What Does it Take to be a Woman?: A Poem

By Angie Merrill

Are you ready to be,
From the time you’re two or three,
Commended when you are being good
And acting like you should
With dollies, books, and blocks
Colorful bows and ruffle socks
Hushed when you become too wild and loud
Warned about the dangers in a big crowd
Because you are delicate and small
And they don’t want anything to happen to you at all?

Are you ready to fix,
From the time you are six,
Your hair in a pony tail or bun
So you can run and have fun
Without anything getting in the way.
To say “Okay,”
When told not to get messy or hurt
If you play in the dirt
Or while trying to climb a tree
When your spirit longs to explore and be free
Can you be sweet and kind and never abrupt
Control your emotions and not interrupt
Try your best not to act bossy or crazy
Since that wouldn’t be fitting of a young lady?

Are you ready to shelve
From the time you’re eleven or twelve
Uterine aches and irritability
And opt for civility
Even when cramps are too much to bear
To carry on with a smile
Though it feels like a trial
To continue work and school at the top of your game
As if everything is exactly the same
When Aunt Flow is ruining your week somehow
Knowing she’ll be back about 28 days from now?

Are you able to glean
From the time you’re thirteen
wisdom and grace
As you inevitably face
Competitiveness, cattiness, and such
And pretend cyber bullying doesn’t bother you that much
Setting your insecurities aside
When you want to hide
From those who were once your friends…
To hold your head high in the halls
And have the gall
Not to believe the things they’ve said.
To dominate on the field or court
Whatever your sport
Or your dance or art or song
And prove them all wrong?

Are you able to battle—
younger than you should ever have to battle—
The images on computer, television, and movie screens
That tell you to be tall and lean
With a certain bust size
Or waist size
Or butt size
Or nose size
Or lip size
Or thigh size
If you want to be noticed or valued by guys
Or considered beautiful.
And if you fall short this standard, you must be dutiful
To go under the knife
So you can obtain the perfect image and life.
Or will you instinctively know it’s all superficial fluff
And that you are in fact good enough
When you look in the mirror and see
You are exactly as you ought to be?

And on the flipside…
Are you prepared to take in stride
The catcalls and hollers
From players and ballers
Or be ogled as you walk down the street
And just because you seem sweet
They take license to call you “baby” or “honey”
And isn’t it funny
That they’ll never know how it feels
To walk a mile in your four-inch heels
Or the courage you muster strolling alone to your car
Looking over your shoulder wherever you are
Gripping your phone and your keys tight
Just in case someone is lurking in the night?

Are you ready to strive,
Between eighteen and twenty five,
(Or at whatever age, of course,
you decide to enter the workforce)
To be merited on your talents and brain
Yet get overlooked or underestimated time and again
Can you press on and persevere
When the challenges become severe
To show them that you’re immovable
That your intellect and worth are most certainly provable
Will you work hard and pursue your dream
And consider it more possible than others might deem
To finally get to the top based on your ability and smarts
And still earn 23 percent less than your male counterparts?

Are you able to endure
A love that is selfless and pure
If you embark on the journey of motherhood
To suffer miscarriage when you never thought you would
To put your heart out there and continue to try
And feel the ecstasy of seeing that glorious line
Displayed on the pregnancy test
Which ushers in morning sickness, exhaustion, and the rest
Of the symptoms far too many to name
That mothers since the beginning of time have had to sustain
To give your whole body for the growth of your child
And feel the kicks and squirms that make it all worthwhile?

And are you willing to feel pain far greater,
About nine months later,
When it’s time for your baby to enter the world
Whether multiples, boy, or girl
To put love and fortitude in action
With every intense contraction
And muster incredible strength
To meet your child, before they measure weight and length
(As if that is an accurate scale
Of who your child is, because only time will unveil)
And with every cuddle and kiss
You are certain you’ve never loved another like this?

Can you give life to one who nurses at your breast
To be up at all hours of the night—that’s a real test
Through teething, fevers, and incessant coughs
Keeping yourself aloft
Despite sleep deprivation and diaper blowouts
And sometimes you may want to cry and shout
But you don’t because your love and devotion
So strongly overpowers any other emotion
Can you juggle with grace, motherhood and work
(Adeptly handle the questions of know-it-all jerks)
Or the joys and challenges of being a stay at home mom
(With patience, creativity, wisdom and calm)
Remaining undeterred by criticism and second-guessing
About your kids’ education, manners, or the way they are dressing
To feel your heart groan
As they gain independence and go out on their own
Praying for all the favor you can curry
So you don’t succumb to your fear and worry
With each milestone and setback in kind
To trust that they’ll turn out just fine?

So at the end of it all, the qualifications are clear
You will experience new demands with each passing year
Immense joy as you realize all you can do
Deep sadness as you battle expectations untrue
Keeping your cool under pressure—and humility in applause—
(And we didn’t even get to discuss menopause.)
But you have amazing opportunities others have paved
There are discoveries to be made and lives to be saved
Audrey Hepburn, Mae Jemison, Chien-Shiung Wu,
Clara Barton, Malala Yousafzai, and Maya Angelou
Esther, Joan of Arc, Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Sacajawea, Eleanor Roosevelt, and of course Marie Curie
You can lift others up and blaze a new trail
You can have courage and compassion and tell a new tale
So as you contemplate these things and your soul begins to wake,
My question for you is, “Do you have what it takes?”

Photo: Shutterstock

Angie Merrill is a writer, poet, and blogger. She is also a "mixed girl," a wife, the mother of three hooligans under six years old, and a lover hot pizza.