I was reading something the other day; don’t ask me what, please. My mind has been shattered by a plethora of recent events and thus my memory is entirely gone. Anyway, I was reading something written by a man, it was quite profound and moved me. The gist of it was the trajectory of this man’s life, from childhood through misspent youth, through early adulthood in and out of the justice system, to redemption. I wish I had saved this article, I wish I had bookmarked and could find it again. The one thing that stood out for me though was his final thought, when asked what he wanted to achieve:
“I want to be a man”.
This stood out to me, men can say this and everyone nods their heads and understands exactly what it means. Maybe there are small differences based on culture, nationality but everyone understands and applauds. We all get the gist of this statement, we all know what it means and nod our head in agreement, this is a worthwhile goal.
“I want to be a man”.
I want to be a provider, I want to be a protector, I want to care for those who depend on me, I want to stand tall in my community, I want to be a father and husband. Certainly, I have missed things in this, I am sure there are those who are of the other gender (men) who could add to the list. The point is most of us understand the statement, ‘I want to be a man’.
Do you wonder where I am going with this? The point is women do not have a similar all-encompassing gender specific ‘thing’ that defines us. Women cannot say, ‘I want to be a woman’, with equal authority and have this statement be universally understood and applauded. Truthfully, were we to make this statement most would stare at us as if we had just lost our minds, or they would check under our clothing to determine what chromosome set we were born with.
Since I read that story I have found myself with women I know well, women of different backgrounds, generations, political persuasions and faiths and I have asked the question, ‘what is the one word to define us as women, that equals the statement I want to be a man’.
Sometimes this question has been met with stares before a list of different roles women might play in their lives, roles that do not encompass our entirety, our completeness. Other times the question engendered a lively debate with some of my more feminist friends landing on the side that women are multi-dimensional and thus cannot be put in a box.
I called bullshit on that one.
Listening to all the debates, I was struck by how we view ourselves as women and how we are viewed. There truly isn’t a single definitive word in the English language that defines us, that allows us to define ourselves. We are so many things, often we are the things that being a man means, we are protectors and providers, left on our own to fill voids. We are also other things, in the process we fight to retain our individual identity, as well as, who we are as women.
So I ask what do you want to be. Who do you want to be? What is the one word that you want to define you?
While you consider your answer, this is what I want to define me. Listen to Ruthie Foster as she puts Maya Angelou’s poem to music.