What it Means to Be a Woman
When I reflect upon the conversations my mother and I have had about motherhood, there is always a recurring theme. The discussions always turn to women being good mothers while having a career.
“You’ve worked so hard to get where you are,” she usually begins, “how are you going to work full time and raise a child?”
My response is always the same although it varies in tone.
“Why do I have to choose between the two?” I ask every time.
In remembering my early impressions of what a woman should be, the idea was molded by several perceptions and beliefs. To me, a woman was either a “good girl” or a “bad girl.” When I was in high school and I didn’t have a date on the weekends it was because I was a good girl and guys my age weren’t interested in that right now. They wanted the bad girls. Of course, this was how my mom explained it to me.
“You are the kind of girl you marry, not just use for a good time.”
Or my favorite: “It’s the boy’s job to ask and the girl’s job to say no.”
I loved hearing this valuable piece of information because as my mom would begin to share the priceless advice, she would preface it by saying, “this is something your grandpa always told me.” So, it was not gender specific. If my grandpa had heard it, then both boys and girls were being given this valuable information that they would internalize and let it shape their behavior as well as their interaction with the opposite sex. I must say this advice was stuck in the back of my mind longer than I care to admit.
Once I was in college, and out on my own, I started witnessing firsthand what a woman, particularly in her twenties, should be like. I became a regular at the same few bars with my girlfriends and although I was never the girl that got drunk and left with whoever was still staggering around the bar at the end of the night, I still liked flirting and being the center of attention for a few hours.
One late night at the bar that my roommate and I frequented, the bartender announced loudly that it was last call. As the remaining drunk men and women stumbled around looking for the after party, the owner of the bar, who was a little older than the rest of us college students, approached me. A well-known womanizer, he walked over to me and initiated what would be our first and only conversation. I was aware that he was probably as drunk as everyone else, but was still taken aback by his comment.
“I would ask you to come home with me,” he began, “but you’re not that kind of girl.”
I looked at him in wonder. If he knew this about me, then why were we having this conversation? And how did he know this about me? In the back of my mind I could hear my mom saying, “It’s the guy’s job to ask and the girl’s job to say no.” However in this case I didn’t get a chance to say no. It was already determined that I was not the type of girl that one would seek out for pleasure or fun. As I replayed this short but insightful conversation in my head, and shared it with a few girlfriends, I started to wonder how others saw me. Would the answer to this question shape my place in this world as a woman?
Like most young women in their twenties, I spent most of my time trying to find out who I was. This evolution could be witnessed in my choices in men. The guys I dated were so different in their personalities, tastes, and who they were as people, but I remained the same. Or did I? I was distant, insecure, and sexually reserved with each one of them, but my interests and hobbies adjusted to fit each guy. Although I took away something in each one of them that I hoped to find in one person someday, I felt alone in each relationship.
One characteristic that all of these men had in common was that they kept me at arm’s length. This would bring out the neediness in me and inevitably lead me to question why I wasn’t good enough. I realize that I was letting a man shape who I thought I should be because I was unsure myself. This pattern would follow me throughout my twenties and come full circle during my first marriage where I literally lived in my husband’s shadow, lacking any desires and goals that were my own.
When I look back on this short-lived marriage, I don’t even know who this girl was. The me that I would come to know today was beginning to emerge near the end of the relationship. I went back to school to become a teacher where I would discover the drive and ambition within me that I know today. I had to be at a certain place in my life and my womanhood in order for this understanding of myself to occur and once it did I never looked back.
It is enough to say that throughout my twenties I was lost and confused and on a constant journey to find who I was. I was never me with the men in my life. In fact, I was who I thought I should be in that moment. Another musician. Okay. I will listen to all the music he suggests, including his own, and pretend that I know exactly what each song is trying to say. The new guy that I met doesn’t have a job yet. That is okay. I will show him that I can be a supportive girlfriend by spending all of my free time at his cubbyhole apartment watching TV. After all, he was just going through a phase. I married a man who does not want me to be his equal. I have to accept that because after all he is my husband.
Maybe it is both age and experience that puts things in perspective or maybe it takes a moment where a mirror is held up to one’s face and they either see who they want to be or they don’t. I look back now and feel as if I don’t even know that 23, 26, or even 29-year-old girl and yet I do. She is still in me. That excitement over something new and different. That wanting to find someone who loves me for me. All of that is still in me.
Now here I am, thirty-three and fearless. I am no longer afraid of being alone, missing out on something or not being good enough. These things are no longer important because I now know that it is okay to be alone. Being alone and being lonely are two different things. If I am missing out on something, it probably means that I wasn’t meant to be there and more importantly, I am good enough. In fact, I am more than good enough because here I am sure of myself and my strength.
Could someone have convinced me that I would get to this point, when I was lying on my floor trying to run through every scenario in my head on why he didn’t call? No. Perhaps if I did not experience those types of disappointments and realizations, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Confident, happy and over it. So over it.