International Women’s Day has been a thing for more than a century, but it has special meaning for me this year. In four days, I celebrate 50 years of life and living, and I find myself, as always, looking back on what has been and looking forward to what is yet to come. But today I find myself also reflecting on the woman I have become and the journey I’ve been on to get here. What a long, strange trip it’s been. 🙂
I am also reflecting on how the woman I am today influences my kids, a boy 19 and a girl 17. What do they see in me that they want to emulate, or not? How have I inspired them to be, or not, one thing or another? Have I done my job well? Have I given them the right values and beliefs to be good people with good hearts? Will my son treat women with respect? Will my daughter ensure that she is treated with respect?
I do know this for sure: I am more confident now than I have ever been in my life. I struggled for years to find my voice, both as a writer and as a woman. I grew up with the mantra, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” I was a cheerleader in grade school and high school, at my mother’s urging, and on the outside, I probably looked pretty confident. But inside, like a lot of us, I was anything but in a world that was not designed to support and celebrate women.
One day in high school, a male chemistry teacher said, in front of the entire class, “I never met a smart cheerleader in my life. Or a smart girl, now that I think about it.” He laughed and went on with the lesson. Another girl and I were wearing our cheerleading uniforms because there was a football game that day. Neither of us said a word. No one else did either. It didn’t occur to me to tell anyone, not even my mother or another adult. So I never told anyone. Class – and life – went on as usual. That’s just how it was.
Flash forward to 2019. I’m on a third date. We are in a half-empty restaurant, finishing our meal, and I am in a happy mood. I’m at my favorite restaurant, I ate my favorite meal, it’s the end of a stressful week, life is good. I am telling a funny story and, as I usually do, start laughing in the middle. (You should know that I am famous for my goofy laugh – in high school, I was awarded “Funniest Laugh,” a category my newspaper staff created just for me. 😀)
So there I am, telling my story, laughing, and the craziest thing happens.
Him: Shush! <reaches out one hand and tries to cover my mouth>
Me: <recoiling and pushing hand away> Did…did you just…shush me??
Him: Yes! You’re too loud.
Me: <insert cold stare> Don’t you ever fucking shush me again.
Needless to say, we never went out again.
But here’s the thing. Two years ago, I would have never said anything like that. I would have apologized and felt awful. I would have gone home and felt more awful. At some point, I would have switched to seething about it and all the other times men have tried to silence me, shame me, humiliate me, pinch my ass, grab my breasts, put/ throw/hold me down, the times I let them, the times I never said a word, never told anyone, life went on as usual, that’s just how it was. I would think of all the things I could have said, should have said, if only I hadn’t froze, if only I’d been thinking faster, if only I didn’t feel like I had to be “nice,” if only I didn’t fear getting hurt or making things “awkward” or “uncomfortable” or having a “confrontation” (my worst nightmare). It escaped me then that there were men who had been making things “awkward” and “uncomfortable” for me, for women, for years.
So on that day, in that restaurant, to that particular man, I said no. HELL no.
I will never be silenced again.
As I look back at how far I’ve come on my journey as a woman and the changes I’ve made in my little corner of the world, I am happy to celebrate what International Women’s Day means for me. It may be a small victory to some. It’s invisible to most. But for me, it means everything. Confidence. Strength. Peace of mind. Empowerment. I know my children are watching and taking it all in. I am trying to redefine, for myself and for them, what it means to be a strong, confident woman. Some days I do a better job than others, but I hope they see that no matter how any given day goes down, I never, ever give up.
I am tremendously grateful and appreciative to all the women and men who support me, believe in me, encourage me, inspire me, and most of all, have helped me find my voice and the courage to use it. (You know who you are!) I am also thankful to all of the women and men throughout history and today, who stand up for what is right on behalf of all women, but especially for those women who do not have a voice. Yet.
We will never be silenced again. ❤️