What About the Women?

by Elouise

I tried to write another post about my relationships with men.  But I couldn’t.  I felt myself getting bogged down looking at only part of this confusing picture.  Yes, I have 5 pages of notes about men.  But I have over 13 pages of handwritten notes about women!

I never typed up any of these notes.  I was afraid someone might read them.  So I put them away for later.  I reviewed them as I worked with my therapist—especially the opening pages about men.  It took me until now, however, to reread what I wrote 20 years ago about the women in my life.

Here’s a lightly edited version of the first 5 pages of my notes about women.  I’ve added explanatory notes in brackets.

17 May 1994
[In the middle of page 5 I interrupt my train of thought about men.  The following lines jump off the page.]

What about women?  Do I really want to spend my time and energy on men right now???  Maybe by moving on to women I’ll gain some insight into my relationships with men.  I want to see all of this together—as an interconnected whole!

19 May 1994
[Two days later I begin.]

Women I Have Known—Who Made an Impression and a Difference.

[Directly beneath I make two lists:  Family Women, and Others.  At first it’s slow going.  Women don’t rise to the forefront of my memory the way men do.  I keep at it.  I’m astonished:  Family Women: 14;   Others: 53.  Grand total: 67!  I had only 30 in my list of men who made a difference.]

22 May 1994
[I’m back to my list of women.]

I’m surprised by how many women are on the list.  Why?  Because my feelings don’t match these numbers!  The intensity of my involvement with men is nowhere matched in any of my relationship with women.  I don’t feel like a woman-identified woman, and haven’t for most of my life.

Things I notice:

~Friendships with women took on more depth and color when I began my seminary studies.  [There were 30 women in our entering class; 500 men.]

~Even though my relationships with women were never as intense as those with men, they were more lasting. There are, in fact, no men on my list [with the exception of my husband] with whom I talk regularly.

~Some of the women were important in limited ways. They weren’t all personal friends, but they played important roles at crucial times in my life.

~Overall, I feel closest and most comfortable with my female friends from my own seminary days and from the university. We share similar worlds and struggles. I’ve been surrounded by women. But I cared about what the men thought. I’ve gone ‘out of my way’ (literally) for men—not for women.

Why does this list of women feel so ‘ho-hum,’ compared to my list of men?  Looking at it doesn’t arouse any great emotional response, negatively or positively, even though I have positive, warm friendships with some of the women on the list.  Their world doesn’t reek of danger.  It doesn’t remind me of how much I risked in getting to know them.  Their parts in my life have gone pretty much unacknowledged (to them directly) by me.  I don’t look back and say that without ‘so-and-so’s friendship and support I would never have made it to this point.

25 May 1994
[I’m finally getting some insight about this.]

I’ve been taught to depend on men, not on women.  To seek out men’s advice and consent.  To read their body language.  To imagine how they might respond to decisions I make. 

Being cut off from the world of women means being cut off from myself.  It isn’t just that I don’t know these women well and deeply.  It’s that I don’t know myself, either.  Ignorance about them is ignorance about myself.  Not knowing how they have managed means I don’t have as many options for how I might manage.

I’m struck by parallels between not knowing my three sisters and my Mother, and not knowing the world of women that also surrounded me from the day I was born. 

Another thing—Not talking with women as my most important conversation partners means I find it difficult to talk about myself.  I didn’t develop a common language (with women), and I don’t have stories passed on about women—stories that would lend structure to the way I think about my life.

Not talking is costly.  There’s no way to make it up by reading—as necessary as reading is and has been for me.  There just aren’t stories available about the world of women—no great literary classics, no body of literature handed down orally or in written form.

Back then I didn’t know how to talk with other women about what was really going on in my life–especially in my confused and confusing relationships with men, beginning with my father.  Silence seemed safe and easy.  I did it very well.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 November 2014