Fifteen years ago, I was a SLU freshman on the fourth floor of Walsh Hall—a suburban, white-bread, overachieving, mortifyingly insecure, fast-talking, quirky, 18-year-old Presidential scholar. Like everyone there, I was figuring out how to grow up.
Just outside Walsh Hall was a statue of a man, woman and child: The man—a suave, muscly Gaston type—faced forward with two feet firmly planted. The woman, completely balanced on his left side, propped an infant above their heads. Her foot didn’t quite touch the ground.
There was something exquisite about that statue, but it made me desperately sad. Every day, I saw womanhood modeled out my window as an appendage. Woman as accessory. Woman as a focused and dependent mother. Woman with no solid ground under her feet. And I saw man as support. Man with his left hand full, his right hand free to do other things. Man, able to stand on his own. Man, not touching or looking at his woman or baby.
Fifteen years later, I sometimes still think of that statue. For some, that statue is an unassailable ideal. For me, it wasn’t.
Here are a 10 things I’ve learned about standing in my power as a woman after leaving SLU:
Learn about the old goddesses. You will probably have to look outside the Church to find archetypes of empowered women. Sure, loads of them exist as nuns, as laypeople and as saints. But except for a 13-year-old virgin, Catholicism rather excludes women from divinity and Church leadership. Humanity had goddesses once. Before monotheism, God was a couple. You won’t go to hell—learn about Kali and Durga and Meadhbh and Persephone, Vesta and Shakti and Gaia and Ashira. It’s your birthright.
Your sexuality is sacred, and it’s yours. So much inside and outside Catholicism shames or ignores female sexuality. Your sexuality is not your family’s, not the Church’s, not your future husband’s. Your sexuality is valuable, there is no shame in it.
Rebellion is a stage of human development. You won’t know if you’re in a good job or relationship if you haven’t individuated. Throw out your pre-programmed conditioning in a self-constructive way. See a coach. See a therapist. Talk to your friends. Spend Saturday mornings over a coffee writing out everything you’ve been told makes you a “good girl” in the eyes of family, religion and culture. Challenge every single thing on that list. Re-absorb the things you desire. Joyfully throw away the rest.
Pick your partners wisely. If anyone tells you what to wear, what to weigh, what to think or what to say, leave. The first time a partner demeans you or rages, leave. If, God help them, he or she slaps or chokes you, leave immediately and don’t turn back. When you find a good partner, invest in him or her. Be brave enough to be calm, open, vulnerable and loving. If you find a good one, treat him or her well. Love is one of the best things about being alive.
Make your own money. You won’t regret it.
Patriarchy is a system of power most people don’t know they’re in, which was originally created to protect men’s feelings about their standing in relation to other men. It has little to do with you as a woman aside from being a supporting actor. So operate outside it. Rise up. Internalized misogyny exists; root it out. A lot of potential partners don’t know about their own misogynistic feelings until you overstep the invisible boundaries; talk it out lovingly or if you can’t, leave.
Lead at work and in life. Women leaders are a service to the next generation.
Love the souls of the people around you. You have yin and yang inside and it’s all sacred. Explore the full polarity inside.
Pleasure is good, revel in it shamelessly. Savour your food. Learn to love to be.
Love your body like a treasured pet. Walk it, feed it, let it sleep, treat it nicely. This is your biological vehicle to experience life. Your body deserves good treatment. There are as many kinds of beauty as there are souls. The things about you which are different are stunning. Your soul is gorgeous.
Oh, and forget about that statue.
Sarah Hale is a former SLU Presidential Scholar and University News Opinions & Editorials editor. She was a finalist in Women in Sales Europe 2019.