This post is written in a way that is very much discussed in the binary. I look forward to writing more pieces on non-binary and in-between groups that require just as much attention and regard, but today, I am discussing one group in an all-too ‘binaried’ system. This blog is about women, not only biological women, but anyone who identifies as woman, female, she/her. It is also about the women in all of us, including non-binary folks, trans folks, boys and men who have women inside.
The Women in All of Us
Carl Sandburg wrote a poem called Wilderness. The poem beautifully describes a few different animals and the various roles they play in the wild. They tear meat and eat, they sniff and guess, fly and soar, hunt and kill. Sandberg lays out, in his brusque, poetic way, the differing identities of these animals out in the wilderness—wolves, foxes, baboons, eagles. The last paragraph of the poem goes like this:
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness. –Carl Sandburg1
We all have women inside of us, no matter our gender identity. We all know women that we have “taken in”–a mother, sister, aunt, friend, lover, partner. They’re all inside. We each have our caregivers, our baby selves, our teenage selves, significant others—all living inside of us. Believe it or not, there are womenin all of us.
Women, No One the Same
This week, coming off the heels of black history month, we celebrate international women’s day. We celebrate women across the expanse of continents—women of different colors, socioeconomic statuses and sexualities. It feels difficult to discuss women as a homogenous group. There is so much individuality lost in talking about “women” as a group. It feels like an injustice in and of itself. How do we discuss women without talking about the magnitude of each individual woman? The only way to discuss international women is to address the importance of diversity.
Diversity as Necessity
I recently listened to a podcast about all the different ways humans sleep. There are people who naturally sleep for 8 hours per night, those who prefer four hour increments, and still others who nap intermittently throughout the day. Evolutionarily speaking, variance was of great use. Having diverse ways of sleeping provided the most reliable way of protecting the tribe.
During the industrial revolution, an “ideal” was introduced. Factories were up and running during the day, people needed to sleep through the night. This just didn’t work for everyone. Many people felt a struggle working against their natural biological rhythms, and rates of insomnia grew over time. This reminded me of the “ideal” introduced for women. The more women tried to mold themselves around an ideal, the more sickness we saw in society.
I see diversity among women as a strength, as a power, as a necessity. Being a woman can mean a lot of different things depending on culture, nationality, tradition, sexuality, societal norms and much more. This diverse network is essential. Just like the differing biological rhythms of humanity, we naturally celebrate diversity when we celebrate the internationality of women.
Evolutionarily, if every human had slept 8 hours a night, the tribe would have been vulnerable to attack. In modern times, people who don’t fit the ideal suffer, they feel like something is wrong with them, like they don’t fit. This goes for women of color, non-heterosexual women, women with “othered” bodies, women who are differently abled, and any “in-between” women out there.
This ideal is leaving us vulnerable to the attacks of ‘isms’ and phobias–sexism, racism, homophobia, body phobia, transphobia, biphobia, non-binary phobia, and the list goes on. I believe we could be cashing in on the reward of using our differences and our internationality to our advantage! As women begin to increasingly come together in new ways, I wonder in how can we keep dismantling the idea that there is an ideal?
Many times in history the world has changed, nations have changed. Every change brought with it new walls built up around our ability to be open, to be accepting, to be radically undefended. Today, there are multiple movements occurring at once. Some move toward breaking walls down, some move toward building bigger walls, and others don’t know where they fit in this seeming dichotomy.
Caitlin Moran is one of my favorite authors about women. She writes:
What do you do when you build yourself—only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things? You rip it up and start again. That is the work of your teenage years—to build up and tear down and build up again, over and over, endlessly, like speeded-up film of cities during boom times and wars. To be fearless, and endless, in your reinventions—to keep twisting on nineteen, going bust, and dealing in again, and again. Invent, invent, invent.” ― Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl2
We, as a society can continue to reinvent ourselves, continue to be more open, more “without walls.” What does it take to look inside and realize you’ve built parts of yourself with the wrong things? With things that actually take away your capacity to celebrate diversity? What does it take for someone to build up their capacity not only to tolerate difference but to celebrate it? We have been taught to fear difference and that otherness is a threat to our own fragile identities. In reality, difference is a natural part of human existence, and just like sleep patterns,human diversity may in fact increase our ability to thrive. I ask you, what is in the way of your celebration of difference?
International Women’s Day is not about discussing women as a homogeneous group, but it is about celebrating the ways in which women find ways to continually rebuild themselves despite all the walls they find around them. They call upon the baboon inside who can climb, the fox who can outsmart, the wolf who can bite and tear. We use our parts, we reinvent our parts, we do our part to uphold and honor the diversity not only outside, across the continents, but to also honor the diversity inside as well. Let us all honor the internationality of women today and every day.
1 Sandburg, C., MacLeish, A., & Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana (Mississippi State University. Libraries). (1970). The complete poems of Carl Sandburg.
2 Moran, C. (2014). How to build a girl. New York City, New York. Harper Collins Publishing.