“Self- development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.”- Elizabeth Cady Stanton
I have struggled to KNOW myself for as long as I can remember. Since the time I was a young woman I have had countless conversations with friends, colleagues and strangers alike, and when we’re brave enough to be real it seems that I’m not alone. How can this be? Where did it start? And when? More importantly, why? I don’t think this phenomenon is easy to dissect, because I think it’s due to a myriad of reasons.
If I think back to my childhood I can definitely pinpoint many instances where I was indoctrinated to believe that women should behave a certain way, dress a certain way and move through life in a predictable manner. My upbringing was not unlike many other girls. I was taught as a young girl that you grow up, find a man (preferably a rich one), get married, have kids and stay home to raise them. My mother was the youngest of seven children. Her own mother died when she was just a teenager. Though my mother did go to technical school for nursing, she was not a college graduate. Your upbringing may not be exactly the same as mine, but we need not go back too far in history to reveal the societal conditioning that influences our lives.
Today, more women are interrogating these ideals that have been pressed upon them for decades. Many of the barriers that women and people of color have had to overcome are being challenged with more and more ferocity. We are at a crucial moment in history that is demanding change in many systems. We have seen this on a national level over the past year with social, political and scientific issues. We are finally starting to listen and learn that “history” is in fact highly subjective. Author and teacher of women’s studies for over 50 years, Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner said “History isn’t what happened. It’s who tells the story.” This is our collective growth edge.
So, how do we evolve and grow as women? Speaking personally, it hasn’t come easy. And I’m sure I’m one of the lucky ones. As a white middle-class woman I have been afforded many things that other women have not. Even so, I have found it difficult to find my place in the world. I did marry, twice. I eloped at the age of 17, and at the age of 23 had my first child. My son quickly became the light of my world and I enjoyed motherhood. So much so that I did not want to go back to work. Unfortunately, my husband at the time insisted that regardless of what I wanted, I must return to work. We fought. I cried. Ultimately, as my husband, he prevailed. “Obey”, they say, and obey I did.
How will today’s young woman be shaped by current events? What is expected of today’s woman? Who is today’s woman? Who are YOU? A seemingly simple question, yet complicated to answer. Many women have been so conditioned to be the caretakers of everyone, but themselves that they truly don’t know what they need, what they feel or who they are.