Some years ago, my mother needlepointed a slogan in soft forest green yarn, framed it and presented it to me as a gift:
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
I thought it was odd that the same woman who had recommended I become a Savannah debutante was also telling me to buck the system.
The picture hung in my office for some time before I decided to look up who would have the nerve to say such a thing.
It was Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a professor of history at Harvard.
I figured that if a professor of history at Harvard said that well-behaved women don’t make history, it must be true.
Meanwhile, the constant presence of my mother’s hand-made gift made me think.
What is it exactly that makes a woman great.
Here are my current thoughts on the subject:
1. Stop asking permission.
Most women are people pleasers.
The people pleaser aspect of ourselves is part of our cave woman. Cave women need the group to survive. If a cave woman becomes ostracized, survival becomes difficult to impossible.
So our innate nature is to look for ways we can please others, whether it be acting the way we think others expect us to act, which makes us women especially adaptable, to dressing the way we think society demands, looking the way we think others expect and speaking only when it appears to be safe to do so.
This ingrained pattern keeps us surviving but lost in the herd.
To be great as a woman, we need to stop asking permission from others and give ourselves the go ahead to act upon our own inner guidance.
If there is something you want, go after it.
If your soul longs to be or do or see or experience, don’t stop until you get enough which means don’t stop growing until you are actually dead.
2. Stop acting like men.
Fortunately, I had the great blessing years ago to be the student of Kermit Champa, chairman of the art history department at Brown University. Professor Champa and I spoke every week for 27 years before he died. He became de facto the father I always wanted but never had.
One of the best pieces of advice Champa ever gave me was to look to other women.
When I was writing plays, he said to me, “Read the women playwrights. If you only read the men, you will always come off sounding like a second rate man.”
I took Champa’s advice and in every area of my life I have specifically chosen women mentors.
We women hold our energy totally differently than men.
A strong woman attracts.
We can sit silently on the top of a mountain and people will naturally be drawn to us.
This is the opposite of male energy, which pushes.
Yin energy draws from the inner well.
It’s a subtle, qualitative difference but one that will make or break you whatever field you choose.
3. Stop competing with other women.
Recently, I met a woman who every time I see her tells me all about her weight. I don’t bring up the subject. She does.
“I used to be a size 4,” she tells me.
I have yet to have a conversation with her that does not end without her reporting the current status of her weight loss efforts. I groan inside but know that even though she’s 60, she can’t help herself.
This is cave women behavior.
Cave women are driven to get the guy to be secure.
Cave women compete with other women for what they perceive to be scarce resources (and the subconscious message is that there isn’t enough guys, attention or money to go around to keep everybody safe in the manner to which we would all like to be totally secure).
Competition about looks doesn’t end with women of child bearing years but extends for many to their dying day.
The opposite of competition is cooperation, the celebration of the fact that we are all beautiful with our own unique sense of style and the recognition that no such thing as a vacuum actually exists in nature.
There is plenty of men, money and opportunity for everybody, especially if we work together.
You can only stop the pattern of competition by realizing that you are 100 percent secure in and of yourself, by giving yourself permission to be who you are meant to be and taking the steps necessary to live up to your true potential.
4. Love your femininity.
If you are born a woman in this lifetime, you will never be a man so you might as well love everything there is to love about being a woman.
Our ability to connect so deeply with the world around us.
The way we make everything more beautiful.
The way we nurture.
If you are having trouble with this step, look to the goddesses.
Are you the earth mother, the goddess of victory, the vessel of peace, the messenger of hope?
Notice the noble, uplifting and eternal aspects of your true character.
How can you express these qualities more fully?
Knowing your goddess self allows you to act from your deepest strengths.
As of this writing, my mother, Jane Espy who needlepointed Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s truth for me, is now 78 years of age.
Jane has been president of the Colonial Dames of Georgia and still serves at treasurer of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia as well as chairman of the Episcopal Youth & Children’s Services.
She previously served as a board member for the Historic Savannah Foundation, the Georgia Historical Society, and the Savannah Science Museum.
Like many women, I have had issues in the past with my mother but now I respectfully observe her selfless example.
What is healing? Healing happens when we look to the lives of others for inspiration to bring out the best in ourselves.