What does it mean to be a woman?
When this question first popped into my head, I Googled it like a good Generation Y-er. The results were less than disappointing: a few intermittent blogs from singular perspectives and online articles discussing stereotypes, hormones, psychology or biology. How is it that such a powerful, intricate and varied group of people were condensed into such sterile categories with little to no mention of what lies beneath these things? I had stumbled across a question that had no definitive answer; a question that I realized is nearly absent from our current world conversations.
But why did it matter? Over the past several years of operating a women's fashion label, I have been blessed to meet and speak with a diverse group of women around the world. Hearing the stories of these women has allowed me to connect with a greater purpose and, in turn, encouraged me to help each of them connect with theirs. This means looking outside of the stereotypes, moving past the biology and breaking out of the boxes we are comfortable residing in to change what it means to be a woman in the world.
Some may ask, "Women have been making great strides in the world, so what if we were doing it without recognizing our complexity and uniqueness?" This wasn't good enough for me. It's impossible to be fully present in life while compartmentalizing or turning off part of one self. My search continued on.
Maybe there would be some insight in the dictionary. I opened a new browsing window and researched the definition of "woman":
1. The female human being (distinguished from man)
2. An adult female person
3. A female attendant to a lady of rank
4. A wife
5. Refers to an adult human being who is biologically female; that is, capable of bearing offspring
6. The nature, characteristics, or feelings often attributed to women
Now I felt as if I was getting somewhere, but still was not satisfied. First, what does it mean for a woman to be distinguished from a man? Was I supposed to be constantly defining myself against men? And what about the fact that I don't fit into four of these categories? Does that only make me a third of a woman?
My childhood was heavily influenced by two hugely powerful women. My life was split between the loving, supportive, encouraging homes that were made by my mother and my grandmother. I have only just begun to fully grasp the magnitude of their lives. But what I do know is that neither of them allowed the societal definition of "woman" to define their place in life. Both of my female role models defied stereotypes, psychology, biology and the dictionary!
Grandma Seeley taught me that I can have it all in life, that whatever I seek or desire can be mine if I truly want it. This was a common topic of conversation around their household, and a belief that she felt compelled to instill in the next generation of Seeley's. Grandma also dedicated her time to gift me with my knowledge and passion for sewing, unknowingly shaping my future career and life passion. I recently interviewed her about her perspective on the definition of woman. "Well, Brianna," (this is how she begins all of her thoughts when speaking to me), "We're all females when we are born. But not all of us turn into women. Being a woman is defined by your accomplishments, whatever those look like to you."
Mama Seeley instilled in me the belief that I cannot depend on anyone else to make my dreams come true. I watched my single mom tirelessly work three jobs in order to provide a healthy and stable environment in which I could flourish. All amidst a custody battle in the 1980's at a time when nearly all parents were awarded joint custody, even if one (or in some cases, both) of them were not qualified to provide the best care. My mom sacrificed so much of her life to fight for mine to ensure my successful future. Interestingly enough, while I view her actions as sacrifice, she views them as her greatest accomplishment. "My favorite thing about being a woman?" she pauses to gather her thoughts. "Watching my children grow and flourish while providing them all the unconditional love they need to do it gracefully. No problem is too small or too big for my girls to call for help."
I sat down to write a blog on the subject. Nothing came out. How could I articulate what made me a woman without making it sound like my definition was THE definition of woman? Clearly, after talking to Mom and Grandma, we all place importance on different aspects of being a woman.
Pushing past my self-criticism, I tapped into my intuition. I can often forget the deep passion and intuition that I was born with (that all women are born with!). That's when it came to me; my interviews with Mom and Grandma were just the beginning. In order to dive head-first into this conversation, I needed the perspective of many women.
My list of amazing, inspiring, compassionate, powerful women began with 10, then grew to 20, and then 30. Each woman that I interview refers me to a connection of hers that is able to bring a unique voice to the conversation. I have spoken with high school students, college students, new moms, world travelers, transgendered, authors, artists, business women and more! Every woman I have spoken to about this question has raised even more questions within myself and the process.
This new quest to define what it means to be a woman has only just begun. As a result, I will be interviewing 100 women over the next several months to expand the idea of what it means to be a woman. Please share your thoughts on being a woman and help open up this dialogue that is missing from our world!