On Womanhood…

What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

Some key themes emerge, including:

  • Independence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Strength
  • Professional advancement
  • Education
  • Empowerment
  • Girl-power

Wonderful. What about key themes from previous times that continue to play an active role in the definition of womanhood today?

  • Home making
  • Compassion
  • Companionship
  • Motherhood
  • Spiritual devotion

Women are, as nature would have it, highly complex and adaptable beings. They are capable of absolutely anything. Yet, even in this generation that prides itself for its revolutionary admiration of women, society is severely lacking in its approach.

Every woman I’ve spoken to has a story to tell about exclusion, prejudice, judgement, stereotyping, abuse and marginalization. Yes, some of these situations are imposed by men, but this is no longer the global sentiment. More often than not, stories of microaggression are pointing to… other women.

You may have read my previous post On Feminism that addressed this matter. I feel compelled to write about this again after a small incident that occurred yesterday at my local bulk grocery store.

I was at the cash register with my husband, and I walked over to the end of the register to grab our cart of groceries as my husband paid. The cart was full of family oriented products: meat, vegetables, paper towels, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. The cashier, a woman, pushed the cart towards me with a smirk on her face, then dished out this line: “Oh! Let me just slowly move away from the cash register so that IIIII don’t have to PAY!”

She laughed. At first, I wasn’t really paying attention and just smiled back at her. Then I looked at my husband’s face, and quickly registered what this woman had said to me. He bit his tongue and I bit mine. We don’t owe anyone an explanation about how we run our finances, and we don’t indulge in conflict as we run our errands.

We both walked away from that exchange feeling appalled. He was taken aback, and I was angry. “What is it with other women?” I asked him, “Why do they have to be so cruel? What’s it to her who pays for the groceries? Do her parents split the bill on everything? Do people not understand what family is anymore?”

He pointed out that people who pick faults in strangers typically have an inferiority complex. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse the behaviour.

I hear women, every day, insisting that women have the right to freedom. They insist that women have earned the freedom of profession, of faith, of association, of expression, of thought, of choice, and of opinion. Right? Yet, I also see women, every day, judging other women and attempting, typically through microaggressions, to suppress those freedoms.

Feminism is not about preventing men from designing our lives for us. It is about taking ownership of our own lives, and preventing anyone else from designing them for us. Letting other women coerce us into particular trends of behaviour and lifestyle is not feminist.

Moreover, men cannot be left entirely out of the picture, and leaving them out is not feminist either. We have to coexist with them in this world, and barring them from playing any role in our lives is counter productive. A relationship is a give and take, and marriage is a partnership. Anyone who says otherwise is either single or in a failing relationship. No marriage/relationship can succeed between two people who can’t fight the fight together. A family that splits its finances splits its mission, vision, and values. Any professional woman who understands the tenets of successful business knows that such a model would be unviable.

To the cashier, the intricate details of my family life are invisible. All she sees is a handsome man extending a hand to pay for a bill. She doesn’t see how hard he works. She doesn’t see how he pours his sweat, tears, and blood into the soil of our lives, for us to prosper. She also doesn’t see me running from morning to evening between my office and home, working late at my kitchen table after the homemade dinner I whipped up.

Would it be worth explaining it to her? Would it be helpful if she knew that my husband and I are strategic, that every dollar is budgeted, that we don’t walk through life letting things happen to us, and that his paying for the groceries is an intentionally determined process we designed together?

Perhaps. But the real question is, why do women have to explain themselves to other women in the first place?

In just the last week, other women have demanded an explanation from me for:

  • Why I cook so often, “since I work,” as though work and feeding my family are mutually exclusive responsibilities.
  • Why I haven’t had children yet, followed by a lecture about how my time is running out.
  • Why I got married, with the insistence that my marriage is unlikely to succeed because “most marriages fail” (for the record, the divorce rate is raised disproportionately by people who have repetitive divorces).
  • Why I still wear my engagement ring post-wedding, and why I’d even let my husband spend money on a ring despite this being an “archaic tradition”.
  • Why I haven’t hired a housekeeper. Another woman smugly retorted to this conversation with her opinion that women who hire housekeepers are failing women.
  • Why I would spend any money on a wedding.
  • Why I work in my field when I could be making more money in another.
  • Why I’m eating that.

You get the picture.

Women never give women a break and, instead of drawing a line and saying NO when other women take a stab at them, they tend to turn around and indulge in the same behaviours.

