In eighth grade, I received the Social Studies award at our Middle School Moving Up ceremony. I’m not sure how this happened. My male teacher spoke in a dry, monotone voice and our class spent most of the time reading from the text book. For me, it was the epitome of a boring class. However, I was compliant, did my homework and studied for tests. Maybe among my peer group who pushed boundaries, a tame student was all my teacher was looking for. If he only knew I spent most of my time daydreaming!
When I got to college, I was required to take Western Civilization for two semesters my freshman year. Between the amount of information thrown at me and being surrounded by two hundred other kids in an auditorium amid dim lighting, dozing beckoned. I nearly lost my scholarship after the first semester when I received a C in the class bringing my GPA below a 3.0. I had to work mighty hard the second half of the year to remember places, events and rulers of eras that seemed irrelevant to my eighteen year old self. Not surprisingly, after finals, all the memorized information fled as quick as thieves running in the night. I was relieved my stint with history was over.
My break from history didn’t last long. Two years later, I needed to take an Art History course. I signed up for Women’s Art History. I walked into a small classroom of thirty or so other women. Unfortunately, no college-aged men were in the mix, nor were they required to take this course. When our professor began to teach, I was instantly captivated. I loved learning about women who changed the course of history through their artistic vision. I learned of Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the first noted women photographers from the 1800’s. Her soft-focus portraits captured an ethereal beauty in those she photographed. Georgia O’Keeffe’s familiar work burst anew when I became privy to her close-up flower art as a metaphor for the female body. Influenced by O’Keeffe, Judy Chicago created The Dinner Party, an installation, celebrating forgotten achievements of 39 women around a triangular table setting of butterfly and floral motif symbolizing the vulva. This shocked and intrigued me. These women, among others, were pioneers in their field, blazing a trail for the rest of us.
Learning of women artists and their vision led me to seek other historical women who bravely challenged the status quo. In my nineteen year old rage, I was appalled I hadn’t heard of the revolutionary contributions of many women. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who courageously fought for women to vote in the United States. Eleanor Roosevelt who used her voice to speak out on human rights, women’s issues and children’s causes. Rosie the Riveter, a symbol for those women who supported their husbands during wartime by working in factories and shipyards. Betty Friedan who in her book, Feminine Mystique, challenged women’s traditional roles. These women worked hard, dared to ask difficult questions and gifted the world with their spirit.
Nowadays, I see spunky seeds of women laid since the beginning of time. Shiprah and Puah, midwives in the book of Exodus denied the king of Egypt’s direction to kill all the boys. Instead, they revered God and saved the babies (Exodus 1:15-21). Esther who used her voice to speak her truth to a king who planned to kill her people (Book of Esther). A bleeding, unclean woman who used what she had, her faith, to reach out and touch the hem of Christ as a last plea for healing (Matthew 9:20-22). Like stars in the nighttime sky, these fearless women inspire me to leave my own mark in the world. It’s not merely those mentioned here, but a collection of women who have encouraged me in my life – those I’ve known and those I’ve only met through words.
Since the 60’s Women’s movement, the term feminist has been something of soiled word. For many, this term conjures up angry women who hate men. Lately, I’ve noticed a reemergence of this word. Authors such as Sarah Bessey ( Jesus Feminist), and Glennon Doyle Melton, (Love Warrior), are breathing new life into this term. I’m grateful. As I’ve pondered this word myself, I believe a feminist is simply one who celebrates women. One who is grateful for the contributions women have made in our world. A feminist believes women are to be treated with respect. A feminist believes a women’s voice is as important as a man’s voice. A feminist is one who believes a woman’s vision has value for our world.
I’d like to take this month to celebrate women. I’m not sure how it will unfold. I’m sure it’ll include some poetry and a look at a few creative contributions women have made. This month, let’s reflect on those women who’ve impacted our path and reflect to celebrate the feminine we carry within.
Who are the women (those you’ve known and those you’ve heard of) who’ve helped you celebrate the feminine?