Happy International Women's Day! Today I've been thinking about the many amazing, inspiring and admirable women in my life and in the world. Women who have impacted my life in colossal and small ways. Maria Montessori, Ms. Taylor who taught me science in high school, Lucy Honeychurch, Dr. Barbara Altmann who was the professor on my study abroad semester in France. Numerous French, English and Political Science professors whose names I can't even remember. Of course my sisters. And so many friends and colleagues. And also, my mom.
When my mom was a little girl in Catholic school, the nuns came around and asked all the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Child after child dutifully stood up next to their desks and said, "A priest, ma'am" if they were boys, and "A nun, ma'am" if they were girls. But not my mom. When it was her turn, she stood next to her desk and announced, "When I grow up, I want to drive a tank." Rad. So it's no surprise that my mom raised me to feel so strong, smart, capable and powerful.
At our wedding, our best man recounted in his speech how he had met me and J at separate times in college. Freshman year, he and I had had a class together and he recalled how he was kind of scared of me in our discussion section because I was so smart (his words, not mine;) and completely dominated the debates. Later, while studying abroad, he met J, whom he described as passionate and disciplined about learning German, but also fun-loving and mellow. So, a year or so after that, when he saw J and I show up to his birthday party together, his first thought was, "Oh my god. Hippy J and Brainiac are together?!" which of course got a lot of laughs. I do love that story.
So for most of my life, I was assertive and confident and never gave it a second thought. I also never considered myself a feminist because I never felt the need to be. Of course I always felt passionately about empowering women in countries and cultures where they are not afforded the same opportunities and privileges as their male counterparts. And as a Political Science major, I was eternally grateful to have grown up blissfully unaware of such realities. But, overall, my life was pretty badass and being a girl and then a woman never felt limiting.
But after college, and maybe because of leaving the utopian bubble of academia, there was a shift. I felt a lot of pressure, unwritten and unspoken, to be sweeter and more feminine. I felt a greater emphasis on looking pretty and being attractive. It was different. And that was just the male pressure. Since then, navigating life as a woman has continued to become more complicated in other ways. I've felt a strange sense of guilt at times that I pursued an all or mostly female career path as a teacher; as if I had let my fellow women down and should have done something more difficult or impressive to buck the traditional female roles. I've felt a lot of pressure to be more than "just a mom" during the time I chose to stay at home with my babies.
But I can't complain. As women in the US, we are lucky. The equal pay thing needs to happen yesterday, but overall, we have it so good. We're free to make our own choices. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a woman - not in school, career, motherhood or life. I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to know and share life with inspiring, amazing women. And I'm proud to be raising a feisty, strong, powerful little woman, too.
Educating girls is probably the single greatest way to affect change for women worldwide. Learn more about Michelle Omaha's Let Girls Learn initiative, and find a list of worthy organizations to donate, volunteer and work with right here.
(Illustration via Rifle Paper Co/Instagram)