Womanhood is a loaded topic. Defining it has been the battleground for different feminisms for centuries. Even in the Church there is so much disagreement about what a woman is supposed to be. It can be draining when you really crave belonging and yet you can’t really find yourself in the midst of the different forces pulling you apart. I’ve never given womanhood much thought until later in life. I’ve always been the kind of person who has never thought something was not available for her because a woman. I’ve never been the kind of girl who needed a character to be female to think I could be anything I wanted. My nickname in kindergarten was “the (girl) Pope”. Being a woman had never been a big deal.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a table full of food gorgeousness with a group of women, at a bloggers brunch organised by POW Publicity at the delightful TimberYard cafe’ (on the Leicester Square end of Seven Dials). When faced with the question “What is your blog about?” it dawned on me that the answer was “being a woman”. We can qualify it with being a Catholic woman of centre-right politics, with a peculiar passion for people who wore weird hats, who lives in the big metropolis, but all my experiences will inevitably be shaped by which set of chromosomes I have.
And what surprised me the most was that I have grown to embrace it rather than treat it as just another accident of birth like having blue eyes. It’s like the older I get, the more my sense of identity is tied with this specific accident of birth.
Last year, I have found myself writing a paper evaluating the leadership abilities of a historical figure. I’ve never really had a female role model, and the list of people I thought of before choosing was lengthy and male-dominated. None of them was satisfactory: there was something at the back of my mind pushing me to discard every idea I had until, at some point, I thought of her. Queen Mary I. The Catholic Queen.
I had written about women in power the year before, and I was shocked to see that, contrary to the messages I had been exposed to growing up, you didn’t need to forget being a woman to be able to influence change. The more I was exposed to the erased women in history, the more I became convinced that I didn’t want to play a man’s game by men’s rules. Ambition and drive were not a man’s domain, and you can conquer the world equally well in high heels and a touch of lipstick.
I have gravitated towards women’s ministries, entrepreneurs groups, and bloggers communities and met so many strong and inspirational women. On Women’s Day, I have attended an event organised by Threads. The title was Girl Boss, and it revolved around Coco Chanel’s assertion than “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
There is an easy Christian objection to it, but other than that I definitely agree. In fact, I believe that the Christian objection is a false dichotomy. In a world that tells us sex is liberation, what we associate with classy still broadly reflects what we associate with modesty. Fabulous may still sound a little frivolous, but that’s because we have been conditioned to associate the word to the Barbie lifestyle. Since I can’t associate Coco with that (and I’m a big fan, my go to perfume being Coco Mademoiselle), I’ll assume it’s about being extraordinary and looking the part. One thing that is key, in my opinion, is confidence, and I believe true confidence can only come from a healthy spiritual place.
One (rare) sunny morning I was travelling into town, listening absent-mindedly to the usual songs on Spotify, when I was struck by the words in one simple, cheerful worship song. It’s sung by a man, and it speaks of both men and women but to me, that morning, it spoke a deeper truth about being a woman. I wouldn’t have it any other way.