“Am I Woman Enough?” by Becca Obergefell

I get confused about what it means to be a woman sometimes. I don’t get accused of not being “woman enough” the way that I think men do, but it’s a challenge I feel more often than I acknowledge. My family was very much a matriarchal one and this undoubtedly influences my concept of what it means to be a woman. I was taught strength and a fierce sense of independence from my mother and grandmothers. I got ballet slippers and a BB gun for Christmas. In my house, being a woman often meant being strong enough to not need a man. It wasn’t uncommon to hear “We don’t need no stinkin’ man!” as a celebration in our kitchen when we fixed a leaky sink or opened our own pickle jars.

A quick Google Images search will tell you that femininity is pink cashmere cardigans, dresses with ruffles, and skirts that hug our perfect hourglass hips. We’re taught that femininity means being soft. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a social cue that women are supposed to be emotional too. But I’m more rational than emotional, more logical than sentimental. I don’t cry often and I’ve said countless times in my life “Feelings aren’t really my thing.”

Every self-assessment I’ve taken agrees: I see myself as methodical, rational, analytical, motivated, and somewhat extroverted. Never once do my results indicate that I am sympathetic, sensitive, or nurturing. Being a strong woman is something to be proud of in my family. In talking with my mom this week, she said her staff had an intervention with her for not being “warm and fuzzy” enough. Initially I laughed and agreed with her staff, reassuring her that we’re just not like that. We are problem solvers and crisis managers, behind the scenes putting out fires—not in the front of the room leading ice breakers and group hugs.

I learned my lesson early on in life: There’s a difference between being a woman and being a strong woman. Or so I thought.

So much of my identity as a woman has been developed in black and white film, through a completely dualistic lens. Being a strong woman means not needing a man and being independent means going at it alone. Having emotions means showing a tender and vulnerable piece of myself—definitely the antithesis of strength. I struggle with this balance every time I write—college papers, blogs, emails. Which voice should I use? What should a woman sound like? Should it be a strong, deliberate, and confident tone? Or a raw, rough, emotional, vulnerable voice?

Neither of these voices makes me any more or less a woman. Being soft makes me no more feminine than being strong does. My women colleagues have shown me the incredible strength and courage it takes to share raw emotion, to write honestly and with vulnerability. They have shown me that strong women not only have feelings and experience emotions, but that they’re not made weaker by showing or sharing them. I’d never think to call another woman weak or less than enough, so why do I let my own identity be defined this way? We are not strong enough, sensitive enough, or woman enough because of any choices we make. We are strong women because we are women.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to ““Am I Woman Enough?” by Becca Obergefell

  1. Deb Schmidt-Rogers

    Becca,

    This is a perfect message for all women. We are “fill in the blank” women because we are women. Doesn’t matter how we emote, or how we problem solve, or how we dress, or how we share…we are all women. Thank you.

    Deb

  2. This post really hits home one of the problems with gender dynamics…that we view certain traits are either/or rather than on a continuum. It would be a much nicer place if people could just act how they wanted and not fear the repercussions of crying or being direct (as examples).

  3. Becca,

    As always, a fantastic reflection. So important to not allow ourselves to remain in the extremes, but enjoy what makes us strong women is the amazing spectrum of what we are capable of. Thanks for sharing.

    Niki

  4. Becca,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I enjoyed reading it and shared it with my colleagues, most of whom are women. 🙂 It was a great reminder that no one fits into any one stereotype of womanhood.

    Autumn Ayers

  5. Jae-Zee

    Becca,
    I love this! This message exemplifies my life so much. A single mother, five girls and I am the oldest child. I have watched my famliy fall apart and grow for 19 years now and I love where God has taken us. I thank Him for making us strong (together) and He keeps blessing, even without a man. You should post this somewhere where all women can read it. (A magazine, maybe!?)

  6. I can identify with many of the points you made here…and the same can be said for men. We all receive confusing social messages about who we should be based on our gender. And funny enough some of the messages are the same: being emotional = being weak. Or women should be more like men to be considered strong, and men who exhibit tenderness and sensitivity are weak. It’s the same old story. Some of us are changing the messages we send to our children about what it means to be emotionally and mentally strong people; hopefully, that along with the type of introspection you practice, will help us change the stigma that we have traditionally associated with being emotional or being a man or woman. Great post!

  7. laurie berry

    This post is wonderful on so many levels. We are who we are and we should not be defined by stereotypes. Thank you, Becca for reminding us of this today.

    Laurie

  8. This sounds like a conversation you and I have every so often. I’m so glad you formulated it into words. And I’m glad you never say I’m weak because I have enough feelings for both of us. You are the most wonderful and strong best friend a girl could ask for.

  9. You help to make me a stronger woman, and I thank and love you.
    Grammy

  10. Pingback: Guest Blog: Am I Woman Enough? « Becca Obergefell

  11. MEL

    This is a very thoughtful post! I think this really applies to just being a human being and ignoring arbitrary, social-constructs of gender roles. As a man, I don’t really care about “being man enough” b/c I think that conception of a man is hogwash. Living with the duality of emotion and rationality is the real human condition, and finding a balance that works for each individual is what the journey is all about!

  12. This is spot on! Thank you so much for writing it. We in society feel a need to ascribe aspects diligently based on you perceived gender. It is beyond time that that is stopped. I’m not warm and fuzzy, I’m direct and outspoken, and I am really, really tired of people telling me to dumb myself down because women shouldn’t act that way.

  13. Thanks for the insights!!
    I wonder, though, if allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is perhaps one of the greatest ways to show strength and create a new definition of femininity. It is easy to show the world what we are good at and the areas in which we excel. It’s harder, though, to let people (colleagues, students, partners, friends) know where we feel weak or let them know when we are scared.
    Masculinity is so often described as “strong” and “emotionless” and the men that allow themselves to be “weak” are labeled as f-words or p-words, but from my perspective, they are the most brave. The men (and women) that are strong enough to show their vulnerabilities are, I think, changing the conventional definitions of masculinity and femininity by refusing to let these labels dictate how they will interact with the world.
    How about using both voices….strong, emotional, raw, and confident. A beautiful blend of each piece of yourself. I often find that I feel the most authentic when I sit in between the gender-norms…when I own my femininity and the little pieces of myself that seem more masculine.

  14. Nikki Tobias

    I really like this article–lots to think about!

    I am researching women college and university presidents and thinking about being a woman in addition to the president presents some interesting dual roles!

    Thank you for writing this and continuing the conversation about women in the workplace!

  15. I’m overwhelmed by the responses (and two weeks late to reply)… thank you all so much for reading and sharing this post. It is an honor to be surrounded by so many strong women. I look forward to reading posts from all of you in the future… we all have a story to tell.

  16. Pingback: I Guess This Makes Me a Runner Now | Becca Obergefell

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