Drawing on the "feminine mystique"
May 12, 2002

A geisha elegantly entertains with knowledge and culture. Aflamenco dancer mesmerizes with her aloof passion and rhythm. Andan African woman enchants with the regal soul of a Nubian princess.

What do these diverse women have that attracts followers likebugs to a light? The enigmatic appeal of women is still a riddleto men, but the feminine mystery is understood by women, tappedthrough the deep root of our ancestral mothers, grandmothers,aunts and sisters.

The feminine mystique has been vividly documented throughoutthe ages. Women have learned to be strong and to overcome, traitsthat have earned them admiration from suitors as well as family,peers, subordinates and historians.

My grandmother, a military nurse who scared me as a childwith penicillin needles, is one of those women. I've gained newrespect for her as I get older. She guided a large family whilenurturing a successful 56-year marriage and passed on to me a yenfor cooking.

My mom, stepmom and aunt started businesses, and seeing themstruggle to succeed is both exciting and exhausting. They haveinspired me to become an entrepreneur myself.

I also watched my mother overcome cancer and near kidneyfailure with a dignity and defiance that shocked her doctors andnaysayers. She rose above a dark prognosis to regain good health.

When I was young, a spry 80ish lady named "Woody" was mysurrogate grandmother. She was a pillar in the community and, asKit Carson's great granddaughter, was a Western icon. Her tales ofyouthful suitors fascinated me, and she was a caring mentor to me.

Although these women are my feminine role models, it's easierto nail down the specific qualities I find mystic when describingmy friend "Kat."

Kat is a single mom and a take-charge headturner who "owns theroom" when she waltzes in. She is interesting to both men andwomen, and is interested in others. She always brings something tothe table, which earns her both respect and