Who Does She Think She Is? Why Do I Care?
Anyone who has explored the big question, “Who am I?” must have come up with several answers. We cannot be dialed down to one word. I am a “woman”. I am “Jewish”. I am an “American”. I am a “wife”. I am a “daughter”. I am a “friend”. I am a “writer”. I am a “sister”. Those were first few that came to mind. Interestingly, at least to me, there are other identities people might ascribe to me although they aren’t at the forefront of my mind when I think of who I am. I am also a “heterosexual”. I am also a “white” person. But, those two identities don’t feel definitive for me because when someone else says, “I am heterosexual” or “I am white” I don’t feel like I need to say, “Me too!” Conversely, if another woman asserts herself as a lesbian, my first reaction is similar to a man saying he’s a carpenter. I’m mildly interested because I don’t know a lot of about it, but I’m not threatened because it makes no never mind to me (oh I love those Midwest phrases). Whereas, there are some identities I have that can be threatened by others who wish to share that identity with me. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough room in this Identity pot for everyone.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently and she stated that she shared an identity with me. I let it go even though I thought to myself, no you aren’t. It really irritated me that she thought that she was in that pot. I started thinking, you don’t know the first thing about being that. You couldn’t even describe well what it means to be that. You don’t know our concerns, our desires, our goals, our challenges, our needs, because you aren’t a part of that. I let it go mainly because I’m not confrontational.
A few days later (this morning) as I was putting on my make-up, her words crept into my head again and it started to bother me. Then, another, healthier thought popped in: Why do you care? Why does it bother me so much that she thinks she’s a part of that? Any one of us will look at her and say, uh, no you’re not. But, what does it matter if she thinks she is? Sure she could go around giving us a bad name, but I think even those who aren’t one of us, would realize she isn’t either. That’s not the issue at the heart of my problem. My problem is with myself. Why do I care?
The words we choose to identify ourselves with feel personal to us, as though we own them. I have a stake in being a woman, it’s important to me. I would defend women’s rights, and I want to keep the ones that have been defended and fought for over the development of mankind. I believe that there are proper and appropriate ways for me to act as a woman, which might differ from how my mother or my friend or my sister believe, but nonetheless, I’ve thought about it and I’ve committed to working toward my goal of being a “good woman”. For me, that does mean I submit to my husband’s will, but rather that I provide a strong and competent partner for him that he can rely on as we move forward together as a couple. I developed these ideas as a girl who was raised to believe she could do anything she wanted and somewhere along the way I stopped being the type of woman I wanted to grow into. Now, I’m clearing away the brush to find out exactly what it was that I had wanted before and who it was that I wanted to be. I’m constantly re-evaluating each identity I have, in part, so that I do justice to the identity and then, also to better know myself. Since “woman” is the first identity I wrote down, I imagine it is the most important for if I am not a woman, I have no idea what’s going on. Being female and feminine with a womanly strength has been integral in defining who I am; I cannot function without this identity.
Following woman is “Jewish”. It’s something else I can’t separate from my soul. As in Christianity, Judaism has many spectrums. Where I lie on that spectrum has changed significantly in the last 3 years. I moved to Israel and met my husband there. Before I had moved, I attended Friday night services at a Reform synagogue. I always had ideas about what I wanted my husband to know and be able to do. Eating kosher was never one of them. However, a stipulation of his for moving to the United States was that I change what I ate. I no longer consume pork, shellfish or meat and milk products together. There are other components to this, but these are the rules in dialed down fashion. I never thought that I’d stop eating crab. Crab is really good. But, being faithful to my husband and sacrificing something I want to suit him is only fair considering what he sacrificed to suit me. Now that I have kept kosher for so long, I can’t imagine eating some of those foods again. It is a way for me to be faithful to my husband, but it is also a commandment I am fulfilling which makes me feel closer to God. Living in Israel had such a heavy impact on how I feel as a Jewish person. I am much more in tune with the religious aspects of Judaism, but far less with the spiritual aspects than I was before I moved to Israel. Something about living in the Holy land made me less prone to searching for a Jewish community or praying. It kind of felt like since I was there, that was enough. Returning to America was like a cold splash of water in my face: Wake up! It’s not enough! Who are you as a Jew? I’m constantly asking myself this question.
My third identity marker is “wife”. I am least familiar with this role and I imagine it will be one I will have to hone and carefully craft throughout the rest of my life. Other wives around me have had time to figure out what it means to them. My best model is my own mother who has provided me with an amazing example of a wife who stands by her husband. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer a day before his 34th birthday. I had just turned six. Some people suggested to my mother that she leave him and take his children away; it would be too difficult on us. Not only did my mother throw that advice in the garbage, but she took on the responsibility of raising two children, running a household, taking care of a sick husband and becoming the sole breadwinner. She sacrificed so much so that we could have the most normal life possible. My father survived (the only person in the world to survive his type of cancer in that time period) and their marriage had a foundation that, 30+ years later, has proved unshakeable. My mother is a devoted wife and I think of all the qualities or characteristics I believe a good wife should have, this one is most difficult. For 29 years, my priorities and concerns were all I had to care about. Now I have to add someone else to this mix? It’s not like a child who is precious and loving and a product of your creation. This is someone with vastly different experiences and ideas and I have to make all those as important as my own? This is a big challenge; more so than cooking, cleaning or anything else wives do. Devotion is the monkey on my back.
I am also a “daughter”, a “friend”, “a sister” and a “writer”.
When you finish reading, try this: make a list of your identities. They may be similar to mine; or vastly different. Whatever they are, write them down then evaluate (in written or verbal form) how you express each identity, what are important elements for you in each identity and ways you wished you express yourself in each identity. In essence:
- What does it mean to you to be _______?
- Why is it important?
- How do you wish you could be better as a ___________?
See what you come up with. A confused identity makes life difficult. If you don’t know who you are, how can you know what you want? If you don’t know what you want, how can you know who you want to be?
All of these identities help me to navigate the ocean of being me. Each provides various sized waves which threaten to capsize my boat. These waves are challenges which make me work harder to being the best me that I can be.
My own judgment of my friend who wanted to share an identity with me was a roaring 20 foot wave bearing down on me. Why should I care what she wants to call herself? We don’t share an ocean. I had to calm the storm that was creeping up on me. If I let that wave crash upon my decks, what other waves am I inviting? Will I begin judging my sister’s actions against my own: pitting us against each other to see who can be the best sister? Will I look at other wives who struggle to cook meals their families look forward to eating so I can place myself on a high look out post? Is this how I want to derive my self-esteem?
My mind started swirling with thoughts much like the water running down the drain as I brushed my teeth. I pushed down the faucet and said, “Enough!” If my friend, or anyone else for that matter, wants people to perceive them in a certain way, who am I to say no? It is only a reflection of my inner self that says I can judge them for being who they wish to be, or for saying who they wish to be. That reflection shows a jealous, bitter and competitive self. I don’t like that image.
What it comes down to is that when I judge my friends, I’m doing it because it makes me feel better about myself. I don’t want to be that person. The only way I can avoid becoming someone who has an inner judgmental eye is to stop it altogether.
So I say enough. Be who you are. I’ll be who I am. Let’s meet up and fish together sometime. My waters are calm.