How To: Be a Woman Today

Reflections on modern feminism

Last month, I went to Canada to visit my dying grandmother, “Lola,” (Filipino for grandmother) in the hospital, for what could very well be the last time. The wing her private room was located in what was called “The End of Life Wing”—talk about not beating around the bush.

On one of the days that I visited her, she had just finished five hours of dialysis and had just received her afternoon dose of morphine. As she looked at me with her insensate eyes I thought to myself—if this moment was it, did she really do everything she wanted to in her life? Lola will be 84 in October, and was she satisfied about the life she lived?

Lola wasn’t a Snow Bird like most Canadians; she didn’t re-marry after her husband passed away when she was only 39. Instead, she devoted her life to God and was a daycare provider for many children.  That was pretty much it. And as I watched Lola doze off I imagined what she was like in her younger years. Did she have big dreams?

As I write this article it occurs to me that 40 years ago, the very instrument that I would be writing with would have been given to me by my husband. I probably would not be writing as a career, but if I chose it as one I would have asked permission from the sole breadwinner of the family—my husband. Today, nearly four in 10 wives earn more than their husbands, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. If these figures continue, future generations will be supported mostly by women. 

Back in the 1970s, college campuses were dominated by males with a 60-40 ratio—today those numbers have reversed. Nearly half of law and medical degrees go to women; a huge increase from fewer than 10% around the same time. Joyce Banda became Malawi's first female president and only the second woman to lead a country in Africa last month. And last year, the Noble Peace Prize was awarded jointly to three women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work".         

As some women today continue to fight the good fight for equal rights, as we still bring in 77 cents for every dollar that men earn and I endure being called “little lady” or other gender-belittling names, I feel as though the “I am woman; hear me roar” attitude is a frustrating balancing act. The majority of women share the same M.O.—we want to do it all, and we want to be it all— the career driven nullipara, the devoted spouse, the sexy siren, the nurturer, while at the same time maintaining a sense of self; hence the reason many of us chose to hyphenate our names (despite the inconvenience).

So, what is a woman of today? Begin by putting on your pants one leg at a time. Take a deep breath and utter these words: “It’s my choice.”  Stop the self-loathing, lamenting, comparing and explaining.

When Lola grasped my hand as she slept, I had a mano y mano with myself at that very moment. No matter how much or how little I achieve in life, the choice would be mine. There I sat judging the very woman who took care of me since the day that I was born, assuming that her lack of worldliness meant that she had squandered her existence—shame on me. As I continue to exhaustingly push myself to maximize every ounce of my waking life for that ultimate pursuit of happiness, Lola didn’t need it; maybe she didn’t want it, and that was that.

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