I don’t watch the news, so I’m usually late when it comes to events. You can imagine my surprise yesterday upon seeing a picture on my Facebook timeline highlighting an event from November 2015. A young woman in Georgia took her college exam while she was in labor. She has since been lauded as strong, determined, having her priorities in order, and amazing for doing so. This is not the first time a woman has done this. Back in 2011, an Illinois woman took her bar exam while in active labor. This woman was also lauded with compliments for her extraordinary heroism as she barreled through her exam.
I understand that we are in a culture which supports and idolizes action. We are all about doing and achieving. And when you’re done with that, do and achieve more. That picture and those who commented on how wonderful it was only reinforced that notion. And while I believe these women–and women in particular, for that matter-are extraordinary, I can’t help but to feel a bit sad about how much that mentality has affected us. Most women who have given birth can tell you what an exhaustive process labor can be. And in the midst of this, these women felt that they really had no choice but to “woman up” and take an exam instead of focusing on the task at hand–a mighty large task if you ask me.
Now I know there are some who will say “But what’s wrong with what they did?” To you I will say, there’s nothing wrong. I’m not speaking from a place of judgment. I do applaud these women for doing what they felt they needed. I think women are incredibly resilient. And while extreme, these two ladies, and any other ladies who’ve done similar things, illustrate this point. But reading their stories and all the comments of those who applauded them raised some questions for me. Tyler Collins, the 21 year-old Georgia mom who took her psychology exam while in labor said, “I just didn’t want to make an excuse for not taking it, but I also wanted to keep my GPA up.” I’m amazed by her strength. But I’m also amazed that she would have considered giving birth an “excuse” as to why she couldn’t take her exam. We’re not talking about a slight sniffle of the nose here. No, we’re talking about birthing a child! How is that an excuse? I just wonder how long we woman shall rumble and roar just to say we did? Furthermore, I wonder why we even feel the need to?
Again, there is no judgment. I couldn’t judge if I wanted to since I still struggle to retire the invisible, yet still seen S on my chest and cape that flows from my neck. I just am saddened that we as women still fall into the trap of thinking we have to do, get, labor (figuratively and literally), and toil in order to be worthy and strong. We still don’t quite understand that strength is a quiet trait. It doesn’t make a grand entrance. It merely shows up when needed, does what needs to be done, and exits stage left when it’s done. And sometimes strength realizes that rest or seeming inactivity is the thing that is needed. We forget that sometimes, the seemingly “weak” thing is the strongest thing to do. We are after all, feminine beings. And feminine strength doesn’t look like masculine strength; nor does it need to. What’s more, Collins scored a 76 on her exam and admitted she wasn’t pleased with the score, prompting her to email her professor to see if she could retake the exam. Thankfully, her picture and story went viral, so it prompted her teacher to give her extra credit, which bumped her grade from a C to a B. But I couldn’t help but wonder, if she’d simply focused on her labor–you know prioritize–and taken the test at a later time, would she have received a score more to her liking. But that’s the mentality that we live with. We must do it and we must do it NOW! There is no later. If you wait, you won’t get another opportunity. And often times we don’t see how we cause our own suffering with that mentality.
I will repeat, these women were in labor! I understand the gravity of that can be forgotten in today’s world; since women have been doing it since the dawn of time. I get that how in the midst of all the medical, technological, and societal strides the human race has made, childbirth can seem so rudimentary. Yet, it isn’t at all. It’s heavy stuff, Man! I also get that when we look at some of the things our ancestors faced, we feel like we’re chumps in the face of their adversity. And why shouldn’t we? When you compare what they’ve gone through to our stuff one can’t help but arise at the conclusion that we have it made. I’ve heard the stories of how our ancestors birthed babies in the middle of the cotton field, wrapped the baby and strapped them to their back, and then proceeded to continue picking cotton. Yep, I’ve heard the stories. I was saddened by them then, just as I’m saddened now. And it’s because in spite of the advances, we still haven’t realized some things.
There has been and still is this idea that in order for a woman to succeed, she must do so with masculine energy. She must act. If she isn’t acting, she’s not achieving. Now admittedly, women have made great strides in their careers. Yet those strides have begged the question, at what cost? The notion that women need to be like men in order to be strong is erroneous. We were created different for a reason. A woman can be strong in her feminine without embodying the masculine. We can prioritize, possesses determination, and be amazing all without putting ourselves last. It’s not a badge of honor to deplete ourselves in our quest to get things done. Yet, that’s the model so many of us have chosen to emulate. My wish is that every woman knows how splendid, beautiful, and yes, strong, she is. But we can’t realize that trying to reach it with a masculine model in mind.
I just wonder that with all that women do, why we feel it’s not enough? I wonder how long we will have to be the Strong (and often times Black) woman giving and doing with our might before we whittle away at everything we’ve got. Why is it that we feel like carrying, laboring, birthing, and raising our children is nothing? Why do you we feel like we haven’t done enough? Why do we feel like we have to be “on” constantly, giving of ourselves until we’re depleted, to prove how we good we are? Why are we constantly applauding women for these acts of self-neglect? Yes, I said self-neglect, because that’s what it is. We give and give up so much from our cups that many of us have been holding empty cups for years–scraping the residue from the bottom to give even more. I understand that there are times when we must toil because there is no other choice. But there are other times (probably more than we care to admit) when we choose to do it. I know I’m asking a lot of questions. But what I’m trying to say is deeper than the questions. There is grace in rest. There is no weakness in recognizing that what one needs is to have a seat or two, or several more. We need to bestow grace upon ourselves. As far as we’ve come, we need to understand that we don’t need to fight to prove our strength. There is no battle to wage on our life. And again, I’m not judging. I do believe they are strong. I believe women are strong. I just wonder how much steam that strength of ours will have to run on if we continue this way. That’s all.