Did I just say that? Dear lord, what a can of worms to open on a Monday morning.
Let me be more specific. I've always had female friends, and I've always liked them immensely, but my feelings about the entire double-X-chromosomed half of the human population -- roughly, what, three billion people? -- have been conflicted. And let me be the first to say that I'm well aware that the problem was all me. I didn't like women because I didn't like being a woman.
I grew up on a farm in rural Ontario. My understanding of my environment -- my family, my school, my community -- was that women were, for all intents and purposes, second-class citizens. As I bumbled along, wanting better for myself but unable to articulate to myself what or why or how, one thing I internalized was that if I didn't want to end up like the women I saw, I needed to dissociate myself from womankind. For the next twenty-something years, I modelled my words and behaviour on those of the men I saw who seemed to have power. This technique seemed effective. I found success in school and work, and I attributed this in some part to the fact that I played these games like a guy.
The other reason, I think, why I distanced myself from women is because I was a bit of a late bloomer socially. I was daunted by groups and mystified by group dynamics. Given that my lot was usually thrown in with that of other girls, I ended up confused and intimidated by groups of girls and women. I had female friends, yes, but only one-on-one or in small clutches.
Throughout my teens and twenties, I was happy with my state. As I've mentioned, I had a few excellent women friends, but for the most part my social wanderings were in largely male groups, where I felt most at ease.
Then I hit my thirties, and the status quo stopped feeling... right. I became aware that there was a disconnect between my theoretical feminist values and my real-world behaviour. But I had a why-change-a-winning-game superstition about altering how I travelled through my world. I felt conflicted and stuck.
And then I got pregnant. It was like someone had flipped a switch. I went from living in a male-paradigmed world to one that was dominated by female physiology and feelings. It was powerfully archetypal and it had a huge impact on me.
Now, I'm not trying to say anything as simplistic as the fact that, in one fell hormonal swoop, all my years of assumptions disappeared and I became one with womankind because deep down we little dears are all exactly alike, dontchaknow. But I will say that pregnancy and motherhood have been enormously humbling experiences for me, and one of the many things they've made me realize is that I'm pretty much your typical garden-variety female. I joke about it now, but it took me months to realize that, when it comes to any physical or emotional aspect of being a mom, I'm absurdly textbook. If hundreds or thousands or millions of other women have thought or felt something, I can pretty much expect that I've felt it, too, or that I'm about to.
I call this revelation "humbling," but I really don't feel humble at all. Or perhaps humility was the first step on the path to how I feel now: despite being pretty much totally average in the mom department, I'm realizing that that's pretty fucking awesome. Your average mom kicks twelve kinds of ass before breakfast, and I'm happy to be one.
I know that there are a billion different flavours of mom out there (er, "flavours of mom"... perhaps my wording needs work), and that's wonderful. Celebrate diversity! Boo-ya! But I also know that, if I meet another mom, we've got at least as many points of similarity as differences, and I find that comforting. No one ever told me that I'd feel relieved and grateful to learn that I'm not so unique, especially in our culture that celebrates rampant individualism so aggressively, but here I am... relieved and grateful.
Dropped Threads 3: Beyond the Small Circle
edited by Marjorie Anderson (#15)
Given my newfound revelation about my place among women, I was thrilled -- thrilled, I tell you -- when I found out that a new Dropped Threads anthology was being published. I've devoured the first two (and wrote about my re-read of one of them here) and find the combination of anecdotal writing and diverse authors (including women who don't write for a living) compelling and addictive.
Originally conceived and edited by writers Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson in 2001, each anthology chooses a slightly different tack with which to think about how women experience the world. The "theme" of Dropped Threads 3 is "What advice would you give younger women?" This really resonated for me. At 36, I've finally realized that advice from my elders is a GOOD THING. My eardrums are funnels. My brain is a sponge.
Did I say "diverse"? This thick, rich, ripe collection starts with a funny piece by Margaret Atwood in which she states that no one actually listens to advice, but then goes on to give a grocery list of tips that would have made Polonius proud. Other contributors include activist Judy Rebick (on the difference between rebellion and resistance), Olympian Silken Laumann (on accepting the type of mother she is versus the type she used to think she should be), singer Chantal Kreviazuk (on following her instincts), and writers Heather Mallick (on rescuing yourself from bad relationships) and Lorna Crozier (on what we can learn from cats).
There are dozens of female-themed metaphors I could've used to describe the experience of reading this book: it was like being at a veritable coffee klatch/playgroup/quilting bee/hen party. (And isn't it funny that these are the metaphors we use for gatherings of women? We need a chick version of the word "symposium." Or, hm, maybe not.) Whatever words you choose, I felt embraced and nourished by all these women's voices. Corny, I know, but true, as so many corny things are.
Dropped Threads 3 ends with an essay -- humbly titled "A Thought, or Maybe Two" -- by journalist June Callwood. The piece takes on the task of explaining how wisdom is acquired, but Callwood quickly dismisses this as impossible. She closes, however, with a passage that sang to me because I once had an almost identical experience and revelation:
It is, therefore, not particularly useful for me to pass along something that gives me calm, but I'll end with it anyway. I find peace in my sense of insignificance; if I ever thought otherwise, I would be immobilized. I learned this about myself when I was a teenager racked my confusion. One hot July night when I dragged my mattress out to an upstairs balcony to be cooler, I discovered stars. I was enchanted. Such glory, such constancy, such mystery. By day I studied astronomy and at night I picked out the galaxies. At some point I was awed to realize my irrelevance in the vastness of space. Perspective set in and I felt my adolescent angst evaporate.