This year has been the year of the women.
Let me first define “year.” I mean June 2014 to June 2015. I am still in the school-ish age, and I can define things by the end of an academic year. I also always feel that June starts something new. Traditionally, figuratively, we associate summer with vitality. Something new lives. So from summer to summer – that is the year of which I speak. And I feel particularly reflective at this moment, as a year ago, last June, I was fresh out of college. A new graduate. And this June there is a whole new set of graduates. So what was this last year, this past life-school year?
It was the year of the women.
Yes, I have had women in my life before this year. I have had friends and teachers, aunts and classmates, coaches, cousins, grandmothers, teammates, roommates, bosses, and a wonderful mother. I have had immensely close relationships with these people. Loving, sincere, true friendships. Each of my best friends impresses me. Each inspires me. Each challenges me.
Yet, this year is the year of the women unlike any before. I see great importance in collections of events or moments that somehow align – related “accidents” of sorts. In this instance I speak not so much of collections of moments, but of individuals and groups. This year presented me with, or threw me in the path of, powerful woman after powerful woman. This is why it is not “year of the woman.” It is plural. All of them. All of you.
My best friends and I used to cringe when we had meetings in our single-sex college dorm and our rector would say, “Sisters.” These are your sisters. Be respectful of your sisters. Don’t drink in your dorm rooms. Think of your sisters. We would look at each other and roll our eyes and think, “These are not my sisters. These are 240 girls thrown together by random-roommate generating software.” Also, what do my sisters care if I have a glass of wine? I’m pretty sure any sister of mine would join me – but that’s beside the point.
Madeline Albright, the first female United States Secretary of State has said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I do have fantastic friends who I consider as close as sisters, but I had never felt really connected to my gender or sex as a collective. I was down for girl power, if it wasn’t obnoxious. I was all about feminism in the theoretical sense: Yeah, an hour of my work is just as valuable as a man’s. Yeah, I can have a successful career and wear amazing shoes. Yeah, so can a man. Who cares?
But I don’t think I really understood it. Women. Womanhood. I didn’t really think about it. Truthfully, I have always thought that I did better in mixed company. I enjoy my male friends. I once lived in an apartment with 9 girls. It was a lot of estrogen for me. Yes, I loved and relished the time I spent with my girlfriends, but I didn’t recognize its real worth.
This year, I needed some women, and life gave me so many.
I moved back to Tulsa and immediately realized that I didn’t really have friends here. I never thought about having to make friends in a place where I had lived so long before. Alas, I had just spent four years making friends who live in about every other corner of the country except the non-corner that is the Great Plains.
So I dove into a yoga practice. The reason I kept coming back was because I was in complete awe of the teachers. I looked at these women. I saw strong, beautiful, confident, joyful, deep women. I learned from them. I wanted to be friends with them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be like them. So I kept going. And I discovered that yoga was tied up in this female power. Each fed the other – the female and the yoga, the yoga and the female.
I began working at lululemon. I joined an almost entirely female group of coworkers. And these are not just girls. These are women with goals. With ambitions and dreams. With active lives, with lively spirits. These are women who each day challenge me to grow stronger, to shoot higher, to laugh louder. These are smart people. These are women who lift each other up. These are women who stand independently together. These are pillars. And I am better with them.
I took a yoga teacher training in Austin, Texas. For the first time in our leader’s experience, the group was entirely female. And how fitting. The universe threw seven complete strangers (much like MTV’s the Real World) together at exactly the right points in all of our lives. We spanned age decades – 20s, 30s, 40s. Each came with baggage – some struggling with marriages, divorces, relationships, life decisions, turning points, doubts, fears, opportunities. I was the youngest. And I felt extremely lucky and humbled to see this arc of women. I was the naïve. They were the wisdom. And the life that they each contain, it inspires me.
In the midst of this, I listened to Tina Fey’s Bossypants. This is the woman who wrote Mean Girls. This is the first female head writer on SNL. Funny and smart. And phrasing the sentiment basically the same way as Albright (not), she says, “Obviously, as an adult I realize this girl-on-girl sabotage is the third worst kind of female behavior, right behind saying “like” all the time and leaving your baby in a dumpster.” We are not meant to be mean girls; we are meant to be inclusive women. We are not in competition. We are our greatest advantage.
I was and am guilty of judging women. I look at beauty. I compare. But I don’t want to anymore. I want to celebrate each of us. If we don’t celebrate each other, uplift each other – celebrate and uplift ourselves – why should we expect this of others? Let alone men?
On a daily basis I interact with insanely powerful women. Strong women. Physically strong, mentally strong. Spiritually strong. Women who have overcome tragedy and trial – stories that I will not tell here, because you know your own set of these women. Women who are secure in their womanhood. Women who recognize that we, as women, are in it together. That there is a special bond. I won’t say a sisterhood, because I actually experience a full-body shutter when I type the word, but I will say a magnetism. Strength attracts strength. Ambition attracts ambition. Success attracts success. Strong, ambitious, successful women – of any age – bring other women with them.
I feel so young in their light. I am inspired around them. I am better with them. They are what I want to grow to be.
This is the year that I understand the magnetism. The importance of collecting a group of women. The enrichment that happens when you place yourself around them. I found them when I needed them. I thank them.
I hold on to them for dear life. Grab ahold. Together we become everything we can.
(photo: Ryan McGahan)