With it being International Women’s Day, I have done some thinking about what it means to be a young, white North American woman in this modern age.
Above all else, I count it as among my great blessings, and I make this statement knowing that compared to many women, from all parts of the globe, I am indeed privileged.
Recently, I have incorporated 10-minute guided gratitude meditations into my morning routine. During these sessions, I am asked to give thanks to my lungs for transferring oxygen into my bloodstream, to appreciate my ability to see and hear without fail, and perhaps most importantly, to honor the diligence of my brain and heart for working tirelessly to keep me alive.
Simple things to feel grateful for, you may say, but most of us know that while so many of us take our hearts and lungs for granted, there are numerous others struggling—at this very moment—to breathe. There are people on ventilators fighting for their lives, and here we are, vital and animated from the core of our cells, breathing life into each passing minute.
For me, being a white woman in North America is yet another benefit I often take for granted, and I realize I am, more than likely, far from alone in that.
Yet, I know that it is okay for me to talk about white privilege simply because that is an ongoing reality for me. I do not share in the struggles of non-white women, and it is through their voices and experiences alone that we come to understand what injustice and oppression look like in 2021.
Ask a woman living in Saudi Arabia what it feels like to go anywhere without a husband or male chaperon, or to have limited access to education—something that is deemed as essential as owning a car or as basic as having a roof over one’s head in nearly every part of the developed world.
Yes, I am privileged, and if you’re like me and you are reading this, so are you, and it’s time that you humbly admit that to both yourself and others out loud. Being white, we are not innately superior to anyone, but to deny that we have privilege is to, in effect, turn a blind eye to the indisputable fact that systemic racism remains as active today as the blood coursing through our veins.
Truth be told, I do not consider myself a political person, and despite the introduction of this article, my intention is not to reference politics any further than rightfully acknowledging the existence of systemic racism and patriarchal oppression in honor of the courageous women who so boldly pioneered the women’s suffrage movement in the 19th century.
Instead, I intend to veer away from politics and into the realm I feel more qualified to discuss: what it means to be a happy and successful woman in the culture and era we currently live in. In spite of our unique struggles as women of various races and social classes, this topic is a bridge between all of these differences combined.
As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for the past few years, I have often been asked—albeit rather intrusively—by male students how old I am, whether or not I am single or married, and in spite of my answer to that question, when I plan to have children.
Prior to my 12-step program for recovery from codependency, I forced a smile and replied: “Maybe in two or three years” or, “My husband is away for half of the year, working overseas.”
Although I felt myself cringing as I said these things, it was far more important to me to be perceived as “normal” than it was to potentially risk my professional reputation by telling them the truth. In fact, I wasn’t even above lying to them about my age, claiming to be only slightly younger than I truly was.
When you’re knee-deep in codependency, being “accepted” and “acceptable,” more broadly, is the difference between a self-deprecating mindset, or what your traumatized or insecurely attached brain zeros in on as the basis or focal point of your self-worth as a human being worthy of any respect or admiration from others at all.
Since I have undergone my journey in recovery and started working the 12 steps, however, I have made it a point to honor my uniqueness, not only as a woman approaching 30, but also as a person in my own right. So now, whenever I am asked this question, I take a deep breath, swallow my pride, and say, “To be honest, I am actually more than happy to be single and I’ve been through a divorce.”
Although more than half of all marriages today end in divorce, this statement never ceases to puzzle them.
“Happy being single?” they ask. “Why? You’re 29 years old and you’re pretty. Don’t you want to have kids soon? Why did you divorce your husband?”
All of a sudden, I begin to feel like a woman in the year 1945. Where is my apron and my knitting material? Did someone just press the reverse button on a time machine? Yikes!
If I could say exactly what I wanted to, I would tell them:
“My womanhood and overall worth as a human being have nothing to do with any marital status, nor are they dependent on whether or not I have children, or even desire any at all…Now, can we please talk about your ESL lesson?”
We’ve come a long way, and society continues to shift day by day before our eyes, and yet in 2021, some people still flash me a look of pity when I tell them that I am happy being childless and untethered.
Even with all of the information we have at our disposal, people still wonder how I am able to live soundly on a so-called “restrictive” plant-based diet and not celebrate a holiday or special occasion with any alcohol. Furthermore, how could I not yet own my own property and still be a “work in progress?”
I’ll share with you what not-so-long-ago would have been a best-kept-secret: I enjoy being a work in progress!
Where is the satisfaction in feeling as though you have nothing else formidable to aspire to by the time you reach a certain age? So, you own a house, a Porsche, and are happily married with two and a half kids by the time you’re 32?
Are you going to spend the rest of your time working and waiting for retirement? If you’re satisfied with that, fine, but that isn’t the kind of life I want for myself.
Furthermore, I find it discouraging when women my age say things like: well, I’m getting old. I guess I better settle down and get all my ducks in a row.
I’m not old, and my life is far from over.
I went through my early-to-mid-20s enmeshed, codependent, and chronically fatigued, day in and day out. I got married and stayed married only long enough not to care whether or not I ever married another person ever again.
That part of my life is over and I feel more youthful now than I did when I was 21. I know now what I want and don’t want and am now actively planning and working toward new goals, step-by-step. Who cares if it has taken me this long to figure things out? I cannot change the past, nor do I live there.
Maybe it is time we redefine what it means to be young. Perhaps we also need to change our perceptions regarding what it means to be a happy and successful woman in our society today.
Happiness and success cannot always be found in a fat paycheck, in an engagement ring, or behind a white picket fence. Similarly, youth and beauty are not necessarily exclusive, nor are they skin deep.
So, this International Women’s Day, let us all celebrate our uniqueness, pat ourselves on the back for things we’ve overcome that no one gave us a badge of honor for, and ultimately, redefine what it means to feel fulfilled.
Let’s celebrate and redefine what makes us unapologetically who we are, not only on this day, but every day of our lives—until our time here comes to a close.
That is where and when we may begin to find a deeper sense of happiness and, ultimately, our success.