It's International Women's Day. I see posts popping up all over, otherwise I wouldn't have known. It's not a day I track on my calendar as I do holidays or birthdays. I can't say I've even been aware that such a day existed up until just a year or so ago. I sense my own ambivalence in marking such a day.
Why do we need an International Women's Day? What exactly does such a day honor, or celebrate, or defy? How am I supposed to mark the day in a way that has significance? What can I contribute to the cause?
I don't have the answers to any of those questions. I have almost more than I can handle right in front of me with the two young women I am raising. But in the dailyness of our existence and the profound and profane of our conversations, maybe I actually do have more of an answer than I think.
I've spent the past week talking to my days away from 13 year old daughter about sex. Frankly. Honestly. Revealingly. She has been forced into the conversations, maybe a bit too soon, by the political and religious culture in which we all swim, struggling to stay afloat. An afterschool club is planning a "purity ritual" celebration that involves a promising of self to Jesus in order to elicit vows of chastity. Her youth group at church convened a panel of "experts" to discuss all things relational with this group of teens, ranging from not quite 13 to ready to venture into the world on their own -- without informing parents up front.
Part of me wants to be furious. Part of me knew it was coming and has been preparing for these days since she was a tiny baby first learning to identify various parts of the body. Part of me is relieved that we are finally here having this conversation, and part of me still fights the old old messages of shame around sexuality I've internalized these many years.
In the midst of it all, we've had several interesting, lively, and deep conversations. I'm not sure how I did. I might need a tape recording and a panel of philosophers, psychologists and theologians to answer that question for me. Or maybe, I can simply watch how she handles herself with grace. I hope what I've conveyed is something of the numinous nature of intimate relationship with another, a sense of the beauty and sacredness of her own body, confidence to stand in her own strength, vulnerability to allow connectedness, a knowing of how deeply she is loved, and the ability to honor her own self as she makes choices going forward - regardless of how the culture around her defines "right and wrong".
More than anything, I want her to know that the boxes she sees others in the religious and political sphere try to create to hem in her very nature, to protect the world from the power of the feminine, to confine her to a predetermined role are not boundaries within which she has to exist. I want her to know a freedom of body and soul that allows her to follow her dreams, making whatever mistakes she needs to make along the way. I want to take away the guilt and the shame around sexuality, around having a body, around being the source of creative power, of being a woman.
My voice alone cannot accomplish all of that. But it can be a counterpoint to the other voices she hears. And my voice, joined with the voices of others, all around the world, might be able to make a difference for our daughters - and our sons. Until we can honor our own strengths, and admit our weaknesses, and celebrate and integrate the opposite strengths, we will live in a lopsided world. If my words to the young women under my care (and really, to my own self at the same time) can help bring any balance, then they are worth the trouble it takes to speak them, today on International Women's Day, and throughout the rest of my life.