How Women Learn to Be “Women”: Knowledge and Nourishment through Storytelling

By Johanna DeBari

As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how much I do not know about myself; especially about my body. I find myself wondering about pregnancy, sexuality, motherhood, partnerships, and all other aspects of “becoming woman” which I haven’t really had an opportunity to learn about in any formal setting. I study women’s movements, violence against women, women’s rights, women’s political standing, women’s gender roles…but have never “studied” my body, other women’s bodies, and all of the different stages our bodies go through; either from a medical perspective of how certain bodily processes work, or through a more spiritual, exploratory perspective of fulfilling my soul’s desires.  It seems like having these deep, intimate conversations surrounding women’s sexuality and reproductive capabilities is taboo within public discourse. Conversations about sexuality are deemed inappropriate for many “public” situations, and should only be taking place within “private” spaces. But what do those private spaces look like? Where can I find them? Who exist in those spaces?

I’ve come to realize that in my experience, these spaces are around dinner tables, on couches with wine by a wood stove,  around craft tables with friends, in knitting circles, on long car rides, in shopping malls or coffee shops,  or any other space in between where women come together as collectives for “girl time.” But what does that girl time mean? What does it look like? What is talked about?

“Girl time” is where I have learned and continue to learn what being a woman means. The many aspects of women’s lived experience which are deemed inappropriate for public conversations, are “secretly” talked about during “girl time.” We learn how to be sexual, to be mothers, about our bodies, and to understand the myths of our feminine identity through oral history: we learn through talking with other women.

I was at my mom’s house the other night, for a “girl’s night” doing crafts.  While we are started out making small talk to get used to each other, we slowly slipped into rich conversation which quickly got deeply philosophical. We talked about relationship advice, sexuality, sexual identity, womanhood, finding truth for oneself, and general words of wisdom about existing and moving through the world. As we were talking, I realized something important was happening: Through a mix of women of all different ages, in different stages of their lives with different partners, we learned how to better move through the world by hearing other women’s stories. And how they learned to move through the world was from their mothers, their sisters,  from other women in their social spaces they engaged in these conversations with.

Part of the reason these get togethers are so meaningful and good for the soul is we find an opportunity to ask questions which deeply trouble us. We do not always have the opportunity to ask them, because some of the social space we are in feel “inappropriate” to do so.  So we continue in our lives wondering, and often accepting many myths we have been fed to believe, because we have not had an opportunity to safely question them. Becoming woman means asking questions, learning from other women, and debunking myths of our bodies and embodiment as we move through the world. It means having nourishing conversations, which appease much anxiety about one’s body, one’s future, one’s identity. It means engaging with other women who feed the fires of your soul and rejuvenate your spirit. It means having “girl time.”

I acknowledge this may not be the same for all women, everywhere, but this one night really got me thinking: how do women learn to “become women”? How do women learn about their bodies, their feminine identity, or their feminine spirituality? For me, it is through stories. Through asking my mom, her friends, my friends, my female colleagues, and all of the other women in my life. I have read many books which have been incredibly impactful in helping to develop my female identity and my feminine persona. But through hearing other women’s stories, whether about sexuality, pregnancy, motherhood, marriage, violence, or other experiences, I have gained a rich knowledge about myself and my feminine spirit. I think it is often perceived that “girl time” is a very soft, passive action; but it is an important space where crucial developmental work is done. We learn to become women through the nourishment of storytelling, and through “girl time.”

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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