Phenomenal Women

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What does it mean to be a woman?

Over the years, I have heard and/or noticed a variety of hegemonic implications about being a woman:

It’s not safe to go out at night, especially alone.

Family, husband, babies should be the #1 priority.

Dressing up/looking nice means wearing skirts, heels, make up…

Women shouldn’t be bossy, it’s off putting.

Men are natural leaders, women are natural followers.

Women are meant to thrive within the domestic sphere, women do not belong in the outside world.

A woman needs a man to survive, succeed, be fulfilled, and be truly happy.

Women are judged first by their looks and must maintain societal standards of beauty in order to receive approval (and be valued by) from husband, family, peer group, self, and community. 

Women always have good manners, they do not burp or fart, ever.

Women do not enjoy sex the way men enjoy sex. Women are not overtly sexual like men unless they have mental health issues or are sex workers.

A good woman can not be a prostitute.

Women are expected to be good, it is a defining feature of womanhood.

Women are closer to nature.

Women are better with children.

Women need to tame the beast in a man & love him unconditionally, so that he can become a Prince. (Stand by your man.)

Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.” Bell Hooks

My 40 year old observations on the implications of being a woman, being a human, and gender limitations:

Beyond societal conscripts, gender does not define or even necessarily restrict anyone. Given the right tools and support system, a person can achieve just about anything.

We are all delicate yet resilient in both body and mind.

Anyone can be tough, fewer risk being vulnerable.

Everyone wants to be heard, respected, appreciated, loved.

Everyone is different but also very similar.

Sexuality is incredibly variable and pleasure is not defined by gender

There is little difference between genders as far as ability to experience emotion, follow/break social norms, interact with nature and children, work, or experience love/sexuality.

Some men look good in heels. 

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Gloria Steinem

Anyone can pee standing up, with a little practice.

While women have traditionally dominated the domestic sphere, in particular the kitchen, men continue to dominate the culinary profession across the globe.

Feminism is important because through mindful, intersectional feminist ideology, everyone – all genders, all beings –  will be able to experience a more expansive life with unlimited options, free from oppression and strongly rooted in compassion, honesty, integrity, and equity.

“What goes unsaid is that women might be more ambitious and focused because we’ve never had a choice. We’ve had to fight to vote, to work outside the home, to work in environments free of sexual harassment, to attend the universities of our choice, and we’ve also had to prove ourselves over and over to receive any modicum of consideration.” Roxanne Gay “Bad Feminist”

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There is no static definition befitting the act of
being a woman because womanhood is more like a verb than a noun, it is fluid, constantly in motion, shaded differently by each individual’s perception. There is no singular way to be a woman. There is no definitive thing that can happen to make one more or less of a woman, even though there are certainly things which individuals may feel enhance or detract from their personal sense of femaleness. A human biologically born XX with all the standard issue female genitalia is not more of a woman than a person born XYY who defines herself as a woman, or an intersex person who sees herself as a woman, or than the transgender woman who chooses not to undergo surgery (for financial, personal, or spiritual reasons) and still defines herself as a woman, menstruation and mammary glands do not impact a person’s femaleness, even motherhood does not create some magical demarcation in the landscape of binary gender. I don’t see any valid reason to challenge others on their harmless claims to gender identity. We all embrace characteristics which some societies have assigned as female and other has designated male when really these distinctions are imaginary, social constructions, man made meaning. I believe that someday we will move beyond the gender binary and a person’s gender identity will not have any societally construed implications or stereotypes about their character. I’m fortunate to be cowriting today’s blog with a female friend and Phenomenal Woman. What are your thoughts on being a woman, defining womanhood?

