The question was simple, “What defines a woman?” It was an interesting and loaded question considering that I had only just begun to consider myself one. What is the fine line that stands between girl and woman? What defines us? What describes us? Are we identified by struggle, like catcalls that on the surface sound like compliments? But is it still a compliment when it’s shoved down your throat for the simple pleasure of watching you gag on it? Or is it just as malicious as a blatant threat?
I am at my old college, sitting on a panel at a women’s conference. The conference is designed to empower female college students to be successful in their careers and personal lives. Who suggested me for this panel? I’m not sure. I don’t know that I can be a spokesperson for success. I graduated at the top of my class and was recently published for my research findings at the lab. I mean, what is success, really? But that’s not the question I’ve been asked.
The whole auditorium awaits my answer as I look out at the faces of college women. I was just here. In fact, my return is entirely too soon. I walked past my old dorm on my way to this panel. As I past it, I felt my stomach drop with regrets. Memories of old boyfriends and almost boyfriends cloud my mind. I remember how I used to worship them. I would get lost in their eyes looking for something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My searching came up empty every time.
The faces in the audience stare back at me with that same longing. They are trying to find something in me that will ground them. Something they can hold on to and something that will hold on them. I know now what I was searching for and what they can’t seem to find in my eyes. It’s security. The feeling of being held and knowing they won’t let go. It’s someone telling you everything will be alright and actually believing it.
I parted my lips and spoke with a surety like never before, “You become a woman when you stop searching in other people’s eyes for security and start looking within yourself. When your security emanates from inside, you exude the strength that is womanhood.”
Honestly, I don’t remember their reaction. I spoke what I knew to be true, and that was that.