WILL SOMEONE please answer the question: what is a woman? I certainly am not the only person posing it. Maybe a clear, concise, distinguished definition for those of us who identify as women simply does not exist. Are we to show up as professionals, mothers, politicians, social advocates, lovers, friends? All of the rules have changed drastically, continue to evolve, but no one has issued a new guidebook. We clearly are equal in virtue and value--yet not competing with, or trying to replace, men--but how are we supposed to be a woman in this "man's world"?
Personally, I had my own predicament. It took a radical physical experience, (he birth of my first child, to jolt me into the reality that I am a woman. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration. 1 mean, I knew I was a female, because I had all the right body parts, looks, and a female name. In reality, though, I had been unable to relate to the role of being a woman for the first three decades of my life.
I could blame my father, but it really was not his fault. He was a good Italian immigrant son, and the only male sandwiched among three sisters. In his quest for sons, he had three daughters and treated them like boys, the preferred gender in his eyes. Whether through luck or genes, I slipped easily into the son's role: working on cars, building furniture, and learning my father's banking business. In retrospect, I put my all into anything that would get me seen and accepted by my father. He was proud of me, I know, but my ballet recitals were lost on him.
Fast-forward to 1989--Corporate America in Denver, Colo. In the aftermath of a particularly distasteful and misogynistic staff meeting, I turned to my father, of all people, for support. The response was no surprise: "You're playing ball with the big boys now. Buck up," his voice advised in the face of my outrage. The discrimination felt massive, the advice daunting, and I was only midway through my first well-paying job.
"The big boys"--it sounded hopeless. I never would be a "big boy," and there was no "girls club," that I was aware of, at least not back then. The big boys played for high stakes and were fiercely competitive. There was no room for anything female: no sensitivities, rebuttals to rude jokes, or recourse for harassment. If you already had figured out what being a woman meant to you, you hid it and kept it hidden. You played the game and showed up like a man, if you wanted to get by, to get somewhere.
Indeed, a lot has...