The 1971 song, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” may have been rockin’ good in its day to wake women to the liberated life. But events in Washington this week threaten to replace Helen Reddy’s rallying cry with Emily Dickinson’s plaintive poem, “I'm Nobody.”
In the solitude of her room, Dickinson wrote these lines in 1891:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Then there’s a Pair of us!
At about the same time, swaggering Walt Whitman was all the literary rage with his 1855 epic, Leaves of Grass:
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,”
After all these years, why has so little changed in the way women are perceived by men—and by themselves?
I can make a case that things have worsened, with cocksure men of power verbally and physically abusive, shamelessly condescending, delighting in aggressive attitudes and behavior toward girls and women—all of it designed to control, demean, humiliate, and embarrass.
I’ll never understand why men think themselves superior to women.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan is an example of a guy who gets it:
Women are amazing. They can grow a baby inside their bodies. And then by some miracle, they can birth that baby through their bodies. And then by another miracle, they can feed that baby with their bodies. When you think of the male contribution to life, it’s a little embarrassing.
So what do we do to set things right?
Tolkien’s wise wizard, Gandalf, said: “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
An example is a group of some 17,000 men in more than 150 countries who fast in unison on bread and water for at least one day each month. They fast for all women sinned against by men. They call themselves e5 Men, from the injunction in Ephesians 5: "Husbands, love your wives.”
Journalist and social activist Dorothy Day put it this way: “The greatest challenge of the day is to bring about a revolution of the heart. A revolution which must start with each one of us.”
Edith Stein was born Jewish. As a girl, she called herself an atheist. Her study of phenomenology led her to convert to Catholicism. Although she was a brilliant philosopher, she was barred from a university professorship in Germany because she was a woman. She eventually became a nun, with the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her end came in 1942, in Auschwitz. She is now a saint of the Catholic Church.
Edith Stein had quite a bit to say about the role of women.
We cannot evade the question as to what we are and what we should be. Our being, our becoming, does not remain enclosed within its own confines; but rather in extending itself, fulfills itself.
Something my daughter, Julie, recently wrote is relevant to Stein’s view:
I don't understand how, in my experience, "service men" (for lack of a better term, because I don't want to sound condescending), but men who are trained in a certain skill or trade—guys who fix cars, or service HVAC systems, or plumbers or electricians—how they are still absolutely floored (and turned on!) that a mere woman can possibly know about (much less actually perform) a fraction of what they're trained for.
I am a woman who drives a 6-speed manual transmission sports car, and also understands how the rotary engine works.
I am a woman who knows how to bleed the lines in my heating system to avoid a service call.
I am a woman who installed the washing machine and dryer in my house, and only needed someone with the proper tools to drill a hole in the tile to install my dishwasher.
I am a woman who changes electrical fixtures and can install a ceiling fan, and has the tools to do so.
I am a woman who knows how to un-jumble all the wires behind the TV to get all of the electronics working together.
I am a woman who can build a responsive website in 24 hours.
I am a woman who knows which fantastic wine to order with dinner, and which fork to use while eating.
I am a woman who knows how to jump a car battery, who knows how to splice a cable, and can usher a spider out of the house without killing it or screaming.
And I do it all without a boyfriend or husband holding my hand throughout, which is what some guys just can't seem to work their brain around.
To them, I'm something spectacular. I'm an enigma. I'm unique.
Ya know what, folks? I'm nothing special. I'm just an intelligent woman, who tries to educate herself about what's going on around her. And it's kinda sad that these men, who are so blown away by this, have no other women in their lives who strive to do the same.
So, well, yeah. On second thought? Maybe I am just a little something spectacular.
In the age of tall ships, sailors tattooed the words “Hold Fast” on their knuckles in the belief that these words would help them cling to the rigging during violent storms.
Hold fast, ladies. Storms end. But you will forever be something spectacular.
(Top image: Free Will by Dominic Beyeler)
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my new novel, Billy of the Tulips, a sensitive boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity, now available in both print and Kindle from Amazon.