What Being A Woman Means In 2016

For all those women who are trying to figure this out too.

Photo by Regina Felice Photography

To preface, I’m writing from the position of an Accidental Feminist.

I didn’t grow up inherently knowing the full power and responsibility of being a woman. Or maybe I did, but like many women, I learned to model the behaviors of my mother, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and other female family friends who helped raise me.

The women on both sides of my family, most single working-class mothers, are a strong, resilient bunch. Wholly giving and gracious with every part their selves — often, because they don’t know any other way to be, and sadly, not always because it is healthy (physically, emotionally, spiritually) or pono to do so.

From these women, I inherited many beautiful things — creativity, humility, the capacity and willingness to learn from mistakes, to name a few. But creating boundaries was not among those things.

It took me nearly thirty years to grow into and truly own being a woman. Not as a burden, but as a valuable, necessary blessing. To learn that the world wasn’t a weight I needed to, or could possibly shoulder on my own; that I wasn’t responsible for others’ behavior and I didn’t need to bear their consequences, including those carried by aforementioned women; that I should not for myself, could not for my future children, dull that lucidity, that brilliance to live hiding under someone else’s shadow.

The events of this year, in popular culture and in politics, have stirred all kinds of deep and uncomfortable feelings for me. And from what I see online, on Facebook, and in real, face-to-face, cervix-centric conversations, I’m not alone.

The questioning is real.

From a curious four year-old girl’s honest, insightful inquiries (Why haven’t we had a woman president before? and Can I be president one day?) to the deeply angry, often conflicted questions from women in their twenties, thirties, forties, and beyond (Why are some forms of “objectification” okay? and Is pussy grabbing wrong if it’s talked about behind closed doors?).

Essentially, we’re all asking what does it mean to be a woman? In this age, in this particularly strange, eventful year? How do we transcend “coping with our female condition” to “coming into and owning our power”?

This is how I see it.

We are entering the age of No Apologies. We are at the end of unnecessary sorries. When collectively as women, we assert that the ills of humanity will not be traced back to us; we weren’t the ones to steal apples from a tree. No longer will we apologize for the world. We are our mothers and our children, but We. Are. Not. Our mothers. Or our children. We take responsibility for our actions, but we won’t apologize for the things that aren’t direct consequences from them. We don’t need your pardon for the space our elbows take up on the plane, or the way our voices fill a room with words that bruise your ego and question your position. And we will not apologize for questioning.

We are in the practice of drawing lines. Saying No, loudly. Shouting it from the high rise corporate office, the congressional seat, the kitchen sink, the computer tucked in a corner standing desk in Silicon Valley. No. No. No. We are breaking ceilings while keeping our boundaries, the ones we alone determine, immutable. We are steadfast, firm, and nasty. No means no means no means no. Which means you will not Pass Go, not collect what you think you are entitled to and so deserve. You will not cross us.

We are a unified force. Inclusive of all colors, curves, and careers, political party and Netflix Original show preferences, genitalia desired to grab (under mutually consensual circumstances) or not to grab. Inclusive of all sizes of Gap bootcut pant or mu’umu’u or burka. We are laying down the falsehoods, the superficiality, the underlying fears; the pretenses, the judgements, the petty divisiveness; the competition and cattiness. This cannot be broken.

We are starting some fucking revolutions. This is not the time to play pretty. We are putting on our red lips, plum lips, nude lips, balmed lips, lips in every shade and shape — and we’re starting some real conversations. We will listen well. But this is not the time for polite condolences or shoulder patting. This is not the time to disappear back into the oppression that is tangible and comfortable. We will be heard.

For me, being a woman in 2016 means helping to find out what it means for you. Every single one of you. Peeling away all those layers of generational guilt, shame, anger, fear. Revealing the truth beneath all the sticky stereotypes and limiting belief systems, beneath the wrongdoings committed against girl child after girl child. Your truth. And nothing but the your truth. That is your right and your responsibility.

Charity is the author of Terra Firma, a collection of poetry on the theme of grounding and finding voice. She continues to work on finding her voice as a Hawaii-born woman writer living in the Bay Area.