Are You a Girl Or a Woman?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
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I’m currently on a journey toward rediscovering my own womanhood and the strong energy that is associated with it. I wrote about it before in my post on Womanhood and Sisterhood. On this journey, I find myself constantly bumping against my own misconceptions about what being a woman is really about, and many of those misconceptions were handed down to me by society at large.

The Cult of the Girl

In our current culture, we seem to believe that the most feminine women are those who don’t really grow up to be women at all. What’s considered ‘sexy’ is anything that denies the full evolution from youth to adulthood: shaven legs and armpits (and other areas), tiny waists, breasts that don’t – God forbid! – sag… We admire women who ‘look young’, are ‘open, playful and innocent’ and who are ‘easy to talk to’ (which usually means: not too opinionated).

The things that make a woman grow and come into her own, such as motherhood, old age, developing her own mind, growing stronger in setting boundaries, growing in compassion and mildness, carrying grief and suffering, … are generally not appreciated by our dominating culture. When women find compassion they are seen as being ‘weak‘, even though, in many situations, compassion requires enormous strength. When a woman sets her boundaries, she is seen as harsh and cold. When women age, they suddenly become easy to dismiss, as if they have outgrown their own wisdom instead of gained it.

Much of this we can bring down to biology, but only really from the male, procreative perspective. For a man, having a young partner means she can bear healthy children. But that’s pretty much where the benefit of youth in a woman ends: with the freshness of her eggs.

Real Womanhood

So you start to wonder, as you free yourself from these imposed rules for ‘how to be a woman’, how you can actually become this real woman. How you can access the full potential of what it means to grow up into womanhood?

My therapist recommended the book ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves‘ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés to me, and I borrowed it from one of my parents’ friends. This book came out in 1992, and, as far as I can tell, it has helped many women access their own feminine strengths. I’ve barely read the first three chapters, and already I feel the truth of it sink into my bones. The descriptions of the ‘Wild Woman we all carry with us’ help me recognize that power within myself.

I’ve seen this strength of the untamed woman reflected in my motherhood, during the birthing of my children and in the endurance, perseverance and patience it takes to raise those children. I’ve also seen it in the anger that arises at cruelty, violence, injustice and inequality. I notice this strength in my intuition and in the ability to carry pain, not just my own but also in helping carry the pain of others. I see it reflected in the way women work with nature instead of trying to overpower it. I recognize it in the wisdom of older women who know when to speak and know even better when to remain silent.

This power is also in the menstrual cycle we go through, which takes us from times of action and vitality to times of rest and reflection, not by choice but by nature. It can physically force certain women to refrain from working for a few days.

Real women can be very intimidating. And they should be. They are opinionated, strong, relentless. They won’t be cast aside. They will stand up for themselves, and for those around them. And they know there’s a risk of being burned at the stake, or stoned to death, or drowned; up until today even literally, in some countries. Instead of fighting these women, we should be encouraging them, listening to and learning from them.

Supporting Womanhood

What can we do to encourage this part of ourselves and in the women around us? How can we access this strength within?

We can start with recognizing why we do what we do. Are we conforming to the current cultural idea of what a woman should be? Or are we following our own inner voice? We can learn to trust our instincts as women without fearing them: the anger that rises up inside of us, the intense grief we can feel or the fear when our intuition tells us that ‘something is just not right’.

And we can listen to women who know; women who’ve already cast off the spell of ‘eternal youth’ and who have found this Wild Woman inside of themselves. These can be our mothers and grandmothers, our teachers, our friends… and they can speak through the stories we hear.

This story is not one where women become stronger at the expense of men. Rather it’s a narrative in which we all grow, we all become stronger as the strength of women is added to the strength of men. We nourish a society in which reflection complements action and compassion leads to righteous fights instead of unnecessary violence.

Look at the things the former U.S. president could say about women versus the controversy surrounding the #metoo movement. No one benefits from this degradation of women. Men also need mothers and partners who raise them, support them and help them fully develop. We all do. We all benefit.

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