This one word possesses countless impressions and insinuations. It contains so much weight, so much history. I can’t even begin to describe the richness of life and experience, sacrifice and beauty, hardness and tenderness built into this one small word by women across the world, throughout the centuries. All I can contribute to the complex definition of “woman” is my own experience. My own unique, tragic, beautiful, and evolving experience. Particularly in the past five years, I have encountered glorious highs and dreadful lows and through it all I feel my soul, mind, and body have been challenged and grown to the woman I am today and set the stage for the woman I will become in the future.
My experience is this:
I’ve battled and won a struggle with my mental health, I’ve grown into my marriage and am enjoying the beautiful bond my husband and I continue to make even better and stronger, I’ve set and achieved goals I previously thought impossible (including training for and running races), I’ve developed true and lasting friendships with other women, I’ve finally realized and started following my dream of becoming a nurse, and over the past couple of years I’ve suffered from and fought with chronic pelvic and abdominal pain. These struggles and victories comprise my person and my complicated understanding of what “woman” means.
Lately, my experience of woman has been tainted with chronic pain and I am learning how I can still maintain and feel like a complete woman in the midst of hurting. For example, it is a challenge for me to do many of the things I always considered part of being “woman” such as housework, maintaining my beauty (makeup and clothing or hair styling), running errands, and preserving a healthy sexuality. My husband and I have experienced a change of roles and lately I lovingly refer to him as my “house husband” as he has selflessly picked up the majority of the household chores and errands. He has become my “caretaker” which has been a growing experience for both of us. I greatly appreciate his sacrifice and altruistic attitude and actions yet I have had to learn how to accept his willingness to help by giving up my shame in not being able to maintain my responsibilities and my guilt for him having to take care of me.
Through all of this I’m discovering that there are many shades of “woman.” In general I think women (especially me) want to be seen and considered strong and capable – as strong and capable as men – in addition to maintaining beauty and softness. Women want to do and be everything for everyone in their lives. In the face of struggle I’ve learned that’s a very unrealistic ideal. No one woman can do it all, no matter how much she (I) may want that to be true.
So what is woman? I still have no idea. What I do know is that the definition is as flexible as the female it describes. At this point in my life “woman” means having a lithe and adaptable strength. It means being able to bend under the weight of struggles and challenges. A rigid strength cracks under pressure while a strength that allows change and growth enables one to snap back when life lets up.
Here’s to women everywhere, struggling to find their own definition. May God grant you an open mind, a moldable heart, and the strength to carry you through this thing called life. Amen.
Melissa currently lives on the central coast of California with her husband, Jeff, and her cat, Jack. In her spare time from attending language school she enjoys reading, cooking, cuddling on the couch with the hubby and the cat, watching movies, exploring the beach and woods near her house, chatting with friends and family, eating good food, and otherwise enjoying life as much as possible.