images-21My concept of woman used to be very different. My concept of woman now is like a sculpture I made that I am systematically smashing. I don’t think I have a real concept of woman anymore. How can you define something that doesn’t exist? My life has been shaped by the void of woman, the space where this idea should have been, or was. Maybe it melted away and that’s where the nothing or something came from. I won’t say “hole” because there’s not a hole. If the thing you used to have, being gone, leaves no empty space, there is no hole. I don’t see (or don’t want to see?) a way to be a woman that isn’t individual, personal, distinct, and therefore meaningless on a large scale. I think I have for a long time been laboring under the idea of woman as caretaker, slave, source of all good things and all disgusting secrets. Woman needs to be sanitized, cleaned, shorn and painted and tied up. Woman has secrets, and one of them is that she loves too hard and she will always pay for it, but her loving makes the grass grow and the world turn and you can’t ever tell her that she’s made it because then the whole thing would just come tumbling down. It’s the longing that makes her useful. Woman always has to be the one stretching herself out like a bridge, because no one else will ever try to close the divide. Reject. Rejected. I reject that is what I’m saying. I don’t know what woman is or how she is different or what she means because how can I know? How can I know in a world where woman is supposed to have different feet? Where woman is supposed to somehow have different jobs? Do men make the software with their genitalia? I can’t think of another reason why they would say that this is a man’s job. “You got more testosterone in the womb, I can tell from looking at your fingers, that’s why you’re good with technology”. Oh that’s it, I’m not really a woman, I’m partially a man. Wait, aren’t you partially a woman, not-really-a-man-who-said-that? How can we know that our brains are different if it was made clear that we wouldn’t survive past infancy unless we smiled real pretty? Or cried less, or played with trucks, or were little princesses, or or or or…

gloria-steinem-quote-3I can’t think of a definitive difference. Women are smaller. Usually. Mostly. Sometimes men are smaller. I’ve met a lot of very small men. Women have higher voices. Unless they don’t. Women have breasts and uterine tissue and clitoral hoods. Except for when they don’t have any of those, or maybe only some of them. Woman is a performance art piece, meticulously crafted out of thin air and bravado, so that we won’t be killed (or maybe so we will be! What fun!). Women are weaker, except we know that’s a lie. All these exceptions. Do they prove the rule?

    It’s interesting, the ongoing – possibly neverending – debate about the power of nature versus nurture. I wonder at the various ways our mothers and other other female family and friends influence us as we learn to define ourselves as girls and then women. Thanks to my progressively minded parents, I didn’t feel especially constrained to gender norms. I had Barbies but I also had trucks. I climbed trees, rode bikes, played with bugs, sang songs to snails, dressed up like a princess and did not feel that I had to act or dress a certain way. I loved playing in nature, creating imaginary adventures with friends (boys and girls), even attempting to travel back in time (that’s for another blog, in the future, or maybe the past!). This all changed as a pre-teenager and suddenly appearing “normal” and doing “girl things” seemed very important, especially since at the time my number one aspiration was being somebody’s girlfriend.

“Women talk about love. From girlhood on, we learn that conversations about love are a gendered narrative, a female subject…Femaleness in patriarchal culture marks us from the very beginning as unworthy or not as worthy, and it should come as no surprise that we learn to worry most as girls, as women, about whether we are worthy of love.” bell hooks, “Communion: The Female Search for Love”

images-26    It’s like my romantic interest in boys caused my misguided alignment with patriarchal norms. Thankfully it only lasted about 5 years but they were a very uncomfortable five years of being a good girl, attempting to please everyone, wearing dresses, high heels, everyday makeup, good manners (a surprising amount of rules there!), and constantly finding fault in myself and the women around me. In a way, as I was settling into my teenageness during the advent of grunge, the music of Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the style of the grunge scene brought me into a period of fiercely independent, non-femme, almost non-gender identity and started my journey toward feminism. During this time, I began to connect with my mother’s rebellious side and was almost compelled to behave in ways that would have never been acceptable or even possible for her when she was a teenager.

I feel very moved by a Gloria Steinem quote from her autobiography in which she says “Like many daughters, I was living out the unlived life of my mother” (Steinem, 22).

That quote really got to me too! My Mom died when she was 48, I was 21, and I’ve always felt I needed to be or do extra to make up for her lack, the space she left open. She was very politically active, as well as an animal rescuer, and generally outspoken about oppression and social justice issues. I almost feel like I need to live extra hard, in response to her living such a short life and just in case I follow in her footsteps. I mean, who knows how much time any of us have? It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget to notice the tiny miracles and possibilities present in each moment. When The Dead Poet’s Society came out, I remember my Mom getting very enthusiastic about the phrase “Carpe Diem!” I like to think that she lived the best possible life she could and her soul has moved onto other ways of being, helping and thriving. Still that doesn’t erase her impact on my childhood, which was undeniably immense and I like to think mostly positive. I’m lucky really, so many of my friends have Moms who they struggle to connect with or have had to cut out of their lives due to the toxicity of their Mother’s mental or emotional state. My Mom was wicked smart, witty, kind, compassionate, and just a lot of fun to be around. We had a brief few years at odds, you know, teenagers, but for most of my life she was both my beloved mother and my very best friend. What was childhood like for you? Tell me more about your family experience and impressions of being a woman.

