Before she was 18, Leslie Gore sang You Don’t Own Me–a hit that was #2 for 3 weeks right behind the Beatles’ #1 I Want To Hold Your Hand. A few days ago, I played and danced to it in my kitchen. I love it. Why? Sure, I remember it from the Sixties when I danced to it in my black leather mini-skirt and white leather boots. But, moreover, its message resonates with me–even now at age 77.
Every woman understands Leslie’s words. Any woman could sing them because every woman has lived them at one time or another. Though like Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, not all women get to come right out and say You don’t Own Me. Certainly not women in Niger, Sudan, Yemen, Syria or Saudi Arabia! And we should all care to do something about that! Unwomen.org–the United Nations effort to help is one way; there are many others. Closer to home we may be aware of friends, neighbors, strangers who suffer through gaslighting, domestic violence, sexual intimidation, sexual or physical abuse. The Me Too movement woke up those asleep. More are aware now that statistically one in three women worldwide experience violence. Often they suffer in silence, terrified to stand up for themselves.
In the 1990s, I created and taught a Women’s Studies course, for which I won a grant. I called it Herstory 9-Piece (it included a bibliography of over 100 books). First, I taught the course for seniors in a girls’ private high school; then to adult women around my large dining table; once in an Episcopal Church; then in my public art gallery. No ordinary course, it was meant to change lives and to help women of all ages discover more deeply who they are. I loved teaching that course and I loved the girls and women who took it. We learned together from women of history and literature as well as each other.
But in lieu of a course, what can one individual woman do? How can she stop letting the male species dominate? To get him to stop telling her what to do, or say? To not let him control or change her? How can she begin to find the freedom to be herself, to live her life the way she chooses?
First, women need to listen to each other. We need to hear and share our stories. Every woman’s voice needs an attentive recipient. Women’s good ideas need place and promotion. We need to value ourselves and each other. Then we need to let men know, to speak up and out about who we are and why we are precious. Second, we need to raise our sons to grow into caring men who honor women and their rights. Third, we need to support, in whatever way comes to us, those who have been abused. Its why I became a CASA for a year. Look into it. Or any means to help.
Let your self-confidence grow by remembering you are the image and likeness of God, His/Her beloved child in whom He/She is well pleased. That self you are aiming to grow more confident in is God’s reflection. Look past what you see in the mirror to the eternal, divinely-made you. Carry an inspiring truth with you, such as this from the Hebrew scriptures: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Or think on 14th-century Julian of Norwich’s words: “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother”….”our soul is so deeply grounded in God and so endlessly treasured.” Spiritual wisdom is bedrock for confidence.
So pirouette into a joyful space where you can hear woman’s song of freedom and dance to your own music. Remember, no one owns you!
P.S Along with Leslie Gore’s You Don’t Own Me and a flock of other goodies by Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, KD Lang, Dixie Chicks, and more, I love The Who’s Pin Ball Wizard; if I were planning my funeral–I’m not!–I’d like it played with Keith Moon at the drums (I might have to stick around for that!).
About the Artwork:
My teenage model had an air of defiance (in a good way) suggesting self-confidence which flowed through the portrait, watercolor being the perfect medium.