Cells, But Beyond Cells.

I've been reading two books simultaneously.  I don't know that they were ever meant to be read side-by-side, and thus, were never meant to be compared with one another, but I cannot help but raise question to the stark and differing routes of understanding about myself each offers.  One book is about the female brain and the other book is about women and equality within the LDS church.  Both books contain truth.  They are well-written, well-researched and backed up in responsible ways.  I, however, hadn't expected the questions that would grow the more the two books rub up against each other in my mind.  The book about the female brain, while I'm sure accurate, seems to reduce us to biology: predictable and moving within the bounds of evolution, which to a large degree is true, but something seems to be missing in this factual recount of my womanhood.  The other book, while acknowledging biological tendencies and patterns,  moves well beyond the realm of instinct and focuses on a concept I have taken for granted in the last while: agency. And who that agency makes me.  Who agency makes each of us.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about women's bodies and how our perceptions of what they are to us have changed over the years.  I told her about my 5th grade maturation program, which was rife with vagueries and jokes that were not funny to a scrawny pre-teen.  My mom, my sweet mom, was so supportive and held my hand the whole time.  The mother of the most popular girl in the 5th grade stood behind a card-table full of fruit.  She held two grapes up to her chest, then cherries, plums, oranges, cantaloupes and as the final joke, two medium-sized watermelons.  I was terrified.  I remember little else, except that we were sent home with the infamous curious bag of "goodies" and that when the time came to use them, we should be glad.  I prayed, I literally prayed for months that my period would not come.  I made bargains with God, but to no avail.  The day came and I cried and cried.  I cried so hard I didn't go to school that day.  My mom was kind and understanding, but I didn't even know what there was to understand.  At that point, I assumed I was simple a product of a biology that was beyond me.  I didn't even connect the fact that periods are an essential part of having babies.

Fast forward ten years: I was okay enough to make the PMS jokes, to put up with occasional cramps, but to rejoice in my body?  Not much of a chance.  If I had read the first book, the one about my female brain, at the beginning of my college years, I would have thought it fascinating, and I probably would have thought that was all there was to it.  Tens of thousands of years of evolution made me this way, I have little choice but to give in to the the functions of my body, whether I'm fond of them or not.

But here is where I love what the second book I am reading has to offer.  The book about women and equality in the LDS church offers another facet of thought.  It does not take away from the base of knowledge that the first book sets up, rather, this book asks us to embrace our very human tendencies, but then it prods us to march beyond those and focus on what is beautiful about what we do with our agency.  Agency requires a lot of study, a lot of trial and error and a lot of action, but ultimately, agency is what makes us different from other mammals.

Today, I have come a long way from the little girl who put maxi-pads inside of three different zippered bags just to make sure they wouldn't make any noise in my backpack, lest I be found out. Today, I would go so far as to say that I really do love my body, even with it's two giant scars across my belly, even with its imperfections, I rejoice in it.  Not just because it is a body, but because it houses something that has never been, nor will ever be, replicated. When I look back, I feel sad for the years I spent not realizing just what I was as a woman.  For the longest time, up until a couple of years ago, I even disliked the term 'woman' in reference to myself.  I preferred 'girl'.  I didn't understand what being a woman entailed, and I assumed I didn't want to. I think I was too preoccupied in trying to cover up, ignore, the biology of my body, to rejoice in who and what I was.  As I read the female brain book, those old feelings of subservience to nature crept in.  I found myself thinking, I have no choice, I am simply a group of cells doing their thing.  I am grateful then, as I open the pages of the second book and am reminded and taught that I am not at whim to nature, but that I have a will, thoughts, ideas, words that make me more than a group of cells and organs.  They make me a person, and that is invaluable.

 I wonder if we couldn't do more to talk amongst ourselves as women about who and what we really are at our very core.  I imagine that infertility is a time when it is almost inevitable to not feel like we are a product of our biology, and I don't want to downplay any difficulty that comes with that, but I wonder if there is a way to treat ourselves better in such a case, or many cases where our bodies aren't perfect.  I wonder if there is a way to love our spirit better, to love what we are as we use our agency, so that in time, we can learn to love our bodies just as well.  I wonder if we couldn't do better to consciously instill a love and belief in our spirits to our younger girls before we simply hold up a watermelon to our chest and tell them to "get ready".  There is a passage in the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19 to be exact, that urges us to "...put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ..." As I've read these two books in conjunction, that concept has made more sense to me.  Obviously we are natural creatures, with natural drives to do things, both for good and for selfish reasons, but there also is a way to not base all of our self-worth in the folds of our natural bodies.  There is a way to make the two, our spirits and our bodies, work in harmony with one another.  I believe it starts with kindness to ourselves.  I believe it takes hard work and I believe it is possible to learn to love ourselves completely when we accept that someone else loves our spirits and our bodies even far more than we ever thought possible.

The Keeper of My Children Before They Are Born.  Oil on Panel, 2012.


Heather said...

Cuz, this is wonderful. I miss you lots. I'd like to also add that coming to realize this is amazing and also such a process. I think that the journey in realizing how wonderful women and their bodies are is part of "becoming" a woman, if you will. Does that make sense? I think it's normal and natural to have those silly, embarrassing feelings as you're younger. However, it would in fact be amazing if we grasped onto the fact that our bodies and us as women are awesome and amazing at such a young age. I wonder why we're like that when we're little. Maybe so we'll appreciate our bodies more when we're older? Am I making any sense? I'm typing this with a lot of crazy kids around me and my thoughts aren't coming out clear. Xxxooo

ashmae said...

I think you're right about the journey, and the fact that it would be amazing if we grasped it all from the beginning. I guess it's a lot to take in from the start! I guess I just wish that back then, and even through a good part of college, I had a better sense of just how awesome everything is. Love you!

Shelly said...

Wow, Ash. These are amazing and awesome and hauntingly familiar thoughts! I'd say more, but the one thing I can think to say right now is, I NEED this print!!! My heart jumped. A real woman and mother in every sense of the word -- my own mother. And interestingly enough, one who always also had a struggle being comfortable with "the womanly things"! Haha! I'll have to tell you some time about that...:)

(I'll be ordering soon!)

Shelly said...

P.S. -- I LOVE the softness and movement of her dress - such gorgeous art! And the COLORS! I'm just really in love with this.

Lindsay said...

I have an ongoing conversation in my head about what it is to be a woman. I am the YW leader in my branch to one lone young woman. I also just birthed my first daughter. I think often about what I teach them about being a woman. When I was an adolescent and even sometimes still, I really struggled feeling like there was a definite and finite mold to fit. My body would do what nature dictated and then I would use my agency to fit the form. I didn't (and still don't) always listen to my own spirit. There really wasn't room in my scheme. How much more could I love myself and appreciate my womanhood if I weren't busy trying to shove myself into a shape that doesn't entirely fit me?