. Glennon Doyle also said, “A woman’s body is not always a safe place to live.”
Don’t be the reason that is true for someone else.
Ok. So. Target.
If we are going to have a post about what it means to be a woman, obviously we are going to need to talk about Target. Yes, the retail giant.
The dollar section right inside the door at Target is…well let’s just face it…the dollar section at Target has even WOMEN by the balls. I’m sorry to be graphic but you need to know the truth.
Last week I innocently passed by the dollar section at Target. I tried to avert my eyes, but everything was so bright and shiny. And while I was there I was convinced—I knew for a fact—that these flamazing items had been designed and handcrafted by MIT engineers (not 7-year-olds in third world countries). And since it is a dollar section, Target tricked my brain into believing that no matter how many items I put into my cart, the total would still be $1. It must be that new math or a breakdown in the space-time continuum because I truly believed—in that moment—that 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 equals ….wait for it….ONE!
I know. In retrospect, it’s not what you expect your PhD peddling mother to say.
But I digress…
I’ll wrap up by reflecting on something we hear a lot these days: “The future is female!”
I agree with Glennon Doyle on her response to this: the future is not “female.” The future is in the characteristics that have been stifled because they are seen as feminine: empathy, tenderness, loving, kindness, inclusiveness. But we need males and females alike to carry these out.
And in the words of Sheryl Sandberg, “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”