She’s sitting in the haze of 11:45 p.m. at a bar neither of us planned on visiting. Her name is lost to the memories before my fifth beer, but I’ll always carry the image of her eyes; determined to not let the sadness take more than it already had. There’s a tender moment when two strangers realize the humanity they handle is delicately woven together. “I was raped when I was nine, but they told me I was lying for the attention. Nobody could believe the church basketball coach was capable of that.” She took another swig of her beer. “What kind of nine year makes that sort of thing up?” She wasn’t defeated, she was accepting. That was not a plotline of her story, it was a chapter.
I had started the conversation with a compliment; a seemingly lost art amongst my generation. Recently, I had started to observe the changes that wash over a woman’s face when she receives a compliment. I’m not talking about the sleazy kind, laced with awkward sexual tension that male coworkers love to dole out after a few beers. I have always found the most flattering compliments come without an agenda, and quite often that is only woman to woman. I can clearly remember the few women who have approached me in public to comment on my hair or my dress, followed by a glow of warmth that spread through me with the offering of just a few simple words. So I made it my mission that New Year’s Eve to make as many women feel as beautiful as possible.
“Hey not trying to be weird, but I just wanted to tell you, you’re really pretty.” Her body language changed, a settling of breaths, tension no longer held in her limbs. This wasn’t war. “Thank you, so much.” She smiled, relieved. As the typical bar scene played out around us, hunger for attention, competition for a mate, we simply took off our armor, laid down our swords and sat; two women resting.
We talked about our schools, our jobs. She is studying to be a vet, I am a military pilot. We appreciated each other for the difficulty of our respective career fields, our shared ambition to pursue passions. I told her about my dream to one day help other women. It was then that she opened up, sharing the shadows from her past. In the silence following her revelation, I felt the magnitude of the moment and I couldn’t help but wonder why it is exceedingly difficult for women to support each other in a world against us.
Typically on nights like this, I would’ve caught myself sizing up the other women in the bar; their dress, their makeup, assigning myself a place amongst them. Prettier, uglier, skinnier, taller. I would have assessed the men in the room, watching what caught their eye. Regardless of whether I wanted an interaction with them, I have been primed to gauge my social position based on male interest, paying little mind to positively engaging with other women.
Why is it hard to genuinely connect with other women? Why are we so often quick to be catty, to judge, and to tear each other down? I refuse to believe that we are genetically coded to be at odds. Instead, I think we fail to see each other’s value because we do not acknowledge our own. I believe that within each woman, we all share the same desire to satisfy others. The same fear that we will never be enough, that our inadequacy is our defining feature.
I know that if I were to be honest, to confess those thoughts that lurk beneath my spoken words, somewhere in the underworld of thoughts and beliefs, I would know that every time I have felt dislike, judgment, or jealousy it has sprouted from a seed of discontentment.
I think of the nights that I have examined my naked body in the mirror, finding flaws in my wide forehead, my little boobs, or the way my nose flares when I smile. I think of how I analyze my sound, my smile, or the way I stand; ranking my features, criticizing my proportions, hating my reflection. I think of the tears I have collected; storing them as negative thoughts tucked away for later; little threats to my happiness. If I had a depiction of every woman I have envied, it would be an encyclopedia, categorizing everything that would make me better from A to Z.
Even as I write this, I find the distraction of insecurity begging to be acknowledged. It is my oldest companion; its weight is lifelike in my hands. I always see the faces of women more beautiful than myself. I ache with shame when I realize no man will ever stop feeling desire after he has felt me, that I will never be enough. Yet when I think back to that night; a gentle moment nestled in my memories, I still feel the acute sense of being connected in a deeper sense. I am renewed remembering the joy of sharing life, its beauty and its pain with another woman. As I reflect on her resolve; quiet and rugged, not letting a man’s greed define her journey, I feel at peace.
Women, we are not something to be consumed. Our value is not in our marketability, crudely disguised as so many other innocent things. Happiness is not in limited supply; confidence is not a precious commodity. We are free to grow, to weave contentment into our lives, to share in its beauty and joy. Feel beautiful, because you have your mother’s eyes. Feel valuable, because you contribute to the growth of the world around you. Feel special, because you know the depths of your soul; because you have witnessed life as it blossoms in front of you.
Let us venture forth, outside the confines of where society has placed us. We have spent centuries being defined for our sexual appeal, our value as a partner and never as an individual. It is time to move forward. It will take patience and silence to accept ourselves. It will take acknowledgement of our flaws and appreciation of our qualities. It will take courage to believe we control our own value, and commitment to dedicating ourselves to that which makes us feel the fires of passion. It will take strength to forgive ourselves for being flawed and to rise each morning, willing to experience. I ask that we do this for ourselves. We need to reach inside to face our doubts and find our merit, so that in time we can look at one another without jealousy and hatred. It is time to look past what we are not, and embrace everything that we are. It is time to forge our own future, so that one day when our daughters go to battle, it is for each other and not against each other.