My life has been lived in a circle of women and it was they who, early in my youth, set my focus on seeing all people treated with dignity and respect. While those who inflamed my passion did not always bear the same faces or personalities, they were primarily female.
This began with an English mother who spent her early years in WWII bomb shelters. Having watched her mum die in that war when she was only six, she was brought up by her ever-so-proper grandmother. Like so many of the war-traumatized young women of her time, she later married the American she had met only six weeks earlier. Shortly after the nuptials she was whisked away to the post-war fantasies of an idyllic American life. Don’t we all know where dreams of idyllic happy-endings lead?
Juxtapose this with an audacious paternal grandmother who exercised her brilliance to emancipate herself, long before the majority of women. With no desire to become a farm wife she put her inherent gift for strategic thinking to work. At fifteen she convinced the young man who’d been courting to elope by running away to another state. Her best friend, who was the bank owner’s daughter, became her champion and advocate. As they ignored the numerous laws of the age that forbade female ownership of physical assets, my grandmother came to own her own home and her own business, in her own name, by the early 1940’s.
In reflection, it’s this grandmother’s outrageous actions that stand out as my introduction to the idea of women’s alliance. She and her friend were my models for what can be achieved when women bond around intentional support of one another. It was her ongoing accomplishments that gave me permission to imagine that women have everything it takes to create an adventurous and successful life, on their own terms…
…By my early teens the broadly sweeping sociological and political messages of the times made life somewhat confusing. These were the years of transitioning from the black and white world of Leave It to Beaver and Make Room for Daddy into the full-color spectrum of the blossoming hippie movement, the fight for both civil rights and women’s rights, protests against the war in Viet Nam and the emergence of a psychedelic nation. Growing up during these progressing eras was equal parts exhilarating and disorienting.
It was a fortunate accident of fate that I was at the younger end of the boomer generation. We were about a minute into the ‘70’s when I was filled with a deep hunger to understand women in broader dimensions than what my three primary influencers had presented. It took an additional number of years to distinguish this as a desire, to understand who I was growing into. With beginnings like mine, sticking my thumb out and hitchhiking my way to the east coast, into the heart of the women’s movement, was as natural as breathing.
Finding myself surrounded by women working to create something more for the whole of humanity crystalized my fascination with the power of the female spirit. It was an up close and personal window into all that we bring to each other and what can be accomplished by moving in alliance toward a common goal. Thus began the formulation of my personal definitions. A quest that lasted decades and, as life will be, was full of potholes counterbalanced with striking recognitions. While the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t adopted, and all this time later there is still much road to travel in the name of equality and equity, much was accomplished by, for, and among women. The stage was set for continuing progressions, both personally and globally.
While the volume lowered for a time after the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified, women never relinquished the pursuit of personal freedom. During the past few decades, a growing number of females have started to claim their own space in new and potent ways. More women from every demographic are dedicating time and energy necessary to truly knowing themselves. With this comes the confidence to create personal interpretations and determine one’s own trajectories.
The motivating principles for these daring moves toward autonomy are rooted in the punishing expectations women still encounter. Whether it be directed at them personally or filtered in through our media, from our marketers, by way of the distorted presentations on reality TV, or through ongoing societal challenges, it’s a daily experience. One key area centers around appearance; be it beauty, age, proportion, or fashion choice. Then there are the mainstream standards that govern ‘correct’ management of relationships, career and family. To marry, partner, neither? This is followed by expectations of whether to parent or not to parent. A career or no career? The more grueling oppressions marginalize women for their race, culture, religious allegiance and sexual orientation.It’s to women’s benefit that they are inherent bonders. So much so that the new language ‘womanance’ has been coined to describe close, non-sexual, non-romantic relationships between two or more women. A poignant example arose during a recent Women’s Entrepreneurial Alliance Group of which I’m a member. One younger participant was sharing her frustration with why women have to work so much harder to listen, hear, and understand everyone around them. Why it’s assumed that the women in the room will ensure that everyone else is comfortable, both in general and with her specific presence? Shouldn’t each individual be responsible for their own reactions? Having helped her identify the core issue, one of our more seasoned professionals offered a different take on the matter. Speaking of having met another member only 18 months earlier, she shared how she already knows this woman’s mind, heart, soul, fears and would fight tigers for her. Addressing the demand on women to be more fully present from this alternate perspective of standing strong with one another, illustrated that we can carry these societal traditions as a burden or amplify it as a superpower.