Caricatured and Erased
I didn’t know Women’s History month existed until 2019. I was isolated in a patriarchal fundamentalist religious community until 2011 and joined an egalitarian Pentecostal ministry until 2017, but the latter community still didn’t recognize or talk about patriarchy being a problem. Women in that ministry still usually assumed traditional roles and while there wasn’t any requirement to, the overall community culture encouraged it. Women almost always stepped down from their careers as pastors to become mothers.
I hadn’t experienced a space where women were intentionally celebrated and the oppression we face specifically addressed until I moved a few hours away to a very progressive city after escaping my abusive marriage. I attended a women’s march for the first time with a handful of my friends and I was flabbergasted. I saw so many different kinds of women, so many different ways of being and living as a woman. I wouldn’t realize or start to address how much gender trauma I really had until later that year, but below is what I wrote as my first attempt at putting to words my experiences as a woman in the world. Many of the ideas I write here are ones I’ve encountered a lot since then, but at the time this was me putting to paper things I had never heard someone else say before.
“This International Woman’s Day, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a woman. Women are expected to be so many things; to fit conflicting ideals. We’re always either too much or too little. We are supposed to be strong but not too abrasive, submissive but not weak, pretty but not vain. We are supposed to be interested in makeup and fashion but if we like those things too much we are shallow. If we have curves we are told we are fat and undesirable, and if we are slender we are told we are fake and not real women. We are praised for being “tough” and doing everything a man can do; and we are warned that men don’t like tomboys. We are supposed to be nurturing and want children, but also we should have a successful career and not let motherhood “hold us back”. We are made fun of for being virgins and shamed for being sluts. We are criticized for taking too many selfies and yet pictures of women are plastered all over the internet and on billboards to sell things. Women are condemned for “selling their bodies” and yet the media is constantly sexualizing and then selling our bodies to make a profit through marketing. Women are caricatured and erased at the same time. Womanhood is distorted over and over again until I am left wondering who is hidden behind all the labels and roles. Who would I be if all these other voices hadn’t pervaded my own? Even though I might not totally know the answer, I know that I must be powerful or I wouldn’t be threatening enough to oppress. I am proud of being a woman, even if I’m still figuring out what that means. I love that I’m a woman even though it’s sometimes been a heavy burden to bear in this patriarchal world. And instead of figuring out who I am supposed to be as a woman, I am defining my womanhood by who I am. Happy Woman’s Day to all my sisters! I’m in solidarity with you as we lead into a better world.”