1454691246772OK, I was born in Beaver Creek, Ohio, in 1987, to an Air Force Second Lieutenant father and a Stay-At-Home mother. I am one of 5 biological daughters, of whom I am the middle, smack dab. My dad was raised by a single mother in a very poor part of Los Angeles. His family was Russian Orthodox dissidents who immigrated to the States before WWI. His parents had left the Molokan church and his mother raised him in a religion called “Eckankar”, something I didn’t find out about until after I was an adult. My mother and my mother’s family have been Mormon since Mormons were Mormon, so her marrying my dad, a non-member, was seen as quite rebellious. We all believed in God, and we all wanted so desperately to be good and to make our God and our parents–rather interchangeable beings–proud of us. My family moved around the US frequently when I was young, as a military family, so the only childhood friends I have are my sisters, and while we were close knit we were also extremely hierarchical and cruel to one another. My dad was gone on Temporary Duty (TDY) for many months at a time when I was young, and my mom was left to raise all 5 of us as practically a single mom–though of course she would have the financial support of my dad. I don’t remember this, but my mom tells a story about when I was in kindergarten and dad had been on a 6 month TDY to Israel. Because of the time difference, he could only call late at night, after us kids had gone to bed. I was asked about my father in school and nonchalantly replied to the teacher that I didn’t have a father, that he had died. This prompted a call home to my mother, and my dad made more of an effort to call us during the day after that. I can’t help but think that my father’s absence from my childhood made an impression on me in certain ways, but I’d be hard pressed to put my finger on anything specific. I have a good relationship with my parents to this day, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m passing judgement on them. I had a great childhood, it just didn’t have as much love in it as I think we needed.

My mother is a cold woman. I say that with respect and love. She is not demonstrative; we rarely hug, and when we do it’s awkward and there always seem to be too many elbows involved. It is unusual for her to tell us that she loves us. These things don’t come naturally to her. What does come naturally is thought. She is brilliant. Before marrying dad she was double majoring in Computer Science and Chemical Engineering at Brigham Young University, with a full-ride scholarship. After she had transferred to Arizona State University to be with him, she had two children and still managed to get through a decent amount of classes. Once she found out she was pregnant with a third daughter, however, she knew something had to change, and with the help of a counselor was able to go through her extracurricular credits and find out that if she took another semester of carefully curated classes, she could graduate with a degree in Classics. So she did. Women have to give up things in order to be mothers, she says. Sometimes I wonder if she regrets it. If so, I’ve never heard a breath of bitterness on that account.

So my childhood was one watching sacrifice. I watched my dad, a family man to the core, sacrifice time with his children to give us a life he never had, and stability he never had. I watched him join a rigid and astringent religion in which he did not believe, to keep the peace at home. As a child, however, I didn’t understand that he was sacrificing. He wasn’t as much a part of my life as my mother was. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to identify with him in the same way as I was supposed to learn ‘how to be a woman’ from my mother. I watched my mom turn her blistering intellect to cloth diapers, planning halloween parties, and figuring out how to make her children clean their rooms. Our childhood was one of strict gender roles. Given our religion and sex, we wore dresses and played with dolls and ponies. We all said that we wanted to grow up and marry our father. When I was 5 or 6, I had a mini rebellion where I told everyone I wanted to be a boy, because boys got pockets and pants. I cut off one of my ponytails and would kick out the screen in my room to sneak over to Jonathan Weber’s house and play in the mud. This desire to be male was not an expression of what sex I thought I was, but rather the gender role I felt was superior. I found myself deriding anything feminine, refusing to play with ponies. While I eventually left off the tactic of shocking people by telling them I was a boy, I carried my denigration of the feminine through to my teenage years. It is difficult to be a Mormon girl and hate skirts. I wore them because I was supposed to, and because I was taught that you do what you’re supposed to, but no one had ever told me that as a woman I was ‘supposed’ to be emotional, so I wasn’t. I took my mother’s mothering to heart and tried to operate on observation and intellect alone.

