My life was lived in a circle of women and it was they who, in my early youth, emphasized that all people were treated with dignity and respect. If those who ignited my passion did not always have the same faces or personalities, they were above all feminine.
It started with an English mother who spent her early years in World War II bomb shelters. After watching her mother die in this war when she was just six years old, she was raised by her ever-proper grandmother. Like so many war-traumatized young women of her time, she later married the American she had met just six weeks earlier. Shortly after the nuptials, she was whisked away into post-war fantasies of an idyllic American life. Don’t we all know where dreams of idyllic happy endings lead?
Juxtapose that with a daring paternal grandmother who exercised her brio to emancipate herself, long before the majority of women. Having no desire to become a farm woman, she put her inherent gift for strategic thinking to good use. At fifteen, she convinced the young man courting her to run away by running away to another state. Her best friend, who was the bank owner’s daughter, became her champion and advocate. Since they ignored the many laws of the time that prohibited women from owning physical assets, my grandmother became the owner of her own house and her own business, in her own name, in the early 1940s.
In reflection, it is this grandmother’s outrageous actions that stand out as my introduction to the idea of the women’s alliance. She and her friend were my role models for what can be achieved when women bond around intentional support for each other. It was her continued accomplishments that made me imagine that women have everything it takes to create adventurous and successful lives, on their own terms…
… In my early teens, the vast sociological and political messages of the time made life somewhat confusing. These were the years of transition from the black and white world of Leave It to Beaver and Make Room for Daddy into the colorful spectrum of the burgeoning hippie movement, the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights, the anti-war protests in Viet Nam and the emergence of a psychedelic nation. Growing up in these progressive eras was both exhilarating and disorienting.
It was a serendipity that I was at the younger end of the baby boomer generation. We were about a minute into the 70s when I was filled with a deep thirst to understand women in broader dimensions than what my top three influencers had presented. It took a number of additional years to distinguish that as a desire, to understand who I was becoming. With beginnings like mine, giving a thumbs up and hitchhiking to the east coast, the heart of the women’s movement, was as natural as breathing.
Finding myself surrounded by women working to create something more for all of humanity crystallized my fascination with the power of the female spirit. It was a personal window into all that we bring to each other and what can be achieved by moving in alliance towards a common goal. Thus began the formulation of my personal definitions. A quest that spanned decades and which, as life will be, was strewn with pitfalls offset by startling recognitions. Although the Equal Rights Amendment did not pass, and all this time later there is still a long way to go in the name of equality and fairness, much has been accomplished by , for and among women. The stage was set for continued progressions, both personally and globally.
Although the volume went down for a while after the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the women never gave up on the pursuit of personal freedom. Over the past few decades, an increasing number of women have begun to claim their own space in new and powerful ways. More and more women from all demographic groups are devoting the time and energy to really getting to know themselves. With this comes the confidence to create personal interpretations and determine one’s own trajectories.
The motivating principles for these bold moves toward empowerment are rooted in the punitive expectations that women still encounter. Whether it’s directed at them personally or filtered through our media, our marketers, through distorted presentations on reality TV or through ongoing societal challenges, it’s an everyday experience. A key area centers around appearance; be it beauty, age, proportion or choice of fashion. Then there are the dominant norms that govern the “correct” management of relationships, careers and families. Marry, partner, neither? Then come the expectations about being a parent or not. Career or no career? The most grueling oppressions marginalize women because of their race, culture, religious affiliation and sexual orientation. It is in the interests of women that they are intrinsically linked. So much so that the new language “womanance” was coined to describe close, non-sexual, non-romantic relationships between two or more women. A poignant example presented itself during a recent group of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Alliance of which I am a member. A younger participant shared her frustration about why women have to work so much harder to listen, hear and understand everyone around them. Why is it assumed that the women in the room will make sure everyone is comfortable, both in general and with her specific presence? Shouldn’t each individual be responsible for their own reactions? After helping her identify the main problem, one of our most experienced professionals came up with a different approach to the issue. Talking about meeting another member just 18 months ago, she shared how she already knew this woman’s mind, heart, soul, fears and would fight the tigers for her. Addressing the demand for women to be more fully present in this alternative perspective to stand firm with each other illustrated that we can carry these societal traditions as a burden or amplify them as a superpower.