Sunday, December 14, 2008

Defining, and Re-Defining, a Woman

I've just posted my thoughts on the issue of women as individuals being erased from our culture at my Illume magazine blog, but wanted to throw out some more fleshed out thoughts on this issue. The Illume blog is geared towards Muslims, and I wrote about how Islam does not limit the definition of women to their relation to men (contrary to what you may see in many so-called Islamic cultures).

What started this whole line of thinking, as I mention in that post, is that my son asked me if I'd ever noticed how Mrs. Claus is only known as "Mrs. Claus". We don't know who she was prior to marrying Santa, how they met, or what she does besides make cookies, serve Santa, and act as a surrogate mother to the elves. Granted, we are talking about a fictional character, but my initial reaction to my son's questions was that this points to a larger cultural issue.

I suppose I should be clear that I am not advocating that a woman's role as wife and mother is meaningless, shallow, or not a valid expression of herself. In fact, I think they are extremely important roles, and I respect women who take those roles seriously.

What I do want to further explore, however, is what I view as the erasure of women outside of our connection to our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. Certainly I do not think this is a new or Western-only issue. Patriarchy crosses cultural boundaries and has seeped into all cultures to some degree, even those that were once known to be women-centered.

In modern society, it seems that we are forced to choose one or the other reality. We can either be wives and mothers, or we can be professional women. As activists, I think women are demanding that we not be forced to choose between these roles. I know many single mamis who are activists, writers, artists, and also "working mums", and their children are actively engaged in their art and activism as well! Some of those women don't even view themselves as activists and yet I recognize them as such. These are the women I look up to.

I don't want to be known as "the Nica's ex-wife" or "X's mom" ONLY. I am tired of being introduced as "A.R.'s sister" as if I do not exist as an individual separate from those roles defined by the men I love.

I don't, however, have the answers to what all this means or how exactly to counteract it.

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