Throughout the ages, women have been required to be, and not to be, many things.
As a little girl I was required to be quiet, demure, pretty, delicate, polite, obedient, sweet, helpful and subservient to boys. I was required not to be boisterous, loud, demanding, “too brave”, muddy, fascinated, curious, wild, angry or self-sufficient.
I failed on both counts, and was left with such a feeling of identity-confusion that my later years were rife with fear and fury, guilt and shame.
At the age of 40, during a brutal mid-life crisis, I ventured into a Catholic church for the first time in nearly 30 years, looking for answers to a question I couldn’t formulate. One answer I didn’t expect to find from a Catholic priest was how to fully embrace being the woman I truly was, but a remarkable cleric named Father Cormac patiently and insightfully helped me unpack the baggage I laid before him and reflected the qualities he saw in me.
I didn’t make it as a reformed Catholic, although that sojourn illuminated things that that I could value about the religion of my childhood as well as others I could now reject in a more informed way. But I will always be grateful to that unusual man, who became a friend and mentor for a while, for his wisdom and unconditional acceptance.
Having been a curious and unintentionally rebellious child in a narrowly religious community, I was threatened with Hell before I was old enough to develop a concept of what the threat meant, although I understood that it was terrifying beyond measure. I soon learned that the deity I was expected to worship didn’t like the likes of me at all. I had a strong and questioning spirit that wanted to understand and explore and adventure in a world that delighted and fascinated me.
Unconventional and Far Too Curious, I was taught that I was a failure as a disciple, and later as a woman. I turned my back on the church at age 13 when my grandmother (my chosen model for both roles) died. For a while, in my mid-teens, following the death of my best friend, I tried to dip my toe into the waters of a less demanding faith, but there was nothing there for me. Then I was done with organised religion, keeping my toes resolutely dry until, decades later, I began to wonder about the full effect the doctrine I’d been brought up with had had on me.
Bad Catholic: The Sequel is perhaps a subject for a future post. This one is about the realisation that being an Insatiably Curious Rebel did not make me a Bad Woman. In fact, quite the opposite.
The first time I talked with Father Cormac I told him “There’s something I want from the Catholic Church. I don’t know what it is, and I’d like to find out, but I’m not going to attend Mass every week, or go to confession or take communion…”
He welcomed my defensive list of conditions with a warm smile and, then and over the following months, listened to the outpourings of rage and pain I’d carried since my rejection by the Church and its good friend Society throughout my childhood, and beyond. Excusing himself for potential failings in my eyes, he told me “I think men sometimes find Woman Undiluted hard to take. Please forgive me if I’m not always able to give you what you need.”
In the following year, Cormac gave me a great deal that I needed, including unconditional acceptance, and liberation from religious shackles I hadn’t realised I was still wearing. One of the most important gifts he left me with was that powerful definition of who, more than anything, I aspired to be: Woman Undiluted.
Now aged 57, I am happy to revisit the list of requirements and non-requirements with which I began this post, and my life.
These days I am sometimes boisterous, occasionally loud, demanding when called for (bullies, bureaucrats and politicians beware). I am brave enough, endlessly fascinated, always curious, sometimes muddy, frequently wild in heart and endeavour. I am prone to occasional righteous anger, which I believe is appropriate in a world so hurt and broken, but have mostly learned to thoughtfully respond rather than self-righteously react.
I am joyfully self-sufficient; a quality that enriches my happy five-year marriage to a man who loves me for all of the above, and more.
I am often quiet, rarely demure. The aging process sometimes renders me more delicate than I’d like, but my rebel’s heart keeps too much delicacy at bay. I don’t often try to do “pretty”, but loved dressing up and donning flouncy skirts, red lipstick and a fascinator for performances in a now-defunct community choir, and more flouncy red on my wedding day, barefoot in the wilds of Cornwall, so perhaps that’s something to be built upon.
I try to be polite, and am obedient to values I respect. Sweet; What does that even mean? I don’t think I’m sweet, but I try to be helpful when I can. I’m not subservient to boys, or men, but I enjoy the company of many, and respect all unless they give me reason not to.
The past 17, and indeed 57, years have spanned a journey fraught with challenges. I wish I’d been a more consistently positive role model for my two daughters, who inspire me and fill me with more gratitude and love than they can ever know. As a mother I was too often wracked with doubt and guilt and fear, and it is to their enormous credit that my girls have both grown into strong, radiant and glorious women in spite of this.
Claiming back a little credit, I see seeds I carefully planted in them blossoming and bearing fruit, ever more beautiful and vibrant, and I hope that witnessing my journey from much darkness to mostly light injected a little extra resilience; a heightened awareness of the potential for positive change that is always present and ready to be activated.
Sometimes I fear I still dilute myself, suddenly awe-struck by the potent blood that courses through my veins, firing and inspiring, requiring of me more than I can always deliver. But a vital part of being Woman Undiluted is the ability to maintain balance between power and surrender; two sides of the same coin, each as important as the other. To hold back, take stock, rest and self-nurture is not to dilute, but to restore and reinforce.
Since the gradual transformation that Father Cormac helped to birth in me, I have shared my journey of joyful rediscovery with many women, as a therapist and group facilitator, seeker, adventurer and curious rebel. I’ve worked with groups on several continents, delighting in the common bond of primal feminimity that is so easily accessible across generations, races, cultures and backgrounds. I have learned that I can inspire transformation in others, as they continue to inspire it in me; Sisters beneath the skin, whatever age or colour that skin may be. The undiluted blood of feminine truth is easy to restore when we unite in the spirit of power and surrender.
Like far too many women, I cut my baby teeth on self-doubt, confusion and fear of my own potency. To be Woman Undiluted, part of a burgeoning sisterhood of Undiluted Women throughout the world, will always be my mission and my joy.