February 26, 2017

People : Women

Last year at this time we went to the first Women's Climbing Festival, held in Bishop California in the Eastern Sierras.  This year we went back on our own, and I appreciated that it was exactly a year later.  I like things like birthdays and anniversaries and annual markers, partly because I'm sentimental and partly because they're reminders to reflect, points along a continuum that can easily pass me by if I'm not prompted to stop.

We braved a 12 hour drive through dark sleet and snow, ascended some terrifyingly awesome climbs, shared a dank hostel room affectionately dubbed "the womb," met famous climbers and stoned dirtbaggers, became regulars at the coffeeshop in the morning and pub in the evening, complained about our cold/hunger/fatigue/fear, and glowed in gratitude for all of the above.  

We also talked a lot about relationships, and through all this, I realized how lucky I am to have so many strong women in all areas of my life.  Having gone to an all-girls high school, I feel grateful for learning the value of this community early in my life.

But because woman--unlike minority or foreign or underserved--is common and prevalent, we don't always give our womanhood conscious time or space.  And ironically, in neglecting it, I slip into unthinkingly perceiving my gender as "other" without fully understanding what that does to my identity. Over time spent in other settings, it can be easy to subconsciously view myself as "other"--when over a decade of my life has been spent in a long-term relationship, when the people who hire me are men, when I've been told that I need to assert myself in patient-doctor interactions because authority doesn't come inherently to my gender.  We come to think of our differences as either complementary to something else, or as something to overcome in order to be equal.

So lately, I've been really grateful to my communities of women who inspire me to see our "other" as value that's additive and different; as a goal to achieve; as an avenue for caring for others.

In climbing, I'm constantly inspired by the way women support each other, and how giving creates more for everyone.  There's a lot of frustration, processing of risk, and conflicts between having fun and pursuing goals. It's really satisfying to experience this mix of physical, emotional, and mental investment with other women--though every person experiences it differently, there's often a common desire to communicate and express.  I learn so much from every woman who climbs, and I feel really lucky to have this pocket of experience where women function both differently and the same as in other areas of their lives.  Tackling something more physical and concrete than career and personal life, but with the same mindfulness and attention.  From them, I see women creating strength in themselves and each other.

In work, our clinic is composed of 99% women, and every day I'm amazed at how well they take care.  Of our patients, who they naturally understand need much more than medical advice.  I admire the questions my co-workers ask, about how to really engage and invest in patients, and it pushes me to maintain patience through all the crazy and chaotic.  And they take care of each other, and that makes such a big difference in the frequent moments of feeling like you versus the system.  We swap stories and share de-stressing strategies, and laugh a lot.  And each of them is constantly building--their practice of care, the balance of nurture in their lives.  From them, I see women with purpose and the tools to pursue that purpose.

And there are so many women who come to our clinic for care, who bear burdens difficult for me to imagine.  There is trauma, responsibility, obligation, expectation.  They remind me how incredibly privileged I am to use my gender for the above--that while this is a gift we're born with, society changes how each of us is able to use it.  From them, I see women who, in the face of constant threats to their dignity, define the dignity of women more fully in life than I ever can in words.

Outside of work, I appreciate seeing how the Women's March has prompted more small groups of people (both women and men) to come together around the idea of women.  I remember someone asking with genuine curiosity what the purpose of the Women's March was, because people were rallying around so many different values.  And I think this is a powerful message about how much one type of existence can encompass.  In light of all that threatens this existence lately, I feel lucky that so many of us carry so much power and dimension in this one aspect of our identity.  

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