|Image Credit: genderpolicyforum.wordpress.com|
You know, at their best, women are honest, communicative, warm, supportive, and my GOD, we are strong!! The other day, I sat in a cafe nook with a couple of the women from the poetry group I've joined. Both older than me (closer in age to my mother) - but it felt like time with sisters. We talked and laughed, and shared. I got to know them in ways that their public personas never reveal... and was awestruck by their strength and dignity, SO hard-won in the struggles and challenges of their lives. I got to hear them share about the ways they have adjusted to the difficulties and disappointments of life, love and relationships, often making choices that meant great personal sacrifice - yet never in any way diminishing their knowledge of their own value and personhood. Sitting there, I saw women who had found their worth, and knew it was not in the needs or estimation of any other person. It was both humbling and inspiring.
Chatting with another woman friend this morning, the talk turned to "motherhood", and the ways in which we as women tend to "hold it all together" socially and relationally, for our families. She is a mum who has until recently homeschooled a daughter with special needs, is now an advocate for her as she transfers to formal schooling, is dealing with significant health challenges faced by both her daughter and herself - and in spite of seemingly never-ending challenges, is looking to the future, celebrating some wonderful successes, and remaining strong. When I talk with her, I get the sense that she is creating a world of opportunities around her family and herself, and teaching her daughter to do the same.
Sometimes it seems, in our culture, that women do all the nurturing, give of themselves, hold their relational worlds together for the sake of others, while our men focus on wage-earning, live on some kind of "auto-pilot" and become more and more disconnected from their families and the real heart of life.
Yet it isn't always like that. Last night I met an older man, a friend of my mother's. We bumped into him at an event - and because he was travelling the same direction, we all caught the same train home. During the hour-long trip, we had the most amazing conversation! After one hour of getting to know him, I certainly don't know ALL of his story - yet I glimpsed someone much "bigger on the inside". This incredible father, grandfather, writer, activist, community worker has brought up one of his grandchildren, solo. He has represented minorities and the oppressed. He has continued to be there for his children through difficulties that would make many parents walk away. He has continued to pray for them and be available to help. This is a man who "holds it together" for his family AND community.
My no-longer-homeschooling-mum-friend made the comment "we are made for motherhood". In context, she was NOT referring to any kind of pre-determined role (and had I taken it that way, I know she'd have been quick to clarify). I believe she was referring to having found personal strength and satisfaction, of a kind, in taking on the challenges that life and motherhood have thrown at her - and the sense of life and value and worth that has come to her through being able to "hold it together" for her family, and in that process discover her own strength.
I have heard others observe (and I think this probably is a general kind of pattern in our society at the point of flux and change that we stand in) that today's women often seem more confident, present, and dynamic than many men. That neither women or men are sure what we want from the men in our lives. That men are not sure what their "role" in relationships should really be. Women are finding themselves, whilst men are "lost". Often (and sadly) it seems there is still a "battle of the sexes" where men seek to disempower women, and women to emasculate men. Sometimes I think we women want men to be strong and present and great leaders, at the same time as being sensitive and somehow "feminised". These are not easy times for young men. According to some, the "lost generation" of men during the World Wars, where fathers were absent, died, or came home distant and damaged, still has repercussions for men today.
I have some absolutely wonderful male friends. I find I can talk to them, they are very often much more likely to engage in meaty, philosophical conversations (sometimes, hanging with the "girls" means the conversation just turns to nappies, recipes and the best way to get the housework done... sigh!) and there is a "matter-of-factness" around a lot of men, that I find reassuring. But the truth is, gender roles are changing. Where are we now? Where do we want to be?
So - After all that ruminating, here is my question: How do you feel about gender?
- If you are a woman, what particular strengths do you feel are given to you along with your "femininity" (however you define that) - and what the things you either expect or appreciate from the men in your life?
- If you are a man - how do you define "masculinity"? Is it important? What expectations do you feel the women in your life have of you? Are they realistic? And what do you expect or appreciate from the women in your life?