Over the past few days, some very talented and thoughtful bloggers have posted their thoughts about defining womanhood. I've been giving their posts, and the topic, a lot of thought. You should go read them first.
But I wanted to respond, too, and here's what I've come up with so far.
Today we went to the annual winter festival in a town not far from ours. They have a host of fun events like ice carving and concerts and puppet shows, and the highlight (for us, anyway) is a parade that crosses the bridge between two states. It's a pretty spectacular parade for the middle of the winter: there are girl scouts, of course, and people in classic cars, but there are also lots of bands, and performing arts groups, a guy on stilts, mummers, even a guy playing George Washington (because the river they're crossing is the Delaware). And almost every group that passes has something to give away, whether it's candy (thrown at you from the floats), or caribeeners, or bubble pens, or magnetic clips, or flags.
While we were waiting for the parade, we happened to run into a family from I's school whom we see everywhere, it seems (they live around the corner from us and my husband plays poker with the father of the family, so it's not entirely strange that they circle through our lives so often), and even though they aren't in the same class or grade, I. sat and watched the parade with his schoolmate, giggling and waving his flag and pretty much ignoring us until the end, unless it was to hand over loot for us to hold. N. watched the parade with some interest, too, "woooowww"ing at appropriate moments, and pretty much ignoring me.
It occurred to me, as I was watching my children watching the parade, that these little beings who depended on me for everything will need me less and less as time goes on, at least for the day-to-day things. I won't need to entertain them any more, because they will want to entertain themselves with their peers. I won't need to feed them snacks any more, because they will go rummaging through my cabinets. Maybe they'll eventually do their own laundry and clean their rooms. And then they'll go off to college, or out into the world, orbiting me with a larger and larger radius.
And yet, I will have spent the better part of my life defining myself in relation to them. Which is not a bad thing, per se, but and interesting observation about the nature of womanhood. Because despite what the Virginia Slims ads of my adolescence proclaimed, I feel like women are so often defined in relation to: in relation to their kids, in relation to their spouses, in relation to their parents. Are we good daughters? Good partners? Good mothers? Good career women (and, it should be added here, good career women who put others first? Who use our careers to further others? Because you know what they say about a woman furthering her own professional interests, don't you)? These are the yardsticks that are used to measure women. And if we fall short in any of those measures, or (heaven forbid) one of those measures can't be used at all, people are at a loss for what to do with us.
Mel asks: "when we write the definition for ourselves and state emphatically in our hearts what we do or don’t want to become, are we staying strong and following our dreams, or are we being sidetracked by self-doubt when others voice their opinions on our choices? How can we tune out the judgment; which when we boil down judgment to its essence is simply other people trying to define our lives for us, to write the dictionary of our selves"?
As someone raised in a house with one parent whose first language was not English, I am particularly sensitive to the vagaries of translation. I happened upon this recipe this week, trying to figure out how to use orange flower water (which has another story itself), and began to play with the words.
According to most websites, Om Ali literally translates to "Ali's Mother." Woman in relation to. But the "OM" that we chant at the beginning of yoga is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined together, is believed to be the basic sound of the world, and to contain all other sounds. It's said to be the sound of the universe vibrating, always moving and changing. Chanting Aum is supposed to remind us about this movement of the universe, through the movement of our breath and the vibration we feel in our bodies.
And "Ali" means "exalted."
I don't know Arabic. And perhaps I have no right to make my own translations. And yes, there will always be families, and partners, and careers that help us to figure out our places in the universe. But wouldn't it be interesting to redefine womanhood as the exalted movement of the universe? As change itself? As individual as we all really are?
Om Ali : Egyptian Bread Pudding
adapted liberally from here
The traditional way of making this dessert is with phyllo instead of bread. I used bread because that's what I had. It'll turn out a bit less solid with the pastry; don't be alarmed!
1/2 lb. day-old bread (or 6 sheets phyllo or puff pastry, baked/toasted; some people even use day-old croissants)
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. coarsely chopped nuts (I used roasted almonds)
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. orange blossom water (optional)
pinch of salt
4 c. milk
1/2 c. cream
ground cinnamon, for dusting on top
Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly butter a 2-qt (2L) baking dish.
Trim the crusts from the bread into ½ inch (12mm) cubes or crush the phyllo into a bowl. In the prepared baking dish, alternate layers of bread or phyllo with raisins and nuts.
In a medium pot, whisk together the sugar, salt, and orange blossom water until blended, then whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil. Pour the mixture over the bread, dust with the cinnamon. (If you're using bread, set aside for 20 minutes to moisten well. Tilt the dish occasionally to keep the bread evenly covered with the liquid.)
Place the baking dish in a bigger pan and pour hot water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Carefully remove the baking dish from the water bath and let cool completely on a wire rack. Serve warm or chilled.