The Women I Love
It’s International Women’s Day today. When it comes to where women are in the world right now, there is still so, so much work to be one in achieving equality – here are a few of the causes that I’m particularly passionate about – and I hope today will be a day that we can shine light on some of the ways we can do that work.
And I thought a lot about what I wanted to write about today. And one thing jumped out at me – International Women’s Day. I’d like to talk a little about the way relationships with women have changed my life.
For a long time, as I’ve written about before, I was convinced I was firmly Not Like the Other Girls. I thought I was so, so different to other women, in a way I didn’t even recognize as isolating; I was so put off by the thought of associating with other women, and in the process, acknowledging that I was one of them, it was easy to ignore the ways that left me feeling disconnected from who I was. I had female friends, but I still saw myself as different to them, fundamentally removed from the kind of people they were.
I loathed the idea of the sisterhood, this connection I was supposedly meant to share with other women just by virtue of our shared gender. Deep down, I saw groups of female friends and relatives and found myself feeling like an outsider, worried I wouldn’t fit in, so scared to try. Easier to embrace being separate than it was to acknowledge how much we might have had in common, and what it meant to admit I really did relate to them.
To acknowledge that sameness within us would have been to acknowledge the fact that I’d be facing all the same issues they would – our treatment by the rest of the world, the expectations thrust upon us even before we accepted the mantel of womanhood, this compulsory femininity that comes with it. I avoided even media created by and featuring women, a lot of the time, putting as much space between myself and that definition as I could.
But trying to distance myself from it did nothing to stop the material reality around me: I was still a woman, and I still dealt with everything that came with it. Getting out into the world and figuring out that all the effort I’d put in to keeping women at arm’s length had actually done nothing but make my life worse was, at first, head-spinning. I wasn’t like those other girls, so why was I being treated like one?
I tried to make sense of it any way I could – it started with women’s writing, reading books by the authors I had avoided for years and being stunned to find some part of myself pressed between the pages. I met women who’s brilliance, vitality, and kindness I no longer wanted to deny – I was suddenly surrounded by close female friends, and I felt more supported and more understood than I ever had in my life. I reached back to the women in my own family and started to better understand my place, not just as a person in our clan, but as a woman in it. I began to deep-dive into women’s history, from Wollstencraft to Seacole to Hall. I started to see myself not just as this lone, drifting person, severed from the past and the people around me in the present, but as someone comfortably couched in this community I am at home in.
All the details, physical and mental and experiential, that I shared with the women around me that I had tried to ignore for so long. I loved women – not just individual, specific women, but women at large – for the first time in my life, from friends and family and lovers to authors, musicians, and poets. As soon as I stopped pushing that part of myself away, forcing myself into this stupid, gendered solitude for the sake of being seen as different, I realized how much happier I was. I’m not different, I’m not special – I’m a woman like the rest of us, and thank God for that. The sisterhood I’d shat on for so long was a fundamental part of my life, still is, and I had never felt like I stood on my solid ground before as long as I’d lived. The world makes more sense the more time I spend listening to and connecting with other women, seeing my life and experiences as part of our whole than as an aberration on the outskirts of it.
I got a tattoo last year, with my best friend Ellie (hi Ellie!), of the Venus symbol on my left wrist.
As well as being the symbol for the planet Venus – meant to be a stylised version of the handmirror the goddess of beauty might use to admire herself – it’s also the internationally-recognized symbol for woman. It means a lot of things to me, but more than anything, it’s a reminder of how much the women I love, and the love of women, and the love of myself as a woman, has made my life better. It’s a reminder, because I never want to forget it again. I never want to deny myself that connection and that community again. This Women’s Day, that’s what I want to share.
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