images-22During this time of stressful self-orientation (oh, is that what you’re calling puberty these days?) I was doing poorly in school. At the end of my high school career this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me, since I didn’t have the grades to go to BYU, I was able to convince my parents to let me apply to CU Boulder, which had a much more lenient culture than that bastion of Mormon indoctrination. It’s a cliche story: ‘religious girl leaves the bosom of her family and falls into the wicked ways of the world’, but it’s mine, what more can I say? I started studying Linguistics, with a minor in Classics–just like my mother. The schism really became palpable when I took a course called “Language and Gender,” and felt as if I was hearing music for the first time. I learned about gender being a construct, about sex being a spectrum, about the Hijra and the Two-Spirited, uptalk and vocal fry, hypercorrection, covert and overt prestige. I drank in, and still regularly return to, Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. Suddenly I was tearing apart everything in my life that I had previously only vaguely questioned. What was a woman? What was a good woman? Why did I feel such pressure to be carrying, sifting through and categorizing the emotions of everyone around me? Why was I so bad at that? Did that make me a bad woman? Was my mother a bad woman? I was still going to church and institute, a kind of college-level Mormon doctrine study, but at this point it was just because I needed my parents to continue paying my tuition, which they made contingent on my ecclesiastical attendance. I understand why they did this. If I had gone to BYU, my church attendance would have been policed by my peers, sisters, and the honor code of the school. But complying and consenting to attend physically did not mean that I wasn’t parsing, analyzing and developing a healthy skepticism of the church and its teachings.

The LDS church professes to be the one path to salvation on the Earth, and I was always taught that “religion is not a buffet”, that you take it all or leave it all. One hallmark of the church is their refusal to allow women full partnership in any kind of leadership roles. When I get pushback these days from my family about becoming inactive, it’s not the complete and utter lack of scientific evidence, the inculcated racism, or the devastating homophobia that I point to in order to explain my falling away. Though any of those would be and are valid, inexcusable flaws in the doctrine, the reason that I give for leaving is that I cannot take part in a church that considers me to be inferior simply because I inhabit this body. My great-great grandmother was one of several wives, so I am myself a product of polygamy, and I use this reason because I can speak on it with authority. It’s not that I wouldn’t have left if I were a straight, white man, it’s that the emotion available to me because of the personal wronging underlines my words with power, and it’s not something anyone can discount. Being a woman is many things in our world. Being a woman is many things it shouldn’t be in our world.

In the end, there is really only one thing I believe anymore about the reality of being a woman, about the concept of womanness, and even this is nebulous. In The Chalice and the Blade, author Riane Eisler introduced me to the concepts of contrasting “dominator” and “partnership” models of society. The dominator model, “ popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy…[is] the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this model–beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female–diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority” (Eisler, xvii). Without giving women some kind of “natural” ability to care, or putting them up on a pedestal as the “fairer sex”, Eisler painstakingly documents how the association of stereotypically “feminine” traits with weakness and stereotypically “male” traits with strength has altered the course of our global culture from even Neolithic times until the present day. This dichotomy has led to a culture of violence, of hierarchy, of might-makes-right, and Eisler’s book truly spoke to me, and moved me, as a student of Anthropology, Archaeology, Linguistics and Gender.

images-27To think that there is another way to be, another way to not just be women and men but to be human, is a revolution on which I don’t think my brain has finished turning. It’s difficult to overstate the effect this book had on me, my life, and the way I look at the world. Now I try to look for ways to connect, to be vulnerable, to emote and absorb the emotions of others in a way that links me, inexorably to the people around me, and I’m finding that I’m slowly healing the female-specific wounds that I gained or gave myself during my life. I don’t know how to be a woman, but I’m learning how to be a human.  

Leaving your family to go to college is hard, breaking free from an oppressive religion that has been a cornerstone of your entire life, wow, that’s epic. Round of applause for your fortitude, vision, and self-love! The older I get, the more it seems we are all just learning how to be human. Thanks friend for the intimate and inspiring blogversation & thanks to you gentle readers. Here’s some fun bonus content, a song I write years ago entitled “Phenomenal Women.”

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Bibliography:

Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1988.

Hall, Kira, and Mary Bucholtz. Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Hooks, Bell. Communion: The Female Search for Love. William Morrow, 2002.

Steinem, Gloria. My Life on the Road. New York: Random House, 2015.

