On Renaissance Women

Image via My Modern Met

You would have had to have been hiding in a Himalayan mountain cave on Friday not to have heard (or more aptly seen) that March 8th was International Women’s Day. Social media was filled with posts of women paying homage to the admirable traits of their best friends and the bold choices of their female elders. And, the brilliantly succinct Rupi Kaur poem “legacy” made its usual rounds.

Image via Rupi Kaur

Observed since the early 1900s, the annual global day seeks to “celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and “marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.” While several individual countries began designating a “Women’s Day” in the early years of the 20th century, it wasn’t until 1975 that International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations. In the years that have followed, governments, NGOs, and other organizations all over the world have joined in with the festivities and countries from Afghanistan to Guinea-Bissau, Kyrgyzstan to Zambia have the day as an official holiday.

On Thursday afternoon our Kazakhstani housekeeper wished me a “happy women’s day in advance!!!” and bar-talk on Friday night had numerous reflections on the state of gender equality. Like many other contentions in our culture, it is intriguing how noticeably conversations such as these have moved from fringe debates to commonplace chat — even in the few years that I have been engaged with them. It was not too long ago that bringing up “women’s issues” at a social gathering was a surefire way to become “that girl” (an intense Debby-downer for lack of a better descriptor and something that I have my fair share of experience with). Now, if you don’t have a well-thought-out plan for erasing gender inequality and a wealth of reading and primary data to back up your claims, you are “that human.”

While I am fully cognizant of the widespread gender disparity that exists both on my doorstep and in the far reaches of the opposite side of the globe, it still blows my mind that we need ONE DAY to remind us to focus on the achievements and the worthiness of half the population. I mean, at least give us six months. March 8th came and went so quickly that I didn’t even have time to show my support for my female family members on my Insta-story! How could I possibly have spent enough time meditating on the “unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action” of all the women who came before me and those who are still to arrive on both a local and global scale?

Luckily, the USA designates March as Women’s History Month, so I have a few more opportunities to wear purple, read Gloria Steinem, and scream from my barre studio rooftop about how women are just as capable as men.

I am always hesitant to say that one gender is “better” than another, instead believing that each has intrinsically different strengths and weaknesses which — when expertly utilized and paired together — can create something far superior. That being said, there are times when I am so outraged about the lack of representation of female figures in history that it seems the only way to deal with that disappointment is to berate men. But, that doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t get the triumphs of kick-ass women into the history books, and it won’t help us unearth the stories of half-the-population for the past (approximately) 200,000 years. Instead, we have to look forward and take things into our own hands, inviting the men and women who want to join us along, and powering ahead without those who don’t.

For the past month, I have been nose deep in business and branding books — attempting to obtain a deeper level of knowledge about creating a business and a cohesive brand (it’s official – I am taking things seriously!!). During the brand identity part of the process, I wrote out a long-list of descriptor words for my blog personality and the reader I visualized enjoying and receiving value from my content. Half-way through, I wrote “she is a renaissance woman” and then sat back with a feeling of “A-HA” which was depicted in my furiously vicious underlining of said statement. I connected with this vibe and felt that it encapsulated many aspects of my reader’s lifestyle and interests. Immediately, I set about googling “renaissance women” to learn more about those who had previously been bequeathed this term.

I was greeted with plenty of paintings of women during the Renaissance period and a lovely descriptor: “The women of the Renaissance, like women of the Middle Ages, were denied all political rights and considered legally subject to their husbands. Women of all classes were expected to perform, first and foremost, the duties of housewife.” “Husbands” and “housewife” were both in bold.

“Renaissance man” brought up a dictionary definition of “a person with many talents or areas of knowledge” and then a plethora of articles detailing the characteristics of said persons and strategies/guides to becoming one yourself.

Flipping back and forth between the search results I was flabbergasted by the dissimilarities and the fact that even 500 years later one of the highest acclaims you can give to a man has no designation in the woman’s world.

For once, my initial bodily reaction wasn’t of anger; instead, I started to see an opportunity for women around the world who seek to be well-rounded individuals, full of knowledge and skill across a board range of fields and who value the holistic approach to self-improvement through physical, mental and social developments to join together and reclaim the title. Luckily, it is no longer the 1400s, and our capacity to be renaissance women isn’t limited to sitting pretty for a portrait.

So, I am curious, what do you think defines a renaissance woman? Who in your life do you consider a renaissance woman? Is it a term that you think reflects your lifestyle? Let me know in the comments below!

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