I’d like to talk about what it means to be a woman. But first, let me tell you about a recent day when autism reared its feral head and flashed its jagged teeth at me, from two different children.
In the morning, Youngest Boy didn’t want to comb his hair or pick up his dirty clothes from the floor. He called me a jerk and said he didn’t like me. He scowled and argued and shouted.
The only way past this monster behavior was right through it. He didn’t want me to brush my teeth and do my hair. He wanted me to get in the car in my undies and drive him to the gas station for a treat. NOW. Which I didn’t do, because we don’t reward this sort of demanding, inflexible behavior.
I ignored his ranting while I got ready and listened to 2nd Nephi. He remained angry at me. When he saw I wasn’t going to relent, he picked up his dirty clothes, combed his hair, and decided to be calm, at which point, I drove him to the gas station.
Autism, 0. Me, 1.
After school, Third Son had a complete and utter meltdown in front of his friends, various other neighbor children, me, and the sibs. It was the sort of epic episode we haven’t seen in some time, with screaming, kicking, running away, and yelling of insults.
I sent the friends and the neighbor kids home (they couldn’t leave fast enough; the awkwardness was palpable). After the shouting relented and the adrenaline ebbed, said child wept in my arms. It was the post-meltdown exhaustion cry.
During both of these episodes, I was internally raging. Why won’t my opinionated little offspring listen to me? Why must they be so rigid in their thinking? Why is autism such a monster at times?
These sorts of insane motherhood moments have me thinking about what it means to be a woman.
I have, at times, felt anger and bewilderment at the trauma that is part of my life because of menstruation, pregnancy, labor & delivery, postpartum depression, the MANY, MANY, SO FREAKING MANY relentless rigors of mothering, not to mention the sexism and harassment which all women inevitably face at some point in their lives.
The physical and the emotional toll of being female can be high, and really, really maddening.
As I was driving to pick up my mom for some errands a few weeks ago, I was thinking about the parts of my life that are distinctly feminine: mothering, teaching, nurturing, being with, and serving. I thought about how much of my life is spent helping: kids (including kids with disabilities), university students, my mother, and other women (friends/neighbors).
And I recognized that I like it this way.
I like that my life is organized in such a way that I get to be a person who has the distinct opportunity to build up and support people. I really like it.
This doesn’t mean that I’m okay with mansplainers or misogyny.
To paraphrase my nephew, as he recently prayed aloud at bedtime, “We’re grateful for everything in this world, except hippies.” In this scenario and for my purposes, I would swap out “hippies” for “sexist people.” I feel it still works.
Jesus was the greatest champion of women. He was radical in his equal treatment of them for the era and culture in which he lived. He appeared first following his resurrection to a woman. He spoke of his mother’s care as he hung, dying, on the cross. He wept with Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus died, and then washed away their sorrow when he raised Lazarus from the dead.
I deep down know that Jesus understands what it means to be a woman. I’ve felt his empathy when he has helped me slog through pregnancies, recover from childbirth, grieve at losing my severely disabled son to distant care, and cope with the ongoing trauma of being a special-needs mom.
I have felt, recently, that God gave women the opportunity to care for other people not because we are oppressed, but because we are chosen.
While I don’t know what it is, I feel there is some sort of big, beautiful, not-yet-fully-knowable refining power in caregiving, teaching, and nurturing; I’m glad that my life is full of these things.
My favorite scripture from the account of the nativity has always been this one, from Luke 1:28, about Mary. “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
I have always read this as meaning that yes, Mary was special, but also that by association all women are precious and beloved of God and Jesus Christ. Gabriel’s meaning is obvious to me: Mary was hand-picked for a righteous purpose from a pool of equally-loved and cherished daughters of Heavenly Parents. You are free to read it however you wish, but this is how I see it.
I love what it says to me about being a woman: that it is fraught with unique difficulties, as well as unique gifts.
My life has taught me that my gender is no barrier to feeling a tenderness, connection, and understanding with my Savior. If anything, I believe being a woman sort of opens a conduit between me and heaven. Having a Mother in Heaven is a big, beautiful truth that, to me, says women are infinitely powerful, divine, and expansive in our purpose and abilities.
On this Thanksgiving Eve, I’m feeling especially grateful for Heavenly Parents and a Savior who honor, cherish, and empower women. They see me not for my age/weight/height/appearance, but the real me as they “looketh on the heart.” What an immeasurable gift.