I don’t know if this is true for anyone else who has a sister but my sister is part of me and I’m part of her. I can’t explain it but we know each other in our bones. I could spend literal days with her and still get annoyed she hasn’t texted me back within five minutes of leaving. She’s my person and I’m hers.
Last night, I was struggling to see myself. To be honest I feel like I always struggle to see myself, but last night everything kind of hit me at once. I literally have no idea how I come across to anyone in conversations or interactions. I never have. Soon I found myself picking up the phone to call my sister. I knew she would be honest with me, brutally if needed.
At first she was surprised to hear I don’t know how people see me. I was surprised she didn’t know this because she knows what I eat for breakfast every day, how much sleep I get–pretty much everything. I asked her why I felt like others met me with resistance and judgement when I shared my voice with them. Her response was everything I needed to hear. She told me, “you are a strong woman and that scares people. You won’t conform and that makes people uncomfortable.” Holy shit. That’s it.
Finding Your Strength
I often explain to family and friends that I have always felt I’m outside of the world looking in. Honestly, a big part of this is being a researcher, introvert, and visionary. If I only ever talked to the people I loved and never met a new human being I would be a very happy woman. I had a million fears when we went into lockdown last spring during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but staying home was not one of them.
I’m often deep in thought of what brings me joy and what I think the world needs. At the same time, however, I don’t give a lot of thought to how I come across. But I’m also human and when I’m in social situations, work relationships, and non-intimate personal relationships I’m quite aware I’m on the outside. Take a hometown football game, for example. If I’m at a game and a circle of other moms my age are sitting as far away as possible, I’m not bothered at all. This is nothing against anyone. I’m happy by myself and would feel exhausted having to make small talk. But if I think bigger, like when I need to advocate for myself or my beliefs and am met with resistance or judgement, this is what bothers me. I thought there was no clue why this is. Hence the phone call to my sister.
After the call I took her answer and mulled it over deep within my core and knew it was true. I am a woman who won’t bend. I stand on my own and refuse to make myself small for anyone. This makes the world uncomfortable because I am a woman not bending. My small, sacred circle of friends and family? They give zero shits that I am true to myself and respect me for honoring myself and my worth.
My sister and I spent hours talking about my dilemma. I was stuck. I am a good woman who wakes up daily wanting a better world for others. I want it for myself, my sons, my sacred circle and every human being. I spend time each day in gratitude seeking authentic joy. My happiest place in the world is my basement couch across from the playroom. In the mornings, when I have the boys, I sip my coffee with a book for me and a stack for them. They buzz around me, flittering between reading with me and playing. At night, after dinner, Dametrius joins us in the basement and my boys snuggle, wrestle, and Declan brings us all “tea.” It’s bliss and nothing in the world brings me closer to God. She’s right there.
Perceiving the Good in Ourselves
So how then, when I perceive myself to be a generally good person soaking in the tiny joys of the world to build a better one, do I get painted as someone to fear? The belief system of the patriarchy we live in. That’s why. I am a woman with a strong voice in a world where women are supposed to be quiet. This past fall, when my divorce situation was still new, I was walking the pasture wailing to the sky, screaming “why me? Because I’m a woman with a voice?” Among other things, yes. The path for women with visions is hard and It’s fucking bullshit.
My friend Dana has a daughter named Kahlan. Kahlan is incredibly bright and bold. She’s unapologetic about her worth and comfortable with it. During the pandemic, Kahlan became so frustrated with the disorganization of online learning that she began providing feedback to her teachers at their request to streamline the programs. When a mistake is made Kahlan shoots off an email, “I should not have to be writing this email but…” She’s 13. Kahlan reminds me of myself before the world told me to be small.
Dana often doesn’t know what to do with her fierce daughter and rightfully so. Ask my parents if they knew (or even know) what to do with me. Nope! But here is my wish for Kahlan, my nieces, my darling Olga, every woman alive, and myself. Do not make yourself small. Take up space and use it. Shout to the world, show your worth, and if you’re too strong for someone that’s their problem not yours.
When I thought more about the issue of being small I felt grace for others. Forgiveness, if you will. You see, for thousands of years strength was the masculine feature valued above all others. When a man flexes his muscles it is to show others he can dominate them. I have no time, nor interest in this. To my knowledge no woman or girl I know does either. We’re not showing our strength to put you in your place. We’re showing our strength because it’s who we are and through it we can honor ourselves and the world.
Moving Forward with Value and Compassion
I’ve spent my whole life feeling this way. Strong and judged for being strong. My strength? It is mine to hone and through it my life is full and the world served. There’s nothing scary here, unless a woman with a voice scares you. So I ask you this: Too strong for who?
My answer? Too strong for no one, my strength is not harmful but it is powerful. So is the strength of your daughters and your strength to teach your sons to value power with, not power over. To build a world where strength is used is to build a society where we all thrive and power is no longer misused.
I challenge you this; Ladies, look at all your strength and ways you have held it in. Ask yourself, “too strong for who?” hashtag it. Blow me up. Start a storm. Stand up. We don’t have time to just sit still and look pretty.