I love being a woman; I love being the particular, traditionally feminine expression of womanhood I am among the many I could be. I love the silk hug of a skirt’s drape across my hips.
But sadness settles in my heart when another body, shaped soft like motherhood in over-washed jeans, stops me in the pan isle of a TJ Maxx to say, “It’s so nice to see a woman in a dress…”
And it’s not the words, though they’ve scared me before, sailing out of a man’s mouth on the stale current of beer fumes too close at the bar where we used to go dancing.
(Voice in my mind: It’s not for you. I don’t want to meet your standard. I satisfy you against my will. It’s not for you to say how we ought to look!)
But the words from the body of a woman in a TJ Maxx make me sad because she goes on: “I used to. I don’t. I don’t know why women don’t.”
But she’s trying to be nice.
The fluorescent lights of the TJ Maxx make me shy, walled up in public like a stranger on the subway, or a mannequin behind window glass.
And that’s what it feels like to have perhaps ninety seconds of choices made in the hurry of a dark closet that morning held up as some kind of standard against which other bodies feel less.
But I want to tell her and I blurt out just as she rounds the corner to the next aisle, “Well you have to do what works for you, I guess…”
…I can never count as success anything that makes you feel less.
I love being a woman. I love being small in the crook of a man’s arm.
I like his chin resting on the top of my head as he hugs me goodbye. I like following his feet across the dance floor and stepping where his boots have packed down the snow.
But I hate the ease with which a man could harm me, kill me. I hate that I’m afraid to get my mail after dark, that I’m careful to park under streetlights, that I know where to kick and I’ve practiced how hard. I hate that one of the reasons I push and train my body is so that I can wriggle free, punch back, outrun…maybe…
And I hate that it’s all so cliche. The way I am a woman is not the only way; femininity is variety.
But the fear is universal. The desperate advice.
I don’t want the only defining characteristic of womanhood to be the terrible reality of thinking like and being prey.
I love being a woman. I love the curve of me, the gentle swoosh and rock of me.
Like pea pods, and rose buds, and shells, singing of the ocean. “Natural forms,” said the white-haired sage who taught me to work metal, forming scraps of copper gutter into round baubles under the blue heat of a torch. I like being the natural form dictated by the spiral staircase of the double-helix code inside me.
But my stomach twists whenever I struggle to reconcile the mothers, sisters, aunts, friends who hate their bodies but love me. I am a body. In some cases, I am your body. Almost exact.
What do you love? Who do you hate?
I love being a woman, but I hate, hate, hate that the second I say what that means, what I—woman—am, I must suspect it. It could be a weapon of the fashion industry or sexism, colonialism, or one of countless other prejudices brewed and baked into my world and psyche over centuries—some lethal sleeper agent in my mind. Maybe it’s the patriarchy, maybe it’s Maybelline.
When I’m cynical I think that to be feminine is to be poked at, hollowed out and analyzed, unto a pointless conclusion, because the sample gets burned up in the test.
To be a woman is to get broken down into parts, and roles, and pieces.
And to express this trait is to satisfy some twisted fantasy of tradition.
To wear that is to be considered an invitation.
To be just a body is a lie.
To love this body is vain, but to hate it is to die.
But I love being a woman. I love that I come from a long line of women—my tiny grandma, for example, who loved high-heeled shoes and fought cancer to walk—who knew, and lived like, just because somebody wants to corrupt, devalue, and drain out the joy from whatever you love does mean you have to let them. They don’t make the rules.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.