Perhaps it’s not news to us that women’s voices have been silenced for centuries and that gender roles can feel completely confining.
It’s tough at times to even know how to dig into these painful and important topics. They’re on my mind, always.
Lately, though, it’s all been blooming into a question I’ve kept close to my heart: what is it like to be a young woman these days?
Okay, honestly, that terrifies me a little bit. As I walk forward into my 30s, I reflect on the intense struggles I experienced as a teenager—feeling lost, feeling invisible, feeling voiceless, not knowing who I was, and getting lost in toxic romances because I just didn’t know better.
And yet, there was tender sweetness too: a hunger to explore, to know the world, to taste life, wide-open in front of me, like ferocious winds dancing through my hair.
It was one hell of a roller coaster, that’s for sure.
I’ve also been reflecting on the distinct lack of rites of passage in our culture.
While many folks extravagantly celebrate milestones, like weddings, there are few events that formally introduce adolescents to what it means to grow up, to become, to change.
In the therapy world, it is said that rituals and rites of passage are important—they are ways to mark time. Before something. After something. To celebrate and even sanctify a transition. To prepare for adulthood, menstruation, and sex. To taste wisdom and digest experiences more fully. To move through trauma. To feel support from one’s community.
As I excitedly dive into the psychology literature, researchers are talking about how the absence of rituals and rites may leave adolescents vulnerable as they turn to makeup to symbolize the change from girl to woman (Gentina, Palan and Fosse, 2012). Or, teens may fall prey to idealized, airbrushed, sexed-up images from the media that instruct them about womanhood and adulthood (Jackson and Vares, 2015).
This is scary. This deserves our attention.
As counselor and researcher Diann Neu (1995) states so eloquently, “Rituals provide occasions for members of society to tell, listen to, pay attention to, and hear the stories of (girls and) women’s life cycles.” (p. 199)
I love this.
As a writer, words are my rituals. They are my way of unpacking experiences, recording pivotal moments, processing pain, feeling the vastness of something bigger than me, connecting with others, and understanding life.
What better way to create rites of passage and ritual than through storytelling?
I imagine having a daughter one day—and these are quotes and poems I would love to read to her. When I let my imagination wander, I envision curling up by a roaring fire, stroking her hair as it spills onto my lap, and sharing wise words from wise women.
I imagine the prose lighting us both on fire as we bask in smoke coils from freshly dried sage.
I want to pass a legacy on to her—one of remembering, of self-loving instead of self-loathing, one of clarity, bravery, adventure, and joy.
I don’t want her to fight like I did in order to know who she is.
But see, I knew how to fight because of my mom’s teachings of strength and resilience. I knew how to access my magic from long car rides spent singing to the transporting tunes of Enya, honest conversations about life and female bodies, and playing outside every damn day.
I’m grateful for all of that. And I want to do the same thing for my future daughter.
As a society, we need to do more than just shrug our shoulders and take a trial and error approach to our young women. We have to offer them soul food and bone-deep wisdom, instructions on navigating oppression, skills for surviving, and an unstoppable hunger for thriving. We have to offer compassion, love, and the undying starlight of hope.
Plunge into these words. They speak of struggle and raw wonder and the power that always lies within us. They speak of magic and wildness and courage. They speak of shadows and light. They speak truth.
Poet Rupi Kaur
“i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is all you have to be proud of
when you have broken mountains with your wit
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient, or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re beautiful
but because i need you to know
you are more than that.”
“apparently it is ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real
it is okay to sell what’s
between a woman’s legs
more than it is okay to
mention its inner workings
the recreational use of
this body is seen as
its nature is
seen as ugly.”
“what is the greatest lesson a woman should learn?
that since day one
she’s already had everything she needs within herself
it’s the world that convinced her she did not.”
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories…water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.”
“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success.”
“We all begin the process before we are ready, before we are strong enough, before we know enough; we begin a dialogue with thoughts and feelings that both tickle and thunder within us. We respond before we know how to speak the language, before we know all the answers, and before we know exactly to whom we are speaking.”
“A healthy woman is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving.”
“Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”
“If you have yet to be called an incorrigible, defiant woman, don’t worry, there is still time.”
Thank you to Galina Singer for inspiring me with her fantastic recent article The Patriarchy is No Longer: Women, We are Doing this to Ourselves.
Gentina, E., Palan, K. M., & Fosse, G. M. (2012). The practice of using makeup: A consumption ritual of adolescent girls. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 11(2), 115–123.
Jackson, S., & Vares, T. (2015). ‘Perfect skin’, ‘pretty skinny’: Girls’ embodied identities and post-feminist popular culture. Journal of Gender Studies, 24(3), 347–360.
Neu, D. L. (1995). Women’s empowerment through feminist rituals. Women & Therapy, 16(2–3), 185–200.