Saturday, 13 June 2009

strong women

In the last week or two both Robb and Maithri have mentioned the strength of women. They have talked about the way that women hold families and communities together, often in the face of immense personal pain.
I have sometimes noticed that women are the leaders, the glue, the backbone and I have sometimes wondered why.
Women are recognised as more spiritually aware or interested than men and I think that a sense of connection to something greater than themselves is one way that women draw strength. I know churches are concerned about becoming more attractive to men and that can only be a good thing but I wondered: is it something about churches that makes women go there or is it something about women that makes them seek places of spiritual significance?
( I talk of churches because I know them but I think that women worldwide and of all religions are often the keepers of the faith)
It's not a new idea but I think the answers might lie in biology.

A baby girl is born with all the eggs she will ever have and depending on where life places her she might never consciously know about her reproductive limits but she will probably feel the tick of the clock, she will probably have an innate understanding that her chances at having and nurturing children are to be savoured.
Girls sometimes feel that breasts arrive unexpectedly overnight and menstruation is a predictable unpredictability with variations in timing and symptoms as well as the sense at times of being held hostage by hormones.
I wonder if all of this has the effect of teaching girls that they are subject to forces over which she has no control? I wonder if it is part of a girl's biological destiny that she must learn fairly early that life will go on regardless of whether she feels in control or not?
And does all of this prepare a girl for her most overwhelming destiny, motherhood?

Before conception even, a woman makes an comparitively large investment of energy in the production of the ovum, she will then surrender the normality of her body to a growing person, she will experience changes to her hormones (again) to her sense of balance, to her weight , to her breasts. She may experience heartburn, backache and nausea and she will live with the responsibility, the intimacy and the beauty of nurturing a new life.
Conception, pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding are all costly to mothers and at every stage of motherhood we live with the knowledge that we could lose this child.
I wonder, are women designed to be strong so that we can withstand the rigours of bearing and raising children? Are we designed to have strength for the times when our massive investment of time, of energy, of self and love is thwarted by circumstance?

Does the spiritual awareness of women spring from an awareness of our immense vulnerability ?
Does a woman's biology prepare her for a life full of change?
Does her vulnerability in being a mother inspire her to seek support and develop strength?

I think that on some level every woman will prepare herself for motherhood, on some level she will recognise the risk inherent in her gender role, on some level she will face that risk and have a strategy to minimise that risk and I think that is why women provide the emotional foundations of families and societies. Not only do we want the best for our children, our families and communities but our deep and personal connection with our children, which leaves us incomprehensibly vulnerable and exposed, inspires us to develop every coping mechanism we can, it inspires us to become all we can be and ultimately everybody benefits.


  1. Great post!

    I think your hypothesis is a good one, and it supports the idea that women assume these roles whether they have children or not.

    I especially love your beautifully phrased questions.

  2. This is massive. I was just writing to Leah and Hedgie down below (yes, I found the courage to look! (Hi Leah!)), arrived here and feel as if my sail is to the wind. Wow.

    I completely agree with Leah. It doesn't matter whether you have children or not. I don't have children, but I'm no different than any of you who do. I do the same things and face the same challenges, with animals and people. I think most women are very, very special because they're the glue that holds this whole damn story together, century after century. I believe that with all my heart.

    Kylie, this is a remarkable post on so many levels. I could stay here and critique it for weeks!!! It should be the subject of a seminar at a good American university. God I'd take that class!

    Love you. Thanks for always making me think. XO
    P.S. I'll be back to read it again. I'll probably comment again!

  3. I love this post and came back to read it again. I still love it.

  4. Phew there is a lot here to think on! Agree with Leah and Suzanne- it doesn't matter whether you have children or not- women are strong and 'wired' differently to men.

    I think biology has a lot of answers- for example I think the answers to the evolution thing will be eventually found in biology rather than geology!

    I definitely think that all girls and women have a 'biological destiny' but it is a bit scary to think that we are all on that course- that the clock ticks so loudly in our subconscience that it cannot be ignored- even if we think we are ignoring it. Even if we are not aware of hearing the ticking, it is at work affecting our life decisions.

    I admire women who are aware of this and make fully-informed choices whether to have children or not. My own choices were 'under the eye of the clock' so-to-speak.

    Pregnancy and childbirth are also scary times for most women- and for me, I did not feel I was 'myself'. I felt I had morphed into this 'other' creature- a mother. Defifintely an experience one would need spiritual strength for.

    As to whether this makes women 'more spiritually aware' than men- not sure about that. I think a woman's faith may be more tempered by all the things you mention. Faith involves a certain single-mindedness, which men are famous for after all!

    Oh shoot, I am going to mow the lawn and think about this and come back!!

  5. Obviously men are not to be compared to women in the many ways you write about here Kylie. Every thing you say in this post cannot be disagreed with in any substantive way. Girls are much more mature at a much earlier age than boys.

    Maybe the real ideas and eternal truths occur become apparent late in men's experience causing the so called mid life crisis in many men.

    Many men are incredibly self centred, egocentric and childish in their behaviour.

    No male at last reading of your blog contributed the subject of circumcision in any depth if at all. Some of the women blathered on about it heedless of the obvious question in the first place. What is the purpose of circumcision and what is the affect on males.

    But this piece on women's strenghth is reminiscent of Stephanie Dowrick's writings. Well done.

  6. Women who are not mothers do have challenges that mothers have . The kids are more responsibiliies added to what Leah and Suzanne mention. Women with kids are FORCED to be different.

  7. Correction,
    Women who are not mothers do not face all the challenges mums face.
    Kids are Extra on our what non mums deal with. Nevertheless women are the glue : no doubt about it!

  8. Hi Kylie,

    Women's gender role is a tough one. In many ways more challenging than the male gender role. Having witnessed the birth of my son, I can say, without hestitation, that if I had to push a child out of my body, the species would be doomed to extinction - plain and simple.

    Best wishes,


  9. So it's official, "Dad's" finally talking to me!!! I agree with some of what he wrote, not all. I'll let him guess!!!

    I totally agree with Skeeter. Pushing a baby out would probably kill him!

    Love you darling. Thinking of you as always and hope you're having a good day. This really is a terrific post. I was still thinking about it while working in the garden today. Thanks.


  10. Please, pushing a baby out is nothing compared to everything else you go through as a mother...

  11. My mom will always be a much better person than I could ever hope to become.

  12. bob, i dont believe that for a second
    i'm sure your mum is great and i think women keep people together but that doesnt mean we are better, just different

    and you have what 25 years to practice before you can compare yourself to your mum


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