I'm reading
On being a woman
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
On being a woman
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
On being a woman
Pass it on
Pass it on
12 February 2018

On being a woman

“Here is my woman’s truth. I am creative, clever, capable, kind, courageous and compassionate. And so are you.”

Written by Heather Rose

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

I am woman born of women. My lineage goes back as far as people go. Like all of us alive today. We go back.

I am born of women who lived in caves and in forests, women who ate meat and sat by fires and ground roots and leaves between their teeth. I am born of women, one after the other—mother, daughter, grand-daughter—down through time.

I am born of women who wore furs and fat and cloth. Women who painted their faces and tattooed their skin. Who were scarred for beauty, for ceremony, and by the cut and blow of life.

I am woman born of women who watched sunrises and sang songs and danced and gave their joy to life and their lives to the care of young and old.

I am born of women who talked softly in the darkness, and dreamed of a world that was good. I am woman born of women who gave their bodies to carry and bear, who gave of their breasts to feed and nurture, who gave of their eyes, hands and voices that the river of children might widen and flourish and become wiser and cleverer than their forebears. Women who have breathed upon our children this simple blessing: Grow, grow, grow. Glow, glow, glow.

I am woman. I am soft flesh, hills, curves and warm valleys. I have been baby, girl, young woman, woman. I have been loved and lover; wife, partner, girlfriend. I am mother. I am a vessel of creation. I have conceived, carried, miscarried, lost, and I have also birthed. I have breastfed six years and more. I have grown three people to adulthood.

And I am ageing. I have been sanded by life into this sculpture of flesh and memory. The lines on my face are born of salt air and laughter, sunshine, deep days, long nights, hard work, of time spent thinking, of life learned deep and sharp, and by all the joy that has flooded through me and the pain that has lassoed me, all of it leaving its mark in my eyes and on my skin.

I am no longer the young mother giving care whenever called. I am no longer the radar picking up my children, the lighthouse defending them from danger. Though they are as important to me as my arms and legs, I am no longer bound to the daily questions: ‘Are you hungry? Can I help? What do you need? Is there anything I can do?’

I have begun to consider of late how I might best love myself. I am, after all, my own and most constant friend. It has taken a lifetime to realise this.

Being a woman there has always been a lot to think about. Wondering at some young age why there’s blood, and then bleeding monthly from then on. Wondering what it will be like to be kissed, and learning to kiss. Wondering what sex feels like and then discovering my sexuality. Discovering what feels good and what doesn’t. Discovering what an orgasm is. What touch means and doesn’t mean and what it conveys. What lingers long after sex, and what doesn’t. What boys (and later men) to trust my heart with, and my body. And discovering that shame is a tunnel constructed to trap me, and (much later) that its walls are tatami and I can burn them down.

But still there is this woman’s body to negotiate where for a long time every cycle is a pinball machine of sex and serendipity. How to manage a sex life, a love life, how to look good, to choose well, to not love too much, nor get too attached, or be too complicated, to not get pregnant at the wrong time, or to get pregnant at the right time, to find someone who might be a partner, who will commit to parenting and making a home. All these things are the work of women.

I am a woman. I am a vessel of life. I am a healer. I have washed and bound and strapped and offered salve to wounds of every variety. I hold within me life and also death. I was always looking for perfect, never sure I was the right shape or weight or look. And yet what is true is that we are all beautiful because we are women. We are holders of creativity, intuition and ancient wisdom.

My face and my body are the map you might read me with. A surgeon’s quick blade saved two of my babies’ lives, and my own life four times over. I have ceremonial scars and childhood scars. There are kitchen injuries. All those root vegetables and hard cheeses and indifferent knives. And there are unseen scars. The death of people I loved. Being a daughter who didn’t measure up, or disappointed. Being a partner who didn’t comply with whatever it was that was expected. It wasn’t always easy to marry expectation with reality. But I knew my own path. I wanted to be a writer. So I have written.

Along the way I learned many things. I know how to build a business to succeed, and how to make it fail. I know budgets, spreadsheets, strategic plans, marketing plans, brand campaigns, HR, PR, copywriting. I can kayak, dive, ski, wield a hockey stick, climb a mountain, meditate and fast, party, pray and live alone. I am the consequence of all my actions. I have been drama and wonder, grief and joy, despair, success, failure, solitude, inspiration and gratitude. I have been—and will be again—guilty of loving too much. I love life in every day, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud formation and change of light. I love colour and smell and sound and taste and touch and I love the sense that we are all connected in inexplicable and powerful ways. I love life! I don’t know how to do it any other way. Who would want to?