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1005003“Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping creates a river around the boat that carries your soul-life. Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace new, someplace better.” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (p. 244, Women Who Run With the Wolves)
     Too often we consider tears as a sign of weakness or someone being too emotional and we neglect to recognize their transformational power. Sometimes, everything has to break down before one can begin anew, and this feels so very relevant to our current struggles in America. Reading Dr. Estes’ “Women Who Run with Wolves” has taken on a much deeper meaning as it coincides with the first American woman to run for President, receive the Democratic nomination and win the popular vote as well as the epic battle between water and oil, or should I say water and money, at Standing Rock. I’m also studying eco-psychology and the many benefits humans enjoy through connecting with nature. We forget, in our epic struggle to dominate the natural world, that we are part of the natural world.
     This idea that we are separate from nature breaks us down, makes us sick, makes us feel feel like we don’t belong, and ultimately through a disconnect with the natural world, we lose ourselves, we lose touch with our true selves. There is such a focus, especially in American society, to spend the majority of one’s time and energy making money and buying things. It a sad and tragic downward spiral from our natural birthright into a world of commercialism, imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism. As individuals and as a whole, we value money over life, money over people or animals or water. How do we even begin to address a disconnect of this magnitude and ominously ubiquitous pervasiveness?
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     When the popular vote tallies were announced, the idea that Donald Trump had won the electoral college but not the popular vote was like a kick in the stomach but I did not cry, I went to work. I joined with millions of others expressing their opinions on social media and in real life, our mutual concern for the future of America and the safety of women, people of color, people who are part of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, pretty much everyone who isn’t a white man claiming but not truly representing Christian values.
     Since the election, I have been emotionally abused by a number of strangers, their lack of decorum and level of vitriol is alarming. They viciously attack anyone who does not share their high opinion of Donald Trump, the least qualified President-elect in the history of America. They rant on about false ideas as if they are the absolute truth, shout about Hilliary or Killary, using clever tactics passed down from smarter people to spread the brainwashing to anyone with less than adequate media literacy skills or anyone who has already invested in white supremacy, misogyny, sexism, racism, #alllivesmatter (unless you’re vegan, this is not a an appropriate hashtag, it is an announcement of your hypocrisy and lack of understanding of the systemic racism and white privilege in our society), or any of the other ideologies of the Nazi/alt-right/white Nationalist, Donald Trump supporting movement. I have not been particularly bothered by the name calling, infantilizing, silencing, gas lighting, or other emotional abuse tactics because I have been riding this wave of outrage. I am just incredulous that millions of people would vote for a man who is out and proud about being a sexual predator. How is it even possible that a self described “pussy grabber” would even have a chance at winning the votes of millions of American men and women? Honestly it’s mind boggling and infuriating. And then I put eyes on their news stream and no wonder, the outlandish, inflammatory stories they are being spoon fed by Fox News, and a ridiculous amount of right wing, “writes like it’s news but it’s either just opinions or outright lies” media outlets, and I both understood and was appalled at how confirmation bias can lead people to invest in some otherwise unbelievable stories. I was thinking about the state of America and all the hate, suspicion and bigotry while driving to Boulder for work and I was overwhelmed by fiery, angry tears. I felt so betrayed by my fellow Americans.
     Yet these tears did not stop my protesting, if anything they fueled my fire. I did not cry out of weakness or self pity because my side lost, supposedly but we shall see in the next few weeks, the real outcome, the recounts, investigations into alleged Russian interference, hacked voting machines, gerrymandering, Trumps lack of ethics and disregard for the office of President, and finally the actions of the Electoral College who may or may not decide to vote Trump into power (a huge mistake), vote Hillary into office (possibly starting another civil war, probably centered in the southern states), or pick some third person, hopefully Bernie but more like some other right wing Republican nut job. Whatever the results, I may cry but not out of weakness. I will cry tears of strength, tears of resilience, tears to cleanse, tears to create a flow so that my boat will travel downriver, tears to fuel might against oppression, tears for the safety of my brothers and sisters, tears for our humanity but not tears of helplessness, only tears of strength.
     “There are oceans of tears women have never cried, for they have been trained to carry mother’s and father’s secrets, men’s secrets, society’s secrets, and their own secrets to the grave. A woman’s crying has been considered quite dangerous, for it loosens the locks and bolts on the secrets she bears. But in truth, for the sake of a woman’s wild soul, it is better to cry. For women, tears are the beginning of initiation into the Scar Clan, that timeless tribe of women of all colors, all nations. all languages, who down through the ages have lives through a great something, and yet who stood proud, still stand proud.” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estès (p. 244 Women Who Run with the Wolves)

To be interesting and interested.

