There have been a whole host of women who made me think, “I want to be just like that when I’m twenty-two, thirty-two, forty-five, sixty…” They’ve shown me how to be a woman. First, of course, there was my mom. Moms are the first role-model for every girl. But at a certain age we look beyond. I learned how to put on make-up from a friend when I was twelve. My friend Becca taught me that you overcome shyness by pretending not to be shy. I learned how to dance from my fun aunt. From Judith Martin’s columns I learned that nothing crushes your enemies like good manners.
“You’re my role-model,” she said, eyes shining. Since I had, just a moment before, choked on my coffee and was now blowing it out of my nose, I looked up at her doubtfully. “You are,” she said. “When I am twenty-two I want to be just like you.”
It isn’t often that we receive praise like this. I am still shocked to find that I’m “grown up.” To hear from a lovely girl that I am her role-model was joy-giving, confidence-inspiring, wonderful!
I thought of the various role-models I’ve had in my life: Sarah McLaughlin, Grace Kelly, Edith Stein, a gorgeous Jewish philosopher who wrote about the special dignity of women.
There have been a whole host of women who made me think, “I want to be just like that when I’m twenty-two, thirty-two, forty-five, sixty…” They’ve shown me how to be a woman. First, of course, there was my mom. Moms are the first role-model for every girl. But at a certain age we look beyond. I learned how to put on make-up from a friend when I was twelve. My friend Becca taught me that you overcome shyness by pretending not to be shy. I learned how to dance from my fun aunt. From Judith Martin’s columns I learned that nothing crushes your enemies like good manners. Lately I’ve been inspired by Mary Kay’s business-sense and care for women. I see a quality that I love, and I say to myself, “I want to be just like that.”
We all do it. And the beautiful thing is, you don’t ever stop being yourself. Even if you try to be someone else, you always shine through! You just put into action some quality you admire, and you make it your own.
I asked Theresa, a magnificent French-Canadian woman, mother of many children, and brewer of the best beer ever, who her role-models are. “Mother Theresa, Maria Von Trapp (from the Sound of Music), and Barbara Streisand.” “What?!” I said, thinking it was an odd mix. “Mother Theresa,” she explained, “is a woman who loved perfectly. Maria Von Trap always keeps her children flawlessly entertained, and Barbara Streisand, well, I always wanted to be Dolly in Hello Dolly.” And she quoted, “Money, if you pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s only good if you spread it around, encouraging young things to grow.” I thought this very funny and considered that I’d like to be just like Theresa when I am forty-five.
What do Mother Theresa, Maria Von Trapp, and Dolly have in common? What do my old role-models have in common? Independence, strong mind, creativity, to be sure…and yet these are also qualities of men I admire. What is about these women that is uniquely feminine?
I don’t have the full answer, but there is something unique in the way women say “yes” to life. I think of my great-aunt, who spent a lifetime with an abusive, alcoholic husband, suffered poverty, miscarriage, and misunderstanding. At some point she decided not to become bitter. She said “yes” to love, and she was a great mom. Now she has permanent smiles around her eyes, she radiates grit and humor and kindness. She’s gorgeous!
To me, that seems to be the essence: a true woman, whether fifteen or fifty-five, is secretly happy because she knows her worth; she knows that what she does is significant. She has that secret charm, that special emotional love that makes people around her happy: her boyfriend, girl-friends, family, her baby (there is nobody more in love than a baby looking at its mother) and if she is especially radiant, even people in line at the bank.
We women have an instinctive ability to make our surroundings lovely, no matter what our taste, because we tend to love beauty even more than men do. Think how much we spend on beauty products. (A man, on the other hand: deodorant, a couple razors and shave cream, a little after-shave and gel if he’s a spiffy kind of guy, and he’s good to go.) Women love to be beautiful, they love to have beautiful things around them. Girls’ dorms, for example, are usually more pleasant than guys’. And locker rooms!
Women are also civilizing. When you see a man walking alone in a park, you aren’t sure about him. Some girls will make a big circle to avoid him. But a man walking beside a woman always seems benign.
Women are, by their nature, a gift to those around them!
In the end, the fact is that if timid, inadequate, bumbling me is a role model for someone, then so are you. Somewhere, someone is admiring you-perhaps the little girl you baby-sit-how you do your hair, how you talk to people on the street, maybe your sweetness or fearlessness in crowds. After all, you are a woman.
So smile, stand tall, you’re on!