Reading the latest book in the Outlander series is a stark reminder that while it may not always feel so safe to be a woman now, it was decidedly less safe in previous centuries. Women couldn't really venture anywhere without a man's protection. It is interesting that books often provide the context for these realizations. Whenever I read Jane Austen I recognize how fortunate I am to live in a time when I CAN be a single woman living on my own with the independence to do as I like, and earn my own money. It is so easy to forget how far we've come as women in a relatively short period of time. Even watching Mad Men reminds me that women haven’t had the freedom to have their own careers all that long, and that my mom’s generation was mostly limited to support roles or a few limited options such as teacher or nurse. I remember being asked when I was small child what I wanted to be when I grew up and answering, “a waitress.” That was the only job I saw being fulfilled by women in my small town in Kentucky at that time.
As I have pursued my own healing diligently over the past several years, many hidden beliefs have come to light for me to release. And though it’s been slowly revealing itself to me for the past two or three years now, the one that has surprised me the most is that I don’t feel safe being a woman. Though I live alone, frequently travel alone (more so than with others, in fact) and even sometimes camp alone, I do these things in spite of my fears – perhaps even to thumb my nose at them – rather than through an absence of fear. My biggest fear from as far back as I could remember was of being raped. I think most women have felt this fear at one point or another, and unfortunately, one in four of us has actually experienced this type of violation, often at the hands of someone we trusted enough to date. I also believe that what we focus on expands, however, so I have focused on releasing fear and attracting great men into my life. At the same time, I still limit my nighttime outdoor alone time to a minimum, and take safety precautions when I do find myself in potentially dangerous situations.
Now that I recognize my feelings on this subject fully, I have begun to examine them more closely, journal about them and talk to friends about it. As I peel back the layers of this particular onion, I see that it’s not that I want to be a man, it’s that I often put my more masculine qualities forward (completely subconsciously, mind you) believing they are somehow “better,” or that it is safer and more desirable to be this way – strong, stoic, independent, visionary, results-oriented, in control, courageous, adventurous, authoritative, structured, goal-oriented, etc. It has taken a conscious effort for me to embrace the more feminine qualities of vulnerable, receptive, open-hearted, intuitive and flexible in recent years. I have repeatedly said that it took something as big as cancer for me to learn to receive and even more so, to ask for help. I am so grateful to have embraced those qualities now.
Some other ways this issue has manifested itself in my life, I believe, are the creation of a “female” cancer in my ovaries and the resulting complete hysterectomy. My discomfort at being a woman was so strong that I rejected those parts of me that were female and insured that I wouldn’t ever be a mother, perhaps the most quintessentially female experience. This revelation causes me more fascination than pain as I never really had a strong desire for kids, but it is so interesting to explore those aspects that were actually completely hidden from view for so long. I also recognized that perhaps I have stayed single because of some buried ideas about traditional marriage. I believed that being a wife meant giving up my dreams and desires in order to take care of my husband – cook and clean for him and put his needs first. Because I have important work to do in the world, that wasn’t going to work for me, so relationships have been relegated to the back burner.
Participating in a healing ceremony recently, I began suddenly to feel extremely uncomfortable. I wasn’t in pain, shifting my position didn’t help, and I felt as if I wanted to throw up, but couldn’t. The discomfort was palpable and lasted for several minutes, but it was also indistinct - not limited to one location - and seemed to radiate over my entire body. As I was beginning to squirm about feeling so strange, I clearly heard these words from my own subconscious, “When you get uncomfortable enough, you’ll change.” Hmmmm. I happen to believe our bodies create discomfort, even illness, in order to help us see patterns that we may not have seen before or to bring to our consciousness limiting beliefs for us to heal. It often takes something so uncomfortable or even painful that we cannot ignore it. In this case, when processing my experience with the Shaman who was leading the ceremony, he said, “I believe your discomfort is around being a woman,” and I realized instantly that he was right. I had felt as if I wanted to jump out of my own skin, but I didn’t know why.
Now that this belief is staring me so strongly in the face, and I have reached a discomfort level that makes it difficult to continue in the same way I had before, I can begin to consciously heal the idea that it’s not ok to be a woman. When I don’t have to prove that I’m as strong as a man, I can say yes to an offer from one to put my luggage in the overhead bin for me, or to help me put a heavy canoe onto the trailer following a river trip. It may not mean that I’ve released all my fears, but rather that I feel safe enough to allow my naturally feminine qualities to be more in the forefront. I can embrace my compassionate, cooperative, healing, connecting, peaceful and relational tendencies and recognize the benefits of all of the above. Those are the parts of myself that make me so good at what I do, and allow me to serve others. What parts of yourself have you been unconsciously rejecting?