I hurried into a religious bookstore one day anxious to pick up a book previously ordered. Old-time church hymns played on overhead speakers. As I waited in line a nearby magazine caught my eye, the caption reading, “Woman of the Year.”
My eyes traveling upwards saw a blond woman with long softly curled hair, pictured in a white skirt and blouse. The blouse buttoned to the neck with a long bow draping over a pink brocaded vest. Continuing further up the page I saw the title: VIRTUE.
The choir hymns droned on, their words echoing in my mind like indigestion repeating. The walls seemed to narrow, the air diminished as the room for self-expression evaporated. I choked attempting to swallow this standard of womanhood for myself. Each breath became progressively more suffocating, evoking memories of agonizing contortions in appearance and belief to gain acceptance into this fellowship of women, thus pronouncing me valid for relationship with men.
I handed my money to the woman at the register as she smiled warmly yet seemingly vacantly of any inkling that womanhood could be anything more that what she had been told. I groped for the door and gasped fresh air as oxygen once again filled my lungs.
Sitting inside my car I gazed out through the window trying to name my sadness. Noticing a nearby tree I got lost in its configuration of branches. Each branch was different from another. Some branches were thick and sturdy, some thin and willowy, each were free to grow in its own direction, unique and distinct, yet still very much a branch.
When realizing women have shared this same freedom I understood my grief. As I drove away I thought, nothing is more stultifying to genuine feminine expression and growth than a superimposed standard of womanliness.