The other night while out to dinner with family friends, I talked with their college age daughter about the women’s studies class she currently takes. I was shocked by her relative disinterest in the subject; she talked about it with about as much enthusiasm as someone taking chemistry. I wondered, “Is she in denial? Or, is it possible, things have changed enough that these ideas just don’t seem that big of a deal?” When my best friend and I took women’s studies in college we were all over it. Up late at night talking and reading passages aloud from our text books – and no we didn’t fit the stereotype. We weren’t lesbians, man-haters or bra-burners.
That class forged friendships and healing amongst an eclectic group of women – old, young, hispanic, asian, african american and white. All of us had a story of how being female impacted our lives. Most of these influences started in the home and then continued in the world at large. People disclosed of molest, rape, objectification, violence, pressures of beauty and aging, discrimination in the work place, legal issues and clitoral circumcision. The personal was political. What affected us personally impacted the way we intersected in the world and vice versa.
Yet for all that consciousness raising, here I am still trying to untangle the mess of how I conceptualize the world based on my early childhood experiences in relation to masculinity, femininity and power. And there is still much pain there, which I channel into the “political” aspect of the cause rather than really get into the core of the personal wound, which would ultimately release me.
There are always exceptions to the rule but for many girls, they notice daddy leads the more exciting life. Typically, dads are the ones in public effecting change on large-scale levels, although this pattern is breaking down dramatically. But when I was young and in my family, my dad was the more educated of my parents and made substantially more money than my mom did. He was dynamic, charismatic and adventurous whereas my mom struggled with fear, depression and anxiety. Which parent did I model myself after? It doesn’t take a genius to guess my dad. By the time I was nine or ten, I didn’t want to associate myself with my mother at all. I wanted to divorce any aspect of my femaleness from her as my role model. I remember a therapist once telling me that until I learned to integrate the part of myself that was like my mother, I would never be whole. I cringed. I was so much more like my mom than I ever realized. Weak. Vulnerable. Frightened. Needy. I was also way more like the negative sides of my dad than I cared to admit. Prideful. Willful. Egotistical. Domineering.
Somewhere in this family scenario I didn’t learn how to embrace my power in healthy ways. As each of my parents developed emotional difficulties, their lives began to take center stage and my power couldn’t be actualized because it would take me away from serving their needs. So I hid my power, realizing that even though I was my father’s daughter and he loved me being an extension of him, he ultimately couldn’t handle me being a strong, dynamic person in my own right. If my power leaked out, which it inevitably did (and does), I immediately felt afraid, ashamed or like I had done something terribly wrong. God forbid I be myself, or worse yet, emasculate a man. Yet sitting on my power had its costs too. It led to resentment, zealousness, unhealthy yearning, depression and pride. And I know this internal friction has cost me opportunities for partnership and marriage because somehow I still see relationships as meaning someone has to give up their power.
It’s jacked up. Somehow there has to be a way for one to be in her power and know that it is safe. I must leave behind my old family schema and distortions and see – it is a different world. I can be powerful in a healthy way vs. abuse, repress or flaunt it. I must realize good will result from my sharing myself – not bad. And I don’t have to wield a gun or kick-box to be a force to reckon with. Here’s to boy and girl power!