Have you ever noticed that even in most Disney movies that glorify a strong female character, the story inevitably ends in a marriage?
She’s defeated warriors (Mulan) and saved lives (Frozen), but the plot isn’t really complete until she’s found a husband, presumably with whom she will have many, many babies.
Please hear me: the desire to be married is beautiful and God-given, and should never be looked down upon, in a man or a woman. But what I take issue with is the idea that a person- specifically a woman- is somehow incomplete until she’s entered into marital union, and then, given birth.
For the majority of human history, in most every time and place, a woman’s value has been defined by her ability to bear children. You can imagine what this has meant for millions of females over the centuries who have remained single, or remained unable to conceive: extreme pain, loss of identity, powerlessness, despair.
We like to think that things have changed—but have they really?
I recently had this revelation:
At age 29, I had begun to allow the trajectory of my life to be overwhelmed by one over-arching concern: that I would stay single into my 30’s, risking the loss of opportunities for marriage and motherhood, identity markers for a successful, (literally) fruitful woman, even in the 21st century.
In my 20’s, I went on adventure after adventure, explored countries and cities all over the planet, made tons of friends in the process, and deflected a conventional career path. And I felt okay about it—fantastic even. I was doing what made my soul come alive, and the sacrifices (instability, lack of comforts) were well worth the adrenaline rush of mastering city streets in foreign countries, learning new languages, and connecting with souls from all over planet Earth.
But as I hit age 27, 28, 29, something began to creep in. It wasn’t necessarily fear, but a sense that something was on the line over which I felt I had little control: my value as a woman. As well-meaning friends and family began to express concern and interest in my dating life (or sometimes, lack thereof), I also began to feel like my identity and worth had begun to change—whereas in my early 20’s, I was doing “the right thing” by using my freedom to travel the world, in my late 20’s- and still single- the same passionate pursuits seemed unwise, foolish even.
The fear and anxiety that can accompany the desires to marry and have children indicate something more than wanting to have a life partner and children. They indicate that we might feel like we are at risk for losing our womanhood.
If a man was 40 years old, single, without children, never having married, would we pity him? Would we think there was something wrong, or immediately try to understand his story and “what happened”? Probably not. We might assume that he’s extremely career-driven, or, that he has unconventional aspirations. Replace him with a woman, and the story changes. Unless she’s a high-powered exec or celebrity, we might run through a list of theories or ideas about why she is the way she is. And we might even feel sorry for her in the process.
Being a wife and mother is powerful, and beautiful in all the sacrifice that it means. But it is not womanhood.
I like to think of womanhood as something that begins in us as little girls, around age 9. It is when we begin to discover who we really are, and haven’t been hit with puberty yet (for most of us). We begin to dream about our futures, about what could be. It is around that age that I began to write like crazy, and when I began to understand and perceive that there was a big, fascinating world out there to explore. Hopefully at age 9, we believe we are beautiful, valuable, and created with a purpose. We aren’t fearful about the future. When I begin to feel distracted, overwhelmed, or confused about who I am and what I am called to do, I return back to that age– to let that little girl remind me of what a strong woman I am.
For me, this has a been a journey of reclaiming a perspective that says I’m powerful regardless of the pressures (real or imagined) that I feel from the world around me. It says that my identity as a female is whole and complete now– and forever. And while I do anticipate getting married and having children, I know that in this moment, I am fully me, fully alive, and fully capable.