Like so many women before me, I have done my fair share of supporting men to be great. But it is more often women who have been there to support me in the things I have worked so hard to achieve.

I see women rising. I add #metoo to their message. I am weary of a world where the physical strength and political power of men is a weapon that is turned on us day and night, government after government, war after war, battle after battle, bedroom after bedroom.

I see that still we allow the genital mutilation of girls. And boys. I see that the weapon of rape is employed somewhere every day. I see young girls married to old men. I see that we are dominated and bullied and threatened and imposed upon and, in so many places in the world, we are not free to choose our own destinies. I see that the sex-slave trade is a dark river of women who wanted a better life. And we have not given it to them.

I see the surgeries invented to change our faces, our breasts, and now even the shape of our vulvas. I see our bodies grown fat and our bodies grown thin because we are uncertain as women. We have been violated, damaged, told we take up too much, demand too much, require too much, are too powerful, too successful, too loud, too influential, too big, too alluring, too small, not good enough or thin enough or pretty enough or acceptable enough. We are the product of the expectations, regulations, doctrines, rules and righteousness of men. Yet how long before I am truly safe travelling alone, walking solo on a dark street, or even in my home? How long, men of the world, before every girl, daughter, mother, grandmother, every woman no matter her age, her colour, her religion or her race is safe?

How long before the world is safe? The collapse of our ecosystems is at hand. Gone are tens of thousands of species due to human activity. Gone too will be our fossil fuels, our ocean fish, our clean air, and all our certainty about weather and seasons and crops. We are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis that knows no end. Millions of refugees will soon be hundreds of millions. And women and children are the first to bear the brunt of that. This is the world men have made. What world will we make as women?

Let me add, by way of balance, that I have loved men all my life. I have been adored, celebrated, encouraged, advised and cared for by men. When twice I had to escape a predator, men saved me. When I have needed help, men have stepped forward. I know good men and great men. And I have known men who consider that women exist for their use and purpose. Men who are fearful of the power, confidence and freedom of women. Who were their role models? Who were the people who raised them? It’s enough.

In my women’s world I imagine every woman educated, encouraged, empowered to live as fully as she can. I see parenting—mothering, fathering—as essential and as valuable to our economy as fresh water and clean energy. I see an economic vision geared for the next five hundred years. And included in its calculations the cost of not caring for the Earth and all its inhabitants. I see health as a fundamental right and responsibility.

I can feel the sisterhood rising. I do not know how we will change the world but I can feel it coming. I know that we can light the world with female intelligence. IQ. EQ. SQ and FQ. We are going to need them all.

I am a woman born of women, and we are many. Here is my woman’s truth. I am creative, clever, capable, kind, courageous and compassionate. And so are you.

This is what I see.

I see women with the courage to be our own wild, delicious selves. I see women given that great gift that men have enjoyed for centuries. Time. The time to think and reflect and grow our ideas and nurture ourselves and we cannot do this alone. It’s not going to be simple. We have to wake up. We have to learn to collaborate, not compete.

I see men who understand that all of this is a dance, a new dance. We have to learn the difficult steps together—with grace, with love and with courage. Making room for each other, celebrating one another, forgiving one another, supporting one another.

And wherever we go let us whisper, speak, sing these words to one another, to the children, and most importantly to ourselves: Grow, grow, grow. Glow, glow, glow.

This speech was first delivered at an event announcing the 2018 Stella Prize Longlist, an award that celebrates Australian women’s writing www.stellaprize.com.au.

Heather Rose

Heather Rose is the Australian author of seven novels. Heather writes for both adults and children and her books have been shortlisted, long-listed or won awards for literary fiction, crime fiction, fantasy/sci fi and children’s literature. Heather is the 2017 recipient of the Stella Prize, the Christina Stead Prize and the Margaret Scott Prize for her latest novel–The Museum of Modern Love.

Dumbo Feather has evolved, follow the journey by signing up for the Small Giants Academy newsletter