Friday, September 11, 2009


I have been contemplating femininity a lot, but I haven't been quite sure what to say about it. Today it kind of came together as I walked up the hill to the science building. There was something being broadcast at many more decibels than was really comfortable to listen to, and when I got close enough to the speakers so that the echos and distortions of sound were at a minimum, I recognized that it was a rebroadcast of the September 11 attacks. I was in New York when those attacks happened. Not the city, but the state, six hours away in Rochester. It still felt very close and way too close for comfort. My mother, sisters and cousins called to check on me that day. Besides the towers falling, I got an inquiry about whether I had been in Central Park when a gang was terrorizing that area and raping women. Thankfully I hadn't been, but the concern for me was still appreciated.

Within a few days of the 9/11 attacks we heard that there was too much blood that had been donated. What the survivors really needed were pillows, blankets and bedding. It didn't have to be new or anything, just warm and clean and in reasonably good shape. I had purchased two new pillows the week before. I couldn't afford anything more but I donated my two pillows and went back to using the old flat ones that had served me so long. At the drop-off site, there was a mountain of bedding so tall that I didn't know how people had put things on top of it. There were many women bringing bedding and whatever other comforts they thought practical and adding them to the pile. There were a few dads there too, with their sons, but mostly women were there.

I remember the effects that those attacks had on women much more clearly than men. At the day of mourning service I went to, it seemed like I had arms wrapped around me by countless women and I can't even begin to remember how many I held while they cried on me. My friend Elaine had a cousin who was with her daughter in the plane that struck the pentagon. Lindsey knew people who worked in the towers, but who hadn't been in them when they collapsed. Bev collected stories from survivors. Julia from Ukraine told me how she sat there thinking that she hated America as the towers collapsed but that she told her friends back home to be quiet when they said that America deserved what it got. Collectively, women agonized over whether their families should assemble for Thanksgiving or Christmas when the apparent risk for having their families blasted apart in a lasting way seemed great. Almost universally, the families I knew decided to reassemble despite the recent attacks. While most mothers left the decision of whether to fly or not up to their children, most of the children decided to risk it so that they could see their mothers, give them support, and seek the comfort of being home and safe. While soldiers were being sent over seas to fight the groups who had terrorized America, or allowed it to happen, women gathered their families and fought the actual terror that had come over America in whatever ways they could.

I read a description of "being feminine" that included doing nails and make-up, reading Vogue, talking on the phone for hours, and cleaning a house to impeccable perfection. I have fond and feminine memories of doing all of those things, and my sisters and mom are in every one. I also do those things on my own, but those memories feel more like chores than me reveling in my femininity.

Recently I joined a canning club where we combine the produce from our gardens and turn it into salsa or jam and then pack it away for later. While we were working we started talking about why women don't run the world and what's holding women back. I suggested that the main reason is that women think raising children is more important than being a CEO. The mom who was there agreed with a smile while the other single woman there said something about THAT being our problem.

I meant that comment about motherhood more as an observation than as an opinion or judgement of what women do or don't do. The epidemiologist in me was just coming out. Since then however, I have formed an opinion which follows: It is entirely impossible for a woman to feel feminine without the presence or context of a family in her life.

However, women I know who have more than two children are literally terrorized for being irresponsible, taking on too much, sacrificing their careers, consuming too much, and overpopulating the planet. The shift in thinking that has promoted this sort of attack has certainly affected the planet much more that the destruction of the World Trade Center. However, there are women quietly fighting those attacks too... as they give birth to and lovingly raise their families.....then send their children out into society to work, contribute, influence, and enjoy........then gather them back to be together again.


Tom said...


I think this is a great post. Please know, though, that i reserve the right to harvest, can, and be very involved in my children's upbringing, and I don't feel tis threatens my masculinity. In fact, let's plan on meeting at my place next year to make blackberry fruit leather. Here from afar, I have been itching to do that.

mim said...

Tom, I didn't mean this as a slam to men at all. It is about femininity and I purposely avoided commenting on masculinity masculinity. I believe that there are substantial regions of overlap between the two.

I cannot wait to make fruit leather with you. That sounds great.