It’s been on my mind lately, the worth of a woman. The worth we accord ourselves, the worth we assign others, the worth assumed, the worth so dearly sought. It has come up in conversations at playdates, in cars and late at night. So often the words are different but the look in each woman’s eyes, the catch in their voices sound so much the same.
“I am tired of women asking me what I do outside of motherhood. Isn’t what I am enough?”
“Nobody listens to me. For awhile I thought I had something to say. Now I am not so sure.”
“Groups of women are so much more terrifying than groups of men. When I was young, I never felt more judged than when I was the new woman at church. They probably weren’t judging me. I am old enough to realize that now. But they also weren’t acknowledging me. And that might be worse.”
“Sometimes I am embarrassed that I find so much fulfillment in making beds and dinner. Am I made of different stuff than all these women I am supposed to be like?”
“I just want to feel like I have value.”
The last two times I had this conversation it was with the types of women I think light the sky. Lovely hearts, creative souls, giving natures and (although it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things) just plain beautiful. And both of them, these women I would model myself after if I could, felt like they fell so short of fulfilled womanhood they couldn’t even see where it truly began.
How was this happening? Who should I blame? What segment of society had to have their feet held to the fire so that women - my friends, my daughters, MYSELF - could finally feel like they have intrinsic value? I slept on that question, ate it with dinner, walked around my neighborhood and across my halls holding it out in front of me. When I finally felt the answer, I turned from it and wanted to throw it away. But it remained. And knocked at me until I said it aloud and gave it a home.
We’ve done this to ourselves.
Sure there are thousands of years of patriarchal oppression we can blame, households upon household of women told the grand lie – that femaleness makes you other and less and wanting. You can hardly blame women for eating the food they were fed, for accepting the lie and swallowing it with pride orpain. How could they hunger for honey when they only knew vinegar?
You and I are not our great grandmothers, our grandmothers or even our mothers. We live in a time when we are told we should know better than the “yes, sir” woman in high heels that came before us. You are a woman!, they shout. You can be anything you want! You can climb mountains and paint sunsets! You can mother and crash through glass ceilings! You can give your body again and again and again and save love as a sweet to follow the savory! You can aspire and perspire! You can change without consenting to be changed! You were born a woman, they cry, and now you live in a time when you can be so much more!
Rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice.
The shouts of enlightenment are well intentioned but in so many ways they are the echoes of the lies of our past. Yes, there is some truth there. Indeed, women can do anything. They can (and do) achieve and innovate and capture the light of the sun. Hell, yes. But those achievements, those innovations, those rays of light are not only found in the marketplace. They are found on our front porches and around the kitchen table and in the quiet moments of our lives. And then, shot through the truth we have shouted at us, we find the subtle shades of the false words spoken in the past. “You are a woman, but do not fret, you live in a time when you can decide to be more.” As if our womanhood was something to be built upon rather than embodied. And so we seek this more-ness and to our everlasting shame we demand it of our fellow sisters. What does she do? What are her causes? How does she contribute? Yes, you are woman, but what else are you? And so we busy ourselves with busyness and we take pictures of pretty moments to give the hour worth and we gather at self-important parties that ring with noise and flash with bulbs but lack the substance of conversation or a depth of true enjoyment.
We exclude each other when we should invite. We broadcast when we should listen. We assume when we should seek. We set ourselves up as an image meant to inspire aspiration, rather than a sister seeking relation. We act apart. We act alone. We act above.
We act. We act. We act.
What if we all took a breath and felt that our worth is intrinsic and not made more or less by our works? What if the value of a woman is determined simply by her being, by the act of her very creation? What if everything else is important, but not fundamental? What if we finally, eagerly, happily decided that we are essential? What if once we acknowledged this in ourselves, we acknowledged it in everyone else?
Sisters, you are essential, your birthright is set, your value was sewn about your insides while your heart grew within you. The drudgery of your days, the grand scope of your career, the words you carve into stone while in mortality cannot diminish or make brighter what cannot change. You are already gold and silver and the shine of the stars.
Please, take a moment today and find that out for yourself. Disappear into the place where the day meets the night and feel your strength, your power, your absolute pricelessness. And then go out and make the world bend to the woman you know yourself to be. There is joy to be found in passion and work and achievement. Of course, there is. If you want to write, write. If you want to mother, mother. If you want to create, create. But as you seek these things to hang like ornaments about your head, know that they do not define you, they reflect you.
You are enough without them. You are wanted without them. You are whole without them. And in the the end, we are all gathered in.
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