I was at a dinner party last night with a bunch of women with whom I attended high school. We are all on the cusp of turning 60 and we grew up as teenagers during the women's “liberation” movement in the late 60’s and 70’s. We meet regularly to chat and laugh and by and large, we do stay light about the topics. Some of us grew up with parents that supported the idea that women were equal to men and that women should be paid the same and some of us had parents that were the traditional families where the man worked and the woman didn’t. Each one of the women at this table have had forays into working and the working world. One is the owner of a very successful roofing business. One had to support her husband through bankruptcies and lawsuits when his business unraveled due to poor business practices. One is the wife of a man whose business is very successful and another is on her third marriage to a very wealthy man who inherited his money. All of them clever, beautiful smart women and dear in their own way to me from our past.
The conversation began when one woman spoke of seeing a Muslim woman at the beach with her daughters and husband and son. The woman had the traditional hijab on as did her daughters. The man and his son were frolicking in the waves shirtless in their swimming trunks. My friend talked about how enraged she was over this. These are southern women born and bred in white mostly Christian households.
The topic then shifted and two women began saying that women have pushed “too far to the extreme” with men. I came to understand that they were saying that women’s expectations were harming men. I began to vibrate in my chair. I love being a woman and after many years of doing work on my issues- I have begun to inhabit myself in a different way. I can say, thanks to working as a nurse in treatment and the psychiatric ward and even the women that I meet in my yoga journeys, that I have learned to embrace the woman that I have become. I was mentored as an adult by women that valued femininity not for its attractions but its essence. The competitive side was burnished with a softer cloth and a sense of humor that was inclusive rather than exclusive. The capacious effect allowed me to see that being a woman is so much more than attracting a male and having children but includes those skills alongside owning the power to nurture and communicate and create in different ways other than the traditional ones.
Had I been willing to participate in this discussion more fully, I might have asked if the woman looked happy watching her son and husband frolic in the water.
I did not ask any questions of this conversation last night because I know that I have different views than most at the table and the discussion would be full of alcohol tinged perspectives. I have learned to pace myself about discussing gender and women in general and I always try to consider the audience and my frame of mind.
Like the Muslim woman in the hijab, I can choose to keep some things to myself.
And perhaps I can celebrate the growing awareness of those southern white Christian women that things are unfair to women in lots of places.