There’s something about a new year unfolding that brings out wants and wishes in people, be they a new job, a new partner, or a new life – or perhaps a better job, a better partner, or a better life – or simply a job, a partner, or a life.
I’ve had a number of conversations recently with de wimmen – a phrase I use to collectively refer to my female friends, those whose honesty, advice, and pragmatism I value; those whose humour, wisdom, and experience I cherish; and those who I know would stump up bail money or at least keep vigil outside the jail were I ever to be incarcerated simply for being me.
Variations on a theme
These conversations have varied on a theme. We might have discussed how little men understand the workings of a woman’s mind. We might have spoken about how easy we (the gracious gender) are to please… really. We might have wondered collectively why so many of us are still single, while every man we know who can put on his socks unsupervised is happily hooked up. Or … we might just have swapped recipes, considered Hilary Clinton’s strategy for her presidential campaign, or debated the truth of Coco Chanel’s claim that ‘the most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.’
We might have philosophised about the joys of being part of a sisterhood that is at times self-deprecating, frequently hilarious, and rarely at a loss for words. We might have congratulated ourselves on being sassy, solvent, and self-sufficient. We might even have dissected the relationships of those in our kingdom who have been discovered by (or indeed have discovered) men who deserve them and wondered where the other worthies are hiding. Or… we might just have bemoaned the glass ceiling, decried the gender imbalance in the EU parliament, or debated the truth and relativity of Marjorie Kinnan’s reflection that ‘a woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life, to be thankful for a good one.’
Woman on the move
In this, the 14th baktun, I am meeting more and more intelligent, attractive women who can hold their own. I’m seeing more and more public and private initiatives thought up by and realised by women. I’m seeing more and more woman-power in action and I’m waiting with bated breath to see the fall-out. As Maya Angelou so beautifully put it: ‘I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.’
Gone are the days when women sat in drawing-rooms, flirting with fans, making polite shallow conversation in an effort to disguise a cleverness that might just be a tad off-putting to the less discerning male. And while I personally might long for a return to more traditional roles between the sexes (as long as I get to walk on the inside of the street, have the door opened for me, and my chair pulled out by someone who will also value my opinion) and want to see courtship and the art of wooing enjoy a massive revival, I have to admit that progress and the transit of the centuries have shifted the balance of power. But interestingly, not in the direction that one might imagine.
When I think of the strong-minded, capable, intelligent women I know, when I add up what we have to offer to partners, to businesses, to the community, as mothers, managers, and motivators, I question the fear that seems to be holding some of us back.
I came across the first verse of this poem by Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
And on reflection, I have come to realise the answer to that often-asked series question ‘should I tone done my natural enthusiasm, be less forward in offering my opinion, be a little more of what it seems I’m expected to be’ – the answer is simple. No.
Men of the world, beware. 2013 is taking shape and the rules have changed. Over the course of the coming months, if you find yourself being asked your opinion on anything from duck down or goose feather, to paperback or kindle, from the Chinese mission to Mars to the survival instincts of the penguin, answer at your peril.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of comments about your appearance (e.g. it would be a lovely shirt, were it ironed); if your witty remarks are eliciting more (or less) than the usual level of (non)appreciative laughter; if your advice is being given due consideration instead of the usual flippant dismissal, be cautioned that your reactions may be being noted. This year, methinks, that women will stand up and be counted, be the choosers rather than the chosen, and have a thing or three to say about the state of the nation.
First published in the Budapest Times 25 January 2013