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Honestly, I can’t say enough about these fabulous Lumberjanes! They embody so many positive qualities with little regard for gender norms or stereotypical femininity. These types of strong, compassionate, engaging, and intelligent female role models need to obtain a prevalent place in our culture thus weakening the strength of the patriarchy and inspiring girls and women everywhere to follow the Lumberjanes’ Pledge. I read comics with similar strong female role models during my childhood summers in Scotland. It was well before I knew about feminism but my young self was still highly aware of normative female characters in mainstream American popular culture such as Barbie, Smurfette, or Strawberry Shortcake and how they paled in comparison to powerful female characters like Wonder Woman, She Ra, Minnie the Minx, Ma Broon, and Beryl the Peril. Children deserve to know that they have a range of options and possibilities, their future is wide open. They should know that being born a certain gender does not impose limitations on its own; everyone has a range of opportunities, some more than others, and the myriad of their personal choices shape that person from day to day.

I think future society may look back on gender separation in the way we look upon child labor, as cruel and exploitive systems. This is especially true for people who don’t fit within the gender binary system. Certainly the social constructs of gender norms play out to favor males in school, in sports, in the arts, in most other modes of employment, and in nearly every aspect of their lives. Though not lacking credentials, skills, discipline, or fortitude, women are regularly passed over during hiring and promotion processes and are paid overall about 20% less than men for doing the exact same jobs. This gender bias begins at birth and continues throughout childhood and into adulthood as opportunities are offered based on whether children are male or female.

How much of this gender separation stems from centuries of religious conservatism? How much from religious mores that depict women as evil, or both corrupting and corruptible? There is the old idea, still held by some contemporary cultures, that the female gender needs to be separate or supervised or fully covered from head to toe or stoned for disobeying a male authority figure, the list goes on and on. Perhaps it is the merging of both the idea of women as property and the male gaze but women are conditioned to be extra cautious (because our safety is always in danger but also maybe any harm to our physicality lessens our inherent), make our selves “pretty” when we are in the public sphere, and please or care for everyone around us, especially to the men but not necessarily ourselves. According to social constructs we are allowed minimal self care and success within the domestic sphere only. Those who achieve success in the public eye must be meek, compliant, and appropriately feminine at all times. Powerful women are rarely popular.

 

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“Eve after the Fall,” Andrea Andreani, print: chiaroscuro woodcut, 1586. Library of Congress.

The majority of the world is deeply invested in patriarchal systems and constructs which means that women are often perceived as diminished or less than equal to men in society and therefor are afforded fewer opportunities for education, growth and empowerment. Gender inevitably makes a large contribution in determining a person’s socioeconomic status which then has all sorts of implications and outcomes for psychological, emotional, and physical health.

“Moreover this view of Eve and of women in general has been insinuated into the culture to such an extent that both men and women believe it defines a natural condition of women. It is a pernicious view and the degree to which it continues to subtly influence in negative ways our perception of women must be constantly born in mind while looking at the images of women in these pages.”Christopher Witcombe

A big part of the problem with our society’s preoccupation with reinforcing gender stereotypes is the gender binary. Humans have invested a lot of energy trying to make sure males conform to a certain way set of societal norms and girls conform to another set of societal norms. These rules of gender behavior are social constructs which vary from one culture to another. Being brave and strong are qualities not often encouraged for females, just as being compassionate and kind are less emphasized for males. All of these qualities have inherent values and should be encouraged as prosocial behavior for all people regardless of gender.

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The Lumberjanes are excellent examples of expansive gender norms. The first chapter revolves around around the Up All Night Badge, exactly the opposite of what females are encouraged to do. Here staying up all night being brave and mindful in wild, watching the sunrise, communing with friends and nature, and then watching the sunset remind me of some cultures’ initiation rituals usually reserved for males. The girls go on to defend themselves against wild animals (even though wolf punching is frowned upon), help each other in dangerous situations encountering monsters or raging river rapids, and even supporting each other emotionally. And don’t forget the importance of a sense of humor and discretionary timing for witty wordplay, because of course the Lumberjanes even have a Pungeon Master Badge. It’s refreshing to see female pop culture figures being kind, well-rounded people and not just fulfilling superficial gender stereotypes. Hard core lady types indeed!

More literature like Lumberjanes should be required curriculum in elementary schools. There is quite a bit of research on comics and how they inspire reading and improve literacy. There is also the interesting connections required to process all the unwritten plot points which are illustrated but not explicit in the dialogue; that sharpens skills of observation. Most importantly, the overall message is of vast importance, young people need to be encouraged to be prosocial humans – strong, brave, independent, kind, compassionate, good, interesting and interested- and not have societally constructed limitations imposed on them based on gender norms and outdated notions of a gender binary, patriarchal, sexually biased system.