being friends with krista has taught me many things but the identification and celebration of womanhood is definitely one of the most unexpected. the very word ‘woman’ feels vague and burdened with preconceived notions. it is one that i have pushed away and questioned yet also grown to accept throughout my adult life.
from early childhood, i grew up around boys and men. all of the cousins my age were boys so i learned essential skills like throwing a spiral, climbing trees, and shooting a perfect round of duck hunt. my dad was the more nurturing parent and so our quality time was spent skipping rocks, fixing things and riding bikes. it wasn’t until that crucial transition between child and teenager that i was made aware that these were not “girly” things to do. i was teased mercilessly at school, called names of which “tomboy” was the least hurtful and shunned by most pretty, pink, popular girls. this continued for many years and i often found myself teetering between embracing skirts, makeup and gossip-filled sleepovers desperate for acceptance and running back to the comforts of my former peter pan lifestyle when i was just too tired to try anymore.
the interaction between my parents also didn’t help my understanding of gender roles. though both my parents worked, my mom was in a white collar job, brought home bigger paychecks and if she didn’t have the final say in most decisions, she certainly had the louder voice. my dad worked a blue collar job, surrounded by immigrants who spoke broken english and passed his introversion along to me.
it wasn’t until the end of high school and well into college that i started to internalize that women can look very different without one being more “woman” than another. i was in a major that bridged gender-typical corporate roles. it was not male-dominated computer science but neither was it fluffy marketing so popular with the sorority crowd. it was information systems and most classes (as well as professors) were split 50/50. the women who excelled at my major possessed technical acumen as well as the savvy to lead by consensus during group projects. my small group leader who eventually mentored me one-on-one was a mechanical engineering major who co-oped for boeing and also baked a mean shortbread cookie. she taught me to rock climb, mountain bike and pray with a tender, honest heart.
as i started my first job and entered the real world, my bred independence and new-found confidence gave me the courage to move to a city where i didn’t know anyone to pursue things that i loved. even being able to say “this is what i want” is an important skill that many women i know don’t have. because where i grew up, women were taught to follow, taught to cater, taught to suppress their own desires for the good of others. throughout my career, i’ve seen women passed up on the climb up the corporate ladder because they don’t espouse their own worth with male bravado. because they are the lone woman on a project for a client listed in the dictionary under “good ol’ boys network”. because they go on maternity leave and find that motherhood fulfills them in ways a paycheck never could. because when they wear a skirt, they are prey and when they wear pants, they’re just one of the guys who must endure profanity, endless drinking at the bar and cigar-filled poker nights. these are actual things i’ve seen, experienced and for which i’ve consoled others. but what do you do when this job is what you’re good at, what you’ve been trained for and what you actually enjoy when you’re not putting up with politics and gender issues?
these things are not isolated to evil corporate america. while in a christian graduate program, i sat through countless male-dominated bible and theology classes. women overrun the tesol program (esl overseas), but in my advanced class on the atonement, i was maybe one of three. and conservative evangelical churches across america have position statements against women teaching from the pulpit though they are qualified for childcare and sunday school. they are also qualified for “women’s ministries”, prayer and compassion work. overseas, the majority of missionaries (especially in the most impoverished, war-torn, politically unstable countries) are single women. but when they return home, theirs is an audience of ritalin-deprived 10 year olds. don’t misunderstand me; i have no desire to be a pastor even though i’d probably prepare a better sermon than most 23 yr old fresh-faced bible school graduates, but i question whether the Holy Spirit knows that He got it wrong when he gave some women the gift of teaching.
as i entered my thirties, i faced a new attack on my womanhood. after years of struggling, i finally acknowledged to myself and then those closest to me, that i am bisexual. the greatest acts of grace i’ve experienced in my life have been through this process. no one has judged me as harshly as i’ve judged myself. but even as those around me continue to love me on my journey, i find myself asking whether my attraction to women some how makes me less of one. and the esoteric debate of nature vs. nurture doesn’t seem quite as philosophical when you daily walk the line between accepting who you are and desperately wanting to fit in to your own worldview. so even though i feel more comfortable in my skin that ever before, i know that the challenges of understanding my femininity will continue in every sphere of my life. i face them with the perspective of first learning to like who God has made me and i wish that for every woman.