Womanhood, often depicted, rarely captured. Painting by Edward Burne-Jones 1872.
My little girls are growing older. Zuzu has begun to leave the house without looking backward and Viola says things that very nearly make sense. We were out walking and storytelling the other day when it occurred to me, I am not raising little girls, I am raising women. The thought, simple as it may seem, changed the moment and the day and the thoughts of what lay ahead. I am not suffering from some advanced case of Peter Pan Syndrome. I knew that my daughters would turn into women someday.
No, the realization had little to do with what passing years will give them in terms of physical maturity and age. Rather, I realized that the seeds of Womanhood – that hotly contested, often debased, always glorious state of being - have existed within them since before they were born.
We walked home and the girls sang and I felt just a little afraid.
Those seeds. Everything my daughters need to be women are already within them. Their passions, their hopes, their innate knowledge, the things that make them Viola and Zuzu, it is all there. With the right care, enough sun and time they will flower and bloom just as they are meant to do. I am not afraid of them growing wild and unruly. Wild flowers have always been my favorite kind anyways.
So what am I afraid of? What makes me stay awake at night, staring into the dark?
So many things.
I am afraid that they will believe the people that speak the loudest rather than those that speak with the most thought. I am afraid that they will think their gender means they have to fight someone’s holy war. That they owe sacrifices to someone else’s ideal of womanhood. I am afraid that they will think being a woman is no different than being a man or that it is better or worse. I am afraid to push too much of what I believe womanhood to be upon them. I am even more afraid that I will not push enough. I am afraid that they will be ashamed and fettered. I am afraid that they will think freedom means carelessness. I am afraid of a world that tells them so many of the things that protect them and direct them are natural flaws waiting to rubbed out. I am afraid that they will forget how to blush. I am afraid that their voices will be too quiet. I am afraid they will not say “yes”, just as thoroughly as I am afraid they will not say “no”. I am afraid of the bitterness that can cloud truth and the naivety that can dull wisdom. I am afraid they will not taste enough. I am afraid they will not be satisfied.
I am so heartachingly afraid that somewhere between the bathing suit insecurity and life path uncertainty, they will miss the beauty, pain, power and magnitude of being a woman. There are depths to which only the brave can descend and sharp pin points of light that only the most earnest can see. I want those things for them even more than I want them for myself.
So. A project.
I can’t define womanhood for my daughters. But I can show them the things I have discovered and discuss those that I still seek. Over the next year I will write a series of essays under the title of, A Call to Womanhood. Ruminations on the simple and complex. Thoughts about modesty, sex, gender roles, learning to drive in high heels and making our voices heard.
I hope you join the discussion. I hope this becomes a place of further enlightenment. You all have so much to teach me.
As for my girls? At the ripe old ages of 4 and 22 mo they are a bit young to be interested in my thoughts on women’s rights or the female divine. I suppose I just hope they read along as they get older. I hope they pick up the bits that shine for them and leave the rest. I hope they know I am proud of them. I hope they know I tried my best. I hope they find any truth that I missed or tossed aside and bring it back to me.
I hope they are happy.
The first essay in A Call to Womanhood will appear next Tuesday.