To the Women Who Helped Me Woman
2017 was a challenging year for many of us, myself included. During low points it could be best described as hot garbage. During higher points I merely wondered if and when I would descend back into the hot garbage. The hidden perk amidst all the hot garbage was that I learned more clearly what it means to be a woman.
I learned that “woman”, while primarily a noun, is also a verb. To woman is to navigate what can feel like a minefield with a certain grace — to understand and manage yourself; to build strong relationships while knowing when to prioritize yourself; to trust vigorously and accept the difficult emotions that can follow; and to accept challenges as opportunities for growth. Perhaps the most important aspect of womaning and the piece I struggled with most is to place faith in your own resilience. There’s a lot that goes into womaning. Womaning is hard. I learned that this year as I watched myself struggle.
Luckily there are a few women who helped light the way, though they don’t even know I exist. Most of them have made me laugh and all of them have made me cry (in a good way, they are not bullies). These women embody the strength of womanhood, but also expose the vulnerability that contributes to that strength. At times they were my source of sympathy, other times they were my source of inspiration, and still other times they gave me the good kick in the ass that I occasionally need (ok, frequently need). I learned from these women, warmed to them, and welcomed them into my imaginary squad.
In March, Chrissy Teigen taught me to be honest and name my demons.
Teigen opened up about her experiences with postpartum depression in an essay that captured a different side of her. She talked about the discord she felt over the past year — how she had everything she needed to be happy, but the feeling of happiness itself kept eluding her. I learned that the ability to rationalize happiness doesn’t make you happy. The ability to be grateful for significant parts of your life doesn’t mean that your demons shrink.
While our experiences differ, I read her story and felt the desperation and listlessness that comes with depression. This story from a stranger somehow made me feel heard. She was honest about her emotions and gave them a name, which helped me begin to identify my own difficult emotions. I accepted that they were a part of me and that I would continue to move forward. I read this piece and remembered that women are three-dimensional, and that I could give time and weight to this dark thing that might not naturally align itself with what I (and other people) have come to expect of my personality.
She also expertly addresses the phenomenon of opening up to people in a really vulnerable way and then having them follow up every interaction with a “how ARRRRE you?” I’m fine! Some days I feel like a complete and utter slug but most days, I feel like a human. This is just part of being a human and not a slug.
In April, Joan Didion reminded me of my long-lasting desire to write and write well.
In “The Year of Magical Thinking”, Didion recounts the sudden death of her husband and the simultaneously declining health of her daughter. She took me into a world of structured yet decidedly emotional prose, and showed me that words can trap and liberate you all at once.
At one point she writes, “was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?” This question struck a chord — it often took a jarring dream or a few sentences that popped into my head while walking home from work that would reveal to me my most honest truths. I paid closer attention to the emotions evoked in my dreams, and looked for their extensions in what I wrote in my scattered Notes app.
Later, I found Didion’s piece, “On Self Respect,” at a time when I considered whether I really respected myself after all (spoiler alert: the answer is yes. Just with normal, human descents into random turmoil every once in a while). Didion forces you to think while telling her story in a pragmatic and creative way. She made me understand what Good Writing is, giving me something to aspire to.
In November, Tracee Ellis Ross put the reins back in my hands.
I’d been a casual fan of Ross by seeing her in Blackish, which is my weekend sitcom of choice. In one episode her character is diagnosed with postpartum depression, which causes her otherwise outgoing and independent nature to fade into an alarming dullness. This episode caught me off guard on a lazy Sunday afternoon and made me cry. Then I re-watched it and cried again because I am only human and sometimes we pick at our scabs even though we know we shouldn’t.
Then, during Glamour’s “Woman of the Year” ceremony, Ross spoke about her “untraditional” life. She talked about leading her life the way she wanted and emphasizing that “my life is mine”. I remembered a quote that I read about how women have internalized that we can do everything — and that is a good thing, until we interpret it to mean that we should do everything.
“Should” is a demon. Ross decided to do things on her own terms, tossing the “should”s out the window and rejecting the expectations that women are subject to. She also presented this speech with only one large gold hoop earring in her ears, having taken off the other since it interfered with her headset. That was objectively very badass and further underlined the whole “my life is mine” message. Social norms shall not interfere with the “lewk”.
In December, Roxane Gay reaffirmed my beliefs and reminded me it’s ok to be bad.
I read “Bad Feminist” on a long bus ride through Bali and rejoiced in its humor and approachability. Gay reminded me that aiming for perfection is simultaneously messy and boring. She also helped me shatter some more of the “should”s in my life.
For instance, like Gay, I consider myself a feminist. And as a feminist, I understand how misogynistic reality television is. But also like Gay, I still occasionally succumb to its lure. And when I say occasionally I mean I’ve watched every season of The Bachelor since 2012. Including the beach party disaster that is the Bachelor in Paradise spinoff (Dean, you are still the biggest disappointment of this entire franchise).
“Bad Feminist” was Gay’s second home run for me this year — I bought “Difficult Women” in May when I was exploring Powell’s Books. I began reading it in the middle of an aisle and decided to purchase the book by page 3, when it started to make me Feel Things. In that moment I also realized that I was in the midst of a self-silencing period where I had not lent my voice to my own story, instead searching for others to describe my experiences for me. I wondered how Gay would write about my character.
It’s a courageous thing to share some of your most vulnerable experiences. I hold these women in high regard for that reason. Now, instead of wondering how Gay or Didion would write about me or how I could relate my experiences to Teigen or Ross, I think I’m ready to strike out on my own. So this piece, while primarily being a shoutout to my squad, is also me making a commitment to something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I hope to write, and write well. And if not to write well, I hope to at least improve, and continue to find joy in the act of writing.
As December concludes and I look ahead to an arbitrary midnight that has somehow been granted a lot of cultural significance, I consider the sum of what these women have taught me. They are each excellent examples of womaning in different ways. By reading about their experiences, I learned that to woman is to be fearless but vulnerable, confident but humble, light-heartedly candid but able to discern when to give certain moments the gravity that they require. It is an imperfect act and a celebration of the best and worst parts of living. In a year where I questioned (many times) whether we were living in reality or in a simulation built by our extremely advanced cyborg relatives, the words these women wrote reaffirmed my belief in the beauty of the human experience.
Honorable mention goes to Wonder Woman, because to date I’ve seen the movie 4 times. Once in IMAX 3D. Did you know if you watch a movie in IMAX 3D, your tears are also in 3D? That’s another thing I learned this year.
Anyway, I still sob when Diana yells “Steeeeeeeeeeeeeve” every time I see this movie. It makes me really want to have a friend named Steve so I can prank call him in the middle of his important business meetings and emotionally yell “Steeeeeeeeeeeeeve” into the phone.
Other than that, Gal Gadot’s IMPRESSIVE PHYSICAL PROWESS inspired me during my high-intensity-interval-training classes at ~Equinox~ during which I pretend that I, too, am the mysterious, beautiful hero of WW2 and that I, too, am smashing the patriarchy while doing box jumps, instead of really just doing box jumps for the booty.
This movie was great on many levels for me. It’s the equivalent of a non-sexual slap on the ass that sports-people give to one another before an important play (?) that I think suggests “you got this buddy, let’s fucking do this”. See? I understand sports.