I work in an institution that prides itself of empowering women. On Wednesday, it being International Women's Day, there was hype on this very theme. I hid my feelings. I don't understand. I don't feel part of a common sisterhood. It was not my day but nor was it my day to rain on somebody elses parade.
Once again it got me thinking about identity. It got me thinking about how we define ourselves. Indeed in looking for an identity, do we miss some greater truth about ourselves. Is there not a danger that in trying to forge an identity we miss something fundamental to our being?
I for one can't identify with half the world's population simply on the grounds that I share the same biological tackle as them. I feel no sense of sisterhood. No sense of belonging. Our common experiences in terms of what happens to our bodies are not enough to bind us together with a common sense of belonging. I think most women would agree with me here.
I could see the positive in much of the rhetoric of International Women's Day in terms of celebrating feminine toughness, resilience and independence of thought. However the positives in this only lay in their opposition to the unappealing female traits of needyness and emotion-laden manipulation. I didn't like the promotion of complete independence in the sense that a woman's destiny is her own to decide for herself. I believe such an idea is decidedly far from the truth. Women will ever go down this path, but it seems to be fantasy to me. The strength of women is in their interactions not their independence.
Often we identify ourselves through what we are not. Indeed this can be a gloriously quick and easy way to form a bond of connection. From Bolton to Borneo I have witnessed that glee smile and sense of belonging within the tribe that identifies itself with the tag: we who don't support Manchester United. Though it has to be remembered that this tribe has no meaning without the presence of Manchester United. Likewise, identifying as not being a man relies heavily on the presence of men. This negative identifier is not the essence of womanhood.
Occasionally there is a bond to other women, but it not a bond of identifying with them as such. It is about a bond due to a common understanding of love. A quick glance between two women who have read a man in the same way. However, it only happens in love, it only happens with those who love men and who have no sense of sisterhood either. It is with those of us who prefer the company of men, those of us who would never parade our shared understanding of men, those of us who know that some things are best hidden and not talked about. Our identity here is not so much about belonging as about knowing. I suppose this is "my tribe", but it is a very "un-tribe-like tribe" as we don't need each other or seek each other out.
The bottom line is that St Paul is right: Woman was created for man 1Cor 11:9
That is the identity of women; to bring out what is good in men that they can't bring forth for themselves. The goodness comes from God, but we are His handmaids. Simply what more could we want or desire to be? This is a gift beyond telling.
It is not about rights, empowerment or independence. It is about unconditional love with the lightest of touches and the humblest of hearts. It is entirely directed towards men and for men. That is the only feminism I understand.
And here is a link to a track (in a spirit of sisterhood) from The Sisters of Mercy to keep me in good cheer. I was no "goth" but living in the M62 corridor meant throwing yourself round the dancefloor to the Body Electric was just about the most fun you could have in the 1980s.
Some girls wander by mistake....
I've been wandering by mistake all my life....