On Womanhood and the International Day for Women
As I look back on the decades I’ve lived, I realize I’ve spent so much of that time hiding, making myself more acceptable, curling inward so I don’t stand out.
As a child I spent a lot of time escaping slaps and punches. As a tween, I hunched for a few years to hide the fact that I might have breasts. Teenage I spent concealing my inner fire, my love for the arts, struggling instead with math and science–a decision I had no hand in.
I spent my youth not being too loud, or angry, or assertive. I tucked away my anguish at being discriminated against behind a smile. Of course, as a woman, I needed to smile. To get a job done, I had to coax and persuade, while my male counterparts could just lay it down in bare terms: get this done by this deadline.
‘Just do it’ is not an instruction women can give at work. Or anywhere for that matter, come to think of it. You must be nourishing, courteous, affable at all times, even when someone is clearing abusing you, and their position.
Whether single or in a relationship, you must shape yourself in the containers you’re poured in, bloom where you’re planted. If you don’t, well, you’re a bitch, aren’t you. Too aggressive, mouthy, crazy, hormonal. While I’ve had an extremely supportive marriage, I’ve had to keep quiet about my deliberate decision to remain child-free. Relatives, friends, strangers have tried to tell me I might be making the wrong decision about my life and my body. A man’s business is his own, but a woman’s business is everyone’s business–random strangers feel inspired to give a woman advice she doesn’t need and hasn’t asked for.
In publishing, I’ve been unfailingly courteous to those who’ve been kind to me, and even to those who have been unkind. I’ve taken misogyny and racism on my chin. When someone asks me why I write, I tell them it is because I feel compelled to.
While that is true, it often goes beyond compulsion. On some days I want to write a story because it lets me unfurl–stretch myself to my true size. You can’t write a first draft with diffidence and compromise, you do it from a place of confidence in the face of uncertainty, and power in your own being.
I’ve written before about womanhood on International Women’s Day, but not about my own womanhood. How, in order to exist in today’s world I’ve often had to reduce myself in conscious ways in order to survive, and subconscious ways due to the society and family I’ve grown up in.
In the world of writing, when it is just me and the page, I’m unapologetic in both my power and my vulnerability, with all my angles and my un-shiny bits, in my absolute personhood that doesn’t need permission.
I can’t wait for the day when my everyday life is like the days spent writing first drafts, of boundless space, unfettered freedom, and untrammeled imagination. Can’t wait for a time this is the case for all women, in all countries, in all strata of society. A time when women can be safe, free, and have equal rights to exist and earn, without apology or explanation.
Can’t wait for that time when we won’t need a women’s day or a women’s month to spread awareness, because every day of the year will be a women’s day.
Do you celebrate women’s day or the women’s month? What do you like to do in order to celebrate? Irrespective of whether you’re a woman, where do you feel at your most powerful and free?
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Thank you for sharing!!.. as with every generation there will be those closed minded elements of today’s world societies who will deny change but believe change is coming as technology is enabling more and more people to communicate and understand and thereby respect what another wishes and work together for a better world for everyone… 🙂
Hope your path is paved with peace and happiness and until we meet again..
May the love that you give
Always return to you,
That family and friends are many
And always remain true,
May your mind only know peace
No suffering or strife,
May your heart only know love and happiness
On your journey through life.
(Larry “Dutch” Woller)
Women’s day sometimes feels like a joke to me. Do people know what it means to respect a woman, to accept her, her choices, and her decisions and to let her live her life the way she wants? The day the world learns to do it right, we won’t need a “Women’s Day”.
Thanks so much for sharing this part of yourself, Damyanti. I think putting these thoughts and feelings into words gives them shape and edges and by doing so, we can step outside them and see them for what they are. I too wish a “Women’s Day” wasn’t necessary, and I worry about the plight of women who continue to be undervalued, oppressed, and mistreated. I was extremely fortunate that my parents empowered me to excel in whatever I chose to do, but I also bent to the cultural pressures to be “less” than men. Fifty years later, the messaging is just as insidious as it was when I was a teen. I’m afraid we’re going to need a Woman’s Day for awhile.
Well analyzed and written post
I feel most powerful and free when I’m writing fiction or poetry. I much prefer those worlds to the one we’re currently stuck in.
When I am surrounded with books, reading gives me the required boost to perform everyday activities. I admire solidarity and less social interaction a lot. It gives me the needed freedom away from the hustle and bustle of life.
Damyanti, it’s sad to read that your freedom to be you was blocked in your growing up. More kids experienced that and never got over it. You did— Being a strong woman today. Brava! 📚🎶 Christine
Thank you, Damyanti. Our stories are similar in many ways, and I needed to hear this today. Patriarchal societies have done irreparable and, in some cases, life-threatening harm to women in all the many ways we are conditioned to see ourselves as secondary/helper/meeker/pleaser creations. We’ve made some progress in the last century or so, but women are still not as free financially, socially, or culturally as men as a whole in most cultures. And you are especially vulnerable if you refuse to accept that and have to step forward unsupported by family and friends who hold a more traditional view of gender expectations. Cultural change is notoriously slow and painful where such matters are concerned, so we can’t wait for society to make these changes for us. We have to keep speaking up, to “be the change” now, as much as is within our own spheres to change.
Glad you were able to grow and find your true self and place.
It makes me sad to know that you felt so hampered in your younger years, Damyanti! Women have more freedom in North America, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s wonderful that your writing allows you to “stretch to your true size,” which is formidable. Success is the best revenge, yes? 🙂
As a corporate employee (1970s to 1990s), I had to work twice as hard as the men, to get half as far and for less money. Respect was something you had to demand for yourself, otherwise, there was none. Remaining child-free was also a conscious choice I made and suffered the same unsolicited advice and unwelcome comments. IMO, International Women’s Day and other designated days of that ilk only set people apart, so how can they ever achieve equality?
My heart hurts that you have not known the freedom I have had. True, there’ve been times I’ve felt frustrated with the double standard, even in America; however, the freedom I’ve found in Christ far outshines anything else. Knowing I am respected, honored and validated as a person in God’s sight means I never have to seek validation in another’s sight. Thank you for your brave words and for being vulnerable that all women can be encouraged.
I have to say, I feel most free when I am taken as a respected person, without notice of my gender, politics, religion, or anything else. But that’s rare!
I feel most free when I am writing and spending time with other writers and poets who I personally know. And when I am working with and helping out animals that need help.
That sounds very similar to me, Sunita. Thank you for stopping by, and for the comment.