Feminism is not only about saying NO to men, it is also about saying NO to other womenNo, I will not allow you to tell me who I should be. No, I won’t allow you to define types of women and categorize me accordingly. No, I will not answer to you, I will not explain myself to you, I am not accountable to you.

Every one of us plays a fundamental role in protecting the freedoms of fellow women. It is our duty, our sisterhood, to raise each other, and to strengthen each other against forces that seek to break our spirit, whether the source of the offence is a man or another woman.

So, what will you do today to make the world a little bit safer for women? I’ve written this post. The cashier who took a stab at me will probably never read it, but so many others will, and maybe it will prepare them for a better response when they, or someone else, faces unnecessary prejudice. This time, my response was silence… next time, it certainly will be louder.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Charles Aznavour…

“Live now. Tomorrow, who knows?”

We each have our heroes. Today, I am writing about one of mine because it’s impossible to write about anything else.

I’m not going to tell you how many songs Aznavour wrote, or discuss the controversial topics many of his songs tackled.

I’m going to tell you, instead, why Aznavour broke many hearts when he died yesterday, despite being 94 years old.

Aznavour has always been a hopeful symbol for Armenian youth, especially diaspora Armenians. In foreign tongue that many of them, having grown up in predominantly English and Arabic speaking countries, didn’t even understand, he was exceptionally relatable. After all, he too was the product of a forgotten genocide that left his family searching for a new home and identity. He, too, was caught up half way between two very different worlds, belonging to both but, at the same time, to neither. He was one of the fathers of French song, and also the beacon of the Armenian dream: to live freely, to be accepted, to be recognized, and to belong.

Charles Aznavour’s voice has been playing in my ear since the day I was born. Before I could speak French, I had memorized many of his chansons. I remember the first time I finally understood one, I was blown away… all these years, I had been singing along to a voice I knew so well, telling a tale I couldn’t even comprehend. I was excited by this realization and went on a good old fashioned Aznavourian binge, listening to all his songs and dissecting them, trying to finally grasp sight of the man behind them. What I found in the end was ironically the same man I expected… a fighter, a dreamer, a seeker of justice… an Armenian.

I’ve inspired some laughter since learning of Aznavour’s death, as I was caught off guard by the sudden and persistent tears that overwhelmed me at random times throughout the day. “It’s like you lost a family member,” one friend joked. “He wasn’t better than anyone else,” another told me. “He’s just another celebrity;” “he was 94! What did you expect?”

They’re right. Nobody is better than anybody else. But Charles Aznavour was my beacon; he was a light in this world for many of us, wandering in search of our stolen identities.

Charles Aznavour did what others could not… he showed us that whether we call ourselves Western or Eastern Armenians, we all have one thing in common: due to our history, we can see people, really see them, and if we choose, we can be makers of magic for everyone else.

Charity, integrity, gratitude, faith and story telling are the pillars of my life. Whenever a crack started to form in one, it only took a sprinkle of Aznavourian magic to repair it.

A few years ago, when I finally went to see Aznavour in Doha, Qatar, I was mesmerized by the frail old man that greeted us humbly from the stage. He told us he had been feeling sick, and everyone expected he couldn’t make it, but he had willed himself to feel better because so many people were waiting. I was relieved… selfishly, I worried until the very last moment that he would not show up, and that I would never get to see him.

And yet, there he was, tired and sick but with a booming voice, faking a heart attack on the stage in good humour… 91 years old and still going strong, refusing to retire. As he painted through his signature La Boheme act, I thought to myself… this man is a true designer of his own life and luck.

And so, I saw new light.

Thank you, Aznavour. May you be seated in the heaven of heavens. (22 May 1924 – 1 October 2018).

And remember… “I love life! Live it! Don’t spoil it!”

M.

Goal Achieved!

As my readers know, I have been rooting for support for Angelina, a 7 year old girl fighting Lyme disease with her father. This weekend, Angelina’s family met and surpassed the goal of raising $20K for the treatment!

Check it out at: https://www.gofundme.com/angiefightslyme

This is what people are capable of achieving when they put their hands together in the name of love. We are all creators of miracles in this life.

Cheers to everyone who helped support the campaign by donating and/or sharing it. Thank you for sending your good thoughts and keeping Angelina and her dad in your prayers. Please continue to pray that the treatment helps improve the symptoms they are experiencing. And “may the odds be ever in your favour” 😉

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.