An Open Letter to Women around the World

Congratulations! We have ourselves a day!

And what a day it is: International Women’s Day, which sounds amazing and empowering. Except, let’s face it, most people only get a day in their honor if they have been historically under-appreciated or maligned. Think about it: Mother's Day (If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother); National Short Girl Appreciation Day; National Old Maid’s Day (June 4th, if you’re curious). In contrast, you don’t see a date set aside for, say, conservative white men in the one-percent tax bracket, but let us hope the need for that day will arrive sooner rather than later.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change.” On this day, women around the world are asked to, “Articulate a moment when you took bold action to forge a better world.” What a great idea! But then I remembered, I am not a bold person. Confrontations cause my heart to race. I get nervous behind a podium. Even when I drive, I am often too timid to move into the left lane to allow for incoming traffic. (What if I can’t get back into the right lane in time for my exit six miles down the interstate!)

I tried to think of the last time I had done something, anything, bold. Maybe fifteen year ago, I thought, when I started a book series to capture a day in the life of American women. (And by American, I mean anyone who calls this country home, or wants to call this country home, regardless of despicable bans.) To invite participation in my book project I had to make countless cold calls to women I had never met: the President of NOW, rodeo riders, CEOs, inmates, Congresswomen, great-great grandmas, refugees, nuns, a madam at a legal brothel... Given my dread of cold calling, creating this series could be seen as a bold endeavor, but would it meet the standards of International Women’s Day, given how I was driven as much by nosiness as a desire to forge a better world?

Since completing that series, I have moved on to new books and new endeavors. As an author and teacher, one of the most rewarding aspects of my career includes the expressive writing workshops I lead for people in my community. I feel privileged to be part of these “writing circles” at my own Writer’s Center in White River Junction, as well as through the women veterans’ program, the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center, and WISE, an organization that has supported over 1,000 victims of gender-based violence in our community in the past fiscal year alone.

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I invited my workshop participants to articulate a moment when they took bold action to forge a better world. My feeling was that if anyone exemplified boldness, it would be these women who have served in the military, made restitution to address their wrongs, or fought to escape relationships marred by violence. Indeed, even without those circumstances, it takes boldness to simply come to an expressive writing workshop, where you are asked to write from a “prompt,” and then share those first thoughts and raw feelings with others, without any time to censor or edit.

“I can’t remember ever doing anything bold.” This was how most of the participants responded.

“My husband and I adopted a baby,” offered a retired teacher, “but that was thirty years ago.”

“Right after college I took a trip to London by myself,” a mom of three volunteered. “But does that even count?”

“I just don’t think of myself as a bold person,” was the resounding consensus.

As I sat there confounded by these responses, it struck me how much easier it is to see in others what you cannot see in yourself. I knew these women were bold. I knew it for a fact because they had served in the military and fought addiction. They were raising children on their own and with partners, or opting not to have children. They were job-holders and job-seekers, and caregivers at home, at large, and in these writing circles. I realized that these women—and likely most women, including me—would benefit greatly from a broader interpretation of the meaning of bold.

Our tendency is to think of boldness with a capital B. We recognize it when it manifests in dramatic moments of courage, and we pay tribute to those who have famously put themselves at risk, from Rosa Parks, who refused to take a backseat to bigots; to nineteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who continues to defy the Taliban to advocate for female education. These women are indeed bold forces for change, but I would suggest that boldness is not only defined by our actions in extraordinary moments, but also in the course of an ordinary day.

We get up in the morning, even when we know we will be greeted by cruel headlines. We parent responsibly, with the full knowledge that our kids will probably give us a hard time. We cook dinner and sometimes make a point to refuse to cook dinner. We pay our taxes. We put pen to journal to discover our thoughts. We knit cute pink hats with cat ears to send a message: our bodies are not up for grabs. We go on to find love. We try again. And again. We make music and art; we dance and throw pots.

These, to a one, can be interpreted as bold gestures. Call them bold with a little b, but as women, as citizens of the world, we need to acknowledge this courage of a quieter nature. We need to appreciate how every day, even the most ordinary day, demands from us a willingness to take risks, raise our voices, rise above, reach out, express our creativity, do the right thing, do the hard thing, take a deep breath, and count to ten. One... Two... Three... Maybe so many of us fail recognize or appreciate our own boldness because by the time we get to ten, we are already on to the next bold thing. Or exhausted.

So, dear women around the world, the next time you are invited to articulate your part in forging a better tomorrow, share it loud; share it proud. Let’s own our boldness, today and every day. Let’s rock it and flaunt it, while sporting a cute pink hat with cat ears, and a t-shirt emblazoned with a little b. For better or worse, ladies, we have got ourselves a day. “Does that even count?” you may ask, like that woman in my workshop. I would answer, yes! Yes, it does count, now more than ever in this weary world, where we wake up to cruel headlines, without the luxury of going back to bed.


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