Dr. Rena MacLeod writes that in becoming a woman we draw from cultural stories, meanings about what a woman is, and how we should be and act. These are cultural legacies that we rely on to grow from girlhood to womanhood until the day comes that we realise these cultural images of what it means to be a woman no longer ‘fit’ us or we ‘fit’ them. It is at this point we begin our journey as a woman to gain our own thoughts, ideas, and actions.

How can we women come to understand ourselves as women?

Many women will continue to use distorted and distorting images of womanhood to frame their self-concepts and their commitments as long as cultures are bombarding them with such imagery. It is extremely difficult for an individual to do otherwise in these cultural contexts.
Coming to understand how culture has detrimentally impacted on our lives is important, as it is part of the process of re-envisioning ourselves as powerful persons, with unique drives, desires, and capabilities. It is part of the process of honouring our right to flourish free from that which would oppress us, and use us, and deny us our authentic lives. Analysing and critiquing our gendered socialisation enables us to grow in new ways as we shake off the shackles that have curtailed us from living our personhood more deeply, richly and freely. Journeying out of androcentricity enables us to cultivate dynamic and potent identities.

Going Deeper

“The world we perceive is a dream we learn to have from a script we have not written”

Silvan Thomas (1992)[2]

This quote captures the reality that humans are born into a world (culture, society, family, systems, norms…) that shape our thoughts, perspectives, and behaviours in particular ways – ways that we have not determined for ourselves, but rather absorbed via immersion during our impressionable years. More to this, however, is understanding that the world we are born into, and the ‘script’ we inherit, is shaped by gender, where male and female babies are socialised differently and learn to embody different thoughts, perspectives, and behaviours that are deemed normal and right for them. This is not an impartial script, but one that ultimately leverages an elevated social position to men, as this script has been shaped by androcentricity. The term ‘androcentricity’, derived from Greek, literally means ‘male-centredness’. It is a term that identifies that our world, historically and currently, has been understood and structured according to male thought, perspectives, and experiences – in other words a male worldview. In short, girls and women are born into a world where socially held beliefs, values, and norms are shaped according to male-centredness and male-identification that promotes male-control, and male domination.[3]

[1] Diana Tietjens Meyers, “Live Ordnance in the Cultural Field: Gender Imagery, Sexism, and the Fragility of Feminist Gains,” chap. 7 in Gender in the Mirror (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), Oxford Scholarship Online, doi:10.1093/0195140419.003.0007.

[2] Silvan Tomkins, Affect Imagery Consciousness: Cognition. Vol. 4. (New York: Springer Publishing, 1992).

Questions to Ask Ourselves

When you were a little girl…

What toys did you play with?
Did these toys align with motherhood/housekeeping/fashion/beauty?
What clothes/hairstyle did you wear? Did they distinguish you from boys?
How did these clothes/hairstyle impact on your play/movement/sense of freedom?
Were you able/allowed to do the same things as boys? In the same way?
How were you taught to sit, behave, and speak?
Were you admonished for sitting ‘wide legged’; for being loud and boisterous?
Were you encouraged to the same ‘rough and tumble’ as the boys?
What excursions were you taken on? What skills were you taught? Were these the same as the boys?
What impression did you have of women/mothers? What impression did you have of men/fathers?

As an adolescent…

What did you learn from other girls as to what was acceptable, likeable, dislikeable about being female?
What were the expectations of those around you regarding marriage/career choices?
How did boys treat you? What was expected of your interactions with boys/men?
Did you conform to the expectations deemed appropriate for girls by authoritative significant others?
Did you rebel against these expectations? What were the consequences?

In later years…

Did earlier induced submissiveness surface again?
Where did you make sacrifices, not expected of men, to serve the needs of others?
Did you feel guilty when you put your own needs before others?
Did you feel heard/respected to the same degree as men?
Did you have the same confidence and opportunities as men?
Where did you feel you were ‘going against the grain’ and would have to endure the critique of others?
Were you expected to manage a career and the home simultaneously?
What onerous bureaucratic processes did you, as a women, have to endure that men do not?
(Ie: name change at time of marriage; adjusting to Miss, Mrs, or Ms?)

Questioning of this kind can help us as women to become more aware of how society shapes us in ways that hamper and diminish us, that drain our precious energy, power, and agency, and set us up to play subservient and deferential roles to men.

Our Futures…

Journeying out of androcentricity, i.e., our cultural stories from which we have drawn on in forming our identity as women, releases us not only from cultural images but releases our future as one of energy and agency, of personal power and authority.

I have had the absolute pleasure in witnessing Cecily’s vision for our organisation come to fruition over the last three years. As an elected Director to the Board for Queensland’s Remote, Regional and Rural Women’s Network (QRRRWN) in charge of the Membership portfolio, Cecily’s ability to look into the future and address the needs of our members, as a futurist has set our organisation up as a progressive, communicative women’s network. Comprising of women from a range of localities, both rural and regional, and from diverse businesses enterprises such as agricultural and financial fields, Cecily also focused on women’s wellbeing, recognising their needs in these areas and making sure they were met.

Cecily has the uncanny ability to foresee areas that need attention and deliver workable methods to ensure the smooth running of our organisation, and its membership well into the future. Through her thoroughly written and well considered guidelines for the organisation, our future is strong.

Julie Mayne
Mayne Pastoral
QRRRWN Board Director