It is Women’s history month and I am so excited! I have been pondering a very important question: “What does it mean to be a woman?” Even a woman as phenomenal as Sojourner Truth, questioned “Ain’t I a woman?”
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?”
It’s interesting really, this is a question both men and women ponder. Men want to know, “Am I a man” and women often question, “Am I a woman?” It is a defining moment of arrival into something special…and we all question, “Have I arrived?”
Some cultures attempt to define this point of arrival. They offer young boys rites of passage ceremonies after they have returned from the woods. Another man might tell a boy who has completed the tasks, “You are a man now.” Some men are told that having their first sexual experience makes them a man.
Interestingly, many girls learn that the start of their menstrual cycle is the point of entrance into womanhood. The day they find their panties stained with blood, women all around them invite them into the circle of “being a woman”. I have learned, that beginning your cycle does not, in any way, make someone a woman. To better explain what it means to be a woman, I will offer a detailed explanation that differentiates what it means to a female, lady, feminine, and a woman.
Female: Being female is about anatomy. It’s about chromosomes and sexual parts. Being female is what gives you access to womanhood. Being a female does not make you a woman.
Lady: “Acting like a lady” is about performance. Girls learn to be lady-like. Being a lady is about how you sit, walk, and eat your food. Being a lady shows your ability to master social expectations placed on women. It can be closely compared to being a gentleman (which denotes the social expectations placed on men). Girls are told to “act like a lady” because it is based in acting,performing, and presenting. Being female, makes one more susceptible to the expectations of behaving like a lady. Being a lady does not make you a woman.
Feminine: Being feminine is about energy. Femininity is an energetic choice. It is a tool that both men and women can access. Feminine energy embodies particular traits including stillness, nurturance, passivity, connectedness, internal life, intuition, and emotion. In today’s world many women access their masculine energy while working. They are active, outward, assertive, logical and directive. Every moment women, and men, make energetic choices. Being a woman, and acting like a lady does not mean a woman is feminine. Women choose feminine energy. I believe femininity is especially powerful in the hands of a woman. Femininity can be used in service of womanhood. Being feminine does not make you a woman. (Learn more about feminine energy in this article by Dr. Pinkney)
Woman: Being a woman is about knowing. Females become women at various stage in their lives. It has nothing to do with age, menstruation, marriage, or owning a home. There are several females who have accomplished these tasks and are not walking as women. Being a woman is about understanding who you are and what you are worth, and walking, talking, and existing in that place.
When a girl is trying to assert herself as a woman she might yell things like, “I am not going to be treated that way!” or “I deserve better than this!” She is attempting to access her womanhood. She is still trying to convince herself and others of who she thinks she is. There are many females, “grown-girls”, ladies, asserting themselves as women, but they are not.
When a girl becomes a woman, she knows who she is. A woman does not have to announce that she will not allow mistreatment. She simply will not allow mistreatment. No need to cry, explain, or announce. She gracefully "leaves the table when love is no longer being served” (shout to to Queen Nina Simone).
A woman gravitates toward people, places, and situations that honor her spirit and bring joy to her life. A woman understands the power of her existence, and she uses it in service of herself and others. She is aware of the impact of her presence, and of her absence. She knows the influence of her facial expressions, and she uses her smile and her frown to make things happen. She understands that her touch can heal and she that is responsible for using those powers as she intends.
A woman is first committed to herself and others. She is self-respecting. She means what she says. She does what she says she is going to do. She understands her role as mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, and she uses it in service of community. A woman knows that she is responsible for herself and her children, and she creates a healthy environment in which they can prosper and grow.
A woman trusts herself, and uses her divine feminine in service of her womanhood. She does not go through someone’s phone to see if they are lying. She can discern truth and untruth through her own spirit and does not dishonor herself by snooping, manipulating or begging. She will not be reduced to such desperate measures. She knows what she knows, and she trusts it.
A woman knows. A woman knows who she is. Because she knows that she is a woman, and how important, necessary, and unique she is, she is fearless. A woman is not subject to the same worries of a girl. She knows that her partner can choose to stay, or her partner can choose to leave. Either way, her value remains and she has the capacity to be okay. She trusts that all she needs is within her, and she knows how to go within and access what she needs. It is from the place of Womanhood that she can best serve as a mother, wife, friend, leader, etc…
When you are in the presence of a woman you will know it. You will know what Ms. Such-and-Such will and won’t allow from you by the way she holds herself. The world shifts in the presence of a woman. People carry themselves differently. Men sit-up. Children behave. Other women nod in acknowledgement. A woman will naturally call you to your higher-self.
Womanhood cannot be bestowed. Womanhood cannot be taken away. It is known.
I believe Goddess Maya Angelou captures womanhood best in her poem “Phenomenal Woman.” Read it with your whole heart. It will call you higher:
I believe that there is a phenomenal woman in each female I know. If you need support in becoming becoming a woman who knows. Sister, I am here to serve you.
Sister Dr. Adrianne R. Pinkney,
Integrative Wellness & Life Coach