For a long time, I have doubted my identity as a feminine woman. The roots of this go back to my childhood and an ugly brown calico housedress, taken from a reject box of miscellaneous stuff from an uncle’s estate sale and thrust at me as my only permissible “dress-up” outfit. The message was that I was too rough, too tomboyish, too graceless and inelegant to be trusted with anything nicer. I was also told that I was too loud, too careless, and too rough and clumsy to be domesticated. Mother didn’t want any disruptions or distractions to her control of our home – even though that “control” was not exercised in any creative way.
When I married and began to establish a home of my own, the lack of practice in childhood play took its toll. Homekeeping was hard, and it seemed impossible to please my DH anyway. “Why did you do this, instead of that? Why did you put this here instead of there?” Out of one side of his mouth he told me I was smart and could do anything, but out of the other, more loudly, he told me I was a sentimental idealist who was burdened with unrealistic expectations about home and marriage, and that everything I attempted was stupid, idiotic and dumb.
Needless, to say, I soon quit trying.
I think I had my first unqualified success when I got to go to college, in my late 20s and early 30s. One of my professors, who had a reputation for being difficult to get along with, was overheard to tell one of his colleagues that I was one of the most brilliant students to come down the pike during his entire career. That bit of praise, indirectly received, made a profound impact on me. Other teachers had told me I was bright and ought to be doing better in school, but they were “nice” people who could find good to praise in everyone; this one professor with the opposite reputation got my attention as those kindlier people could not have done. If they praised me, they were being nice; when he did, as he so rarely did to anyone, then maybe there was more to me than I had realized before.
But academic achievement and success don’t compensate for the sense of being a failure in other, more personal life dimensions. I continued to find homemaking, parenting, and just liking myself very difficult. Truth be told, I failed at all of them. I decided that to be as clumsy and impatient as I was, as common in my roots, but to love beautiful art and music and literature, I must be a mule – one of those bizarre freaks of nature, the cross between an ass and a horse, hardworking, rather plain, sometimes temperamental… sterile. I thought I must be a very superior sort of mule, to love the beautiful things I do, but I had to be a mule all the same. After all, hadn’t I heard my whole life that I wasn’t good enough to be anything finer?
Dramatic life change requires a catalyst, and I was given mine in the form of new friends. One of these, a Catholic, an immediate friend through the power of our shared Faith, spoke and affirmed and validated all those ideals of womanhood and relationship and marriage that DH had ridiculed and scorned – and scorned me for holding.
The others have been important, too The power of genuine masculinity is astonishing, and my friends have helped as catalysts of my healing through the very clear and masculine identity they possess, in strength of mind and a clarity of thought that is sadly lacking in most of the men I have known in recent years; most of the men I see so wounded and distorted in this postmodern feminist-dominated culture. And they are kind and gentle – the sort of kindness and gentleness that can only come from manly strength (weak men can only be varying degrees of weak). These friendships have been a gift of healing and encouragement; never once have they treated me as anything less than a woman.
I did some reading this summer in order to know myself better. Yes, I mean relationship books <blush!>. One of them contained a little quiz to help the reader determine whether she is a masculine-energy, feminine-energy, or narcissistic individual. I enjoy quizzes, and this one was no exception.
Each question had three options for answers. As I read the possible responses, I almost always thought, I would like to do this, but that feels safer… Without exception, “This” was the feminine-energy response, “That” was the masculine-energy response! I was astonished to realize that my native instincts are feminine, but that I have been conditioned to be strong, decisive, and even at times overbearing by a multitude of neglects and abuses over the years.
I sat down in response to a blog post I read, and I began to draw up a list of things I love, that make me feel happy and at peace. The list contains things like Chanel No. 5 (which I bought for myself, back in August!), a variety of flowers, the paintings of Monet and Henry Tanner, the music of Chopin, Debussey, Palestrina…
All the things I love are very feminine, elegant, graceful, gentle things.
It is a shock, this discovery of myself as a feminine woman. My mother was wrong about me – and so was DH. Without pressure to please someone else who is impossible to please out of the emptiness of his/her own soul, I have discovered I enjoy puttering around my home. I take pleasure in making my bed every morning now, and in making things neat and clean. I do it for myself because I’ve discovered I am worthy of an orderly, cheerful and pleasant home; if God allows me to marry, I will be better-practiced to make a peaceful and cheerful home for Him Whom My Soul Loves, as my gift to him and to myself.