By Sara Striefel
Did you know that if you look up woman in the dictionary, you will find synonyms such as lady, darling, maid, mistress, helpmate, bride, and slave? Is it any wonder that we do not acknowledge our own brilliance? That we begin to believe we are made to be small, that we are only half of a whole? Let me tell you what I know about women. We may have been taught that we are fragile and delicate, that we are easily broken, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Our sensitivity and intuition are what make us powerful beyond measure. We are born from the ancestors of priestesses, warriors, and medicine women. We have the same blood running through our veins as Boudicca, Cleopatra, and Joan of Arc. You have not seen strength until you have witnessed a woman labor for 48 hours, her body literally turning itself inside out to birth human life. Until you have stood beside a mother, laying fully awake as she is slit open from hip to hip, hands reaching inside her to pull another human being from inside her depths. When tragedy strikes, women gather the pieces, stitching back together something tangible for their children to hold onto. Women endure broken bones and broken hearts, endure the poison arrows of life in order to hold up the sky for their children, so their babies may understand the magic of the stars. We also own the same courage possessed by Virginia Wolf, Rosa Parks, and Florence Nightingale. For some of us the life we bring into the world is in the form of art, medicine, invention, or justice. It is no less a labor of love. No less a genesis. Whatever we create, whether it is babies or sky scrapers, we do it with every part of ourselves. Our contributions are not only precious, they are vital. We intuitively know what the world needs to heal itself and we have the strength necessary to birth it into life. We are the shelter the world seeks.
For too many years I did not understand this; did not understand my own worth. For too long I bought the world’s story that I had to fit a mold. That girls were designed to be quiet and demure. As a young child, the word bossy was used to subdue me. I learned quickly that adults did not want a girl who was too loud, too forceful, too much. I did not know what to be, but I knew I did not want to be “too much”. So, I was very little of anything at all. I was nice. As I got older, I found that nice was easier for people to swallow. I did not realize that by turning into something palatable, I was also easily dissolved, soon to become nothing at all. I was the nice girl that you could bring home to your mother. I was the nice girl that sat politely at dinner with your friends. Always the nice girl. I believed I was fragile, that I needed to be liked to survive. I took shelter under the identity of “the good girl”. But nice is not interesting. Nice is not a personality. I do not believe it was the nice girl that boys actually fell in love with. No. In hindsight, I can see that it was my secret self that they actually pined for. The one that you only got to see after dark, behind closed doors, if you were lucky. Not the nice girl, but the wild woman. They must have seen her, must have tasted her. How could they not? The nice girl was so boring, who would fight so hard to hold onto her.
When asked about falling in love with me, my husband tells people how he knew immediately that he wanted me to be the mother of his children. He means this as a compliment. And it is beautiful to be recognized for such a sacred thing. But secretly this also hurts my heart a little. There is another part of me that I hope he sees as well. The part that is so much more than mother and wife. Long before there were titles, or babies, roles, or expectations – there was an untamed woman. She hid herself much of the time. But she was the one who might spontaneously pull you outside to make love in the rain. The artist who insisted on painting in the middle of the night with only the deepest, most outrageous colors. Who poured poetry onto paper like sacramental blood. The woman who always had her hair pulled back because she did not want the worry of it to prevent her from dancing in the wind or diving into the ocean. Who never wore makeup because it took too much time in the morning, and she was too excited to get on with the business of life. The woman who wandered into the wilderness for days at a time and howled at the moon. The woman who could heal the road rash left by both your overturned motorcycle and your overturned childhood. The woman who was not afraid of her own naked flesh, because she knew she was born of fire and while she might burn you up, you would both shine brighter in the process.
Yet it took years for me to bring that woman into the light. To understand that a lifetime of conditioning and domestication had unnecessarily subdued her. I spent eons trying to drown her, camouflage her, package her up in a pretty little bow so that she looked like all the other dainty little dolls. Until I couldn’t do it anymore. And when I stopped trying to wallpaper over my authentic self, stopped whitewashing my life with wine and platitudes, I found her again. My wild child. And a tribe of women scooped her up and helped her find her voice.
Slowly, she is unlearning. And it is important, because her children are watching. They need to understand that a woman is more than a face and a body. She is not merely there to serve as arm candy. And I do not believe the world really wants an empty shell, however beautifully it might be painted. My boys will understand that women are fierce, and full of life, because their mother is and they have loved her. They will not be afraid of the power a woman holds, because they will intuitively know that this power is necessary for the world to breath. They will expect the women in their lives to take up space, to be co-conspirators and allies. To be partners and contributors. They will understand that real women show their joy in full expression and their sorrow without apology. They will not be afraid of a strong woman. In fact, they will seek her out because she is the shelter that they seek. They will understand that to know an authentic woman, is to look into the face of god herself.
Sara Striefel is a poet and non-fiction writer living her best life in the mountains of Colorado. Her work has been published in literary journals such as the Walkabout Creative Arts Journal and the Grapevine. In her day job she advocates for women as a passionate OBGYN nurse. But she also identifies as the Mother of Heathens, a Tough Mudder warrior, a painter, a flower child, a chef, a scuba diver, a nature lover, an adventurer, and a gorgeously flawed sober goddess. She believes that women are made of starlight and grit and has found purpose in helping her fellow sisters shine. You can connect with Sara on Instagram or visit her blog.