<Editor’s note: This is the second in a series entitled VOICES, which will run until TEDxMHWomen on December 1.  The series will hear from various local women on a variety of topics and seeks to activate the community in discussion. If you have a thought on the article,  join in the conversation.> My first semester of grad school, I took a seminar on ‘Haussmannization: Constructing and Deconstructing 19th-Century Paris’ … I thought I was going to study the architect who rebuilt France’s most famous city as we know it today. I wasn’t wrong, just short-sighted. “Haussmannization” was so much more. It involved the tearing down of medieval structures and adding light to the dark city; it was the rehabbing of Notre-Dame-du-Paris; widening the roads into the now famous boulevards; the opening of public gardens; shows at the opera; and “unaccompanied women” shopping at the newly created department stores. This upheaval blurred the lines among class, traditionally accepted gender spheres, and socio-cultural accepted masculine/feminine roles. Paris during the last two decades of the 19th century may have been a collision site of “XX” meets “XY,” but it wasn’t the first time or place these questions of gender definitions had been challenged. Throughout history there have been plenty of times where women were “pushing the boundaries:”
  • Hatshepsut usurped the crown of Egypt and is considered to be one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty and reigning, supposedly, as a man (FYI–this really irritated her step-son who was supposed to inherit the throne).
  • Queen Elizabeth proved to be one of the most successful monarchs in England’s history.
  • Catherine the Great enacted a coups d’etat against her husband, Tzar Peter III, and then went on to acquire more land and had more military victories when compared to other monarchs (of either gender) of her time.
  • Women were very successful shopkeepers and store owners during the Golden Age of the Baroque era.  American women appeared on the battlefields alongside men fighting for our country’s freedom.
  • Southern Belles ran the plantations during the War Between the States, often increasing them in size and profitability.
Unquestionably, there have been strong female voices and presences throughout history, and I always believed I was one of those strong presences. In fact, I’m quite sure that I would have manned a canon at Petersburg to fight for a cause I felt passionate about, regardless of my gender – even knowing my Grandpa and Grandma would tell me that it wasn’t very “lady-like.” So if I’m “not lady-like” … am I a “feminist”? I don’t know. I’ve often shied away from the definition of “feminist” as that term conjures up images of women who might scorn me for my love of scarf and hat shopping (yes, they must match), incessant reading of romance novels, crying at Hallmark commercials, and desire to own every cute skirt out there. (I was an impressionable 18-year old art historian and Carolee Schneemann, “an avid 70’s feminist artist” may have scared me… or scarred me!) So then… who am I? If I’m not “lady-like” AND I’m not comfortable with “feminist,” how do I define myself? What is “female” to me and others of my generation? Are those of us born “XX” destined to live as a noun defined by a dictionary and people who lived millennia before we were born? Or do we “girls” awake everyday to a challenge of defying the socio-culturally accepted understanding of “female” and “feminine”? Is there any wiggle room here? Can I define the word “female” for myself AND request that society not just accepts but respects me for who I am? Why do we spend so much time trying to fit into pigeonholes we didn’t create for ourselves? Why do we expect others to fit a label we created for them? I like baseball. I like martinis. I like TED. I like pedicures and disagreeing with the refs during college football games because I know what I’m talking about. I like wearing cute clothes and I’ve never demurely turned down food because I didn’t want to count the calories. I was a dancer growing up and love drinking beer … actually I’m fairly snotty about both of those passions.  I am a former art history professor turned paralegal turned Clinical Communications Manager who still loves to attend Denver Art Museum ‘Untitled’ events on Friday night, watch college basketball on Saturday, and ski on Sunday. My father has been known to take me to the Governor’s mansion in formal dress and ask that I not cuss and teach other Senators any “new words.” I love shoe shopping but won’t wear pink (I kicked off those pink booties in the hospital nursery). About the time I turned 30, I decided to stop apologizing for being me. I decided to embrace my love of poetry, baseball, cussing, beer, pedicures, shoes and everything else that makes me uniquely me. I vowed I wouldn’t change who I was in order to fit society’s expectation of me or to contort my identity to fit a pre-constructed idea of who I, as a “female,” should be. I decided to honor myself and love my individuality. I also swore not to judge others by my expectations, my labels, and my “vocabulary cage.” Who cared if women were acting “manly” or “womanly,” or engaging in activities “dudes” participate in or “dudettes” partook in? I would not raise my eyebrows in disdain of those that didn’t fit my preconceived notion of female. Or male. I made a vow to accept others and myself just as we are – to honor individuality as a gift of diversity and joy. So maybe the title of this article entry shouldn’t be “Defining Feminine”… but instead, “Do You Accept Yourself and Others?” I leave you with these questions I often ask myself: Do you like you? What pigeonholes do you refuse to conform to? Do you accept others as they are… regardless?