An Open Letter to Women Around the World
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Embracing our boldness on International Women’s Day
Congratulations! We have ourselves a day! And what a day it is. International Women’s Day sounds amazing and empowering except, let’s face it, most people get a day in their honor only if they have been historically underappreciated, maligned, or oppressed. Think about it: Mother’s Day (if there’s anyone being underappreciated, it’s Mom), National Techies Day, National Old Maid’s Day (June 4, if you’re curious). In contrast, you don’t see a date set aside for, say, conservative white men in the 1% 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.” The organization’s website invites women everywhere to “Articulate a moment when you took bold action to forge a better world.” What a great idea! When I read that, I wanted to fist-bump my other fist. But then I remembered I am not a bold person. In fact, I am a bit of a chicken. Confrontations can cause my heart to race, and public speaking has me rummaging through my purse for a Xanax. Even when I drive, I often am 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 15 years 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 create this three-volume book series demanded that I make countless cold calls to invite the voluntary participation of women I had never met, some of whom greatly intimidated me: the president of the National Organization for Women, rodeo riders, CEOs, inmates, single moms, congresswomen, great-great-grandmas, refugees, nuns, a madam at a legal brothel. . . . Given my dread of cold-calling, creating this book 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 endeavors. As an author and a 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 as well as through a local women veterans’ program; the Community Restorative Justice Center in White River Junction, Vermont; and social-service programs that advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence.
In recognition of International Women’s Day, I invited all of these 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,” was how most of the participants responded.
“My husband and I adopted a baby,” offered a retired teacher, “but that was 30 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, advocates for their personal well-being, 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 19-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 defined not only 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 more dreadful news stories. We parent responsibly, with the full knowledge that our kids will probably give us a hard time. We contribute to bake sales and fundraisers, and attend school board meetings when we would rather be binge-watching something on Netflix. We cook dinner and sometimes refuse to cook dinner. We pay our taxes. We put pen to journal to discover our thoughts. We knit funny, pink pussy hats to send a serious message: our bodies are not up for grabs. We go on Match.com to find love. We try again. And again. We make music and art; we dance and throw pots.
Those, to some, can be interpreted as bold gestures. Call them bold with a little b, but as women and 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 10. Maybe so many of us fail to recognize or appreciate our own boldness because by the time we get to 10, 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 and share it proud. Let’s own our boldness, today and every day. Let’s rock it and flaunt it, while sporting a pink pussy hat 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 expressive writing 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.
Joni B. Cole is the author of the new release Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better & Be Happier. For more information, visit www.jonibcole.com.
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