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Whose woman are you?

Whose woman are you?

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For some time now I have been contemplating the question of womanhood within a Caribbean context. Specifically, I have been wondering how Caribbean womanhood is defined and by whom. After thinking about the ways in which lessons of womanhood have been imparted over the years, I came to the conclusion that most of our ideas of being women are influenced by the Bible, which tells us, among other things, that we should aspire to marriage, be submissive to our husbands, be virtuous wives, whose noble character would price us above rubies. On top of that, we are expected to be nurturing mothers to our children and perform all of these duties, while maintaining good figures, joie de vivre, and a certain amount of social respectability.

Being women operating within these parameters often places us in curious quandaries. Firstly, from an early age we are socialized to want to be all of these things: wife and then good wife, mother and then good mother, and all of the accompanying trappings. We might be living our merry lives, minding our own business when someone gently reminds us that our biological clocks are running out. If we do have children without being married, we are asked when we are going to do the wedding thing. If we are married, without children, then it is when we will have children. If we have one child, then the next question is when we are going to have the second one. The list goes on.

Woe be unto a woman who is found lacking in one or more of these categories. The woman who ticks all of the boxes could still end up with egg on her face if she manages to lose her husband’s interest. She might then find herself cast in the role of scorned/wronged or stoic wife, who must maintain some level of dignity, because somebody must take shame out of the family’s eye and it might as well be her.

I am not knocking women who wish to operate within these parameters of womanhood. I also do not pity the women who reject these ideas and forge their own paths. I do not see the former as less than the latter, or vice versa. At the end of the day, each of us will have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. However, when I think about prevailing categories of womanhood, I also see a woman as having other qualities and achievements that are of equal weighting in the value that they add to her personhood. Her education, her contribution to society, her generosity are also important factors. Her value could be found in how much she has helped others to learn, grow, heal, or live their best lives. Her value could be found in her social and political activism, cultural contributions and a list of other myriad of ways that a woman could make her mark.

A woman should be encouraged to determine her own womanhood on her own terms. If she chooses a particular path, it should be because she feels fulfilled on that path and not because she is following prescribed Victorian era strictures that plague us to this day. When women are able to dictate the terms of their lives, they walk into their own destinies. Women who define their own womanhood are able to carve their space in the world, and we are all the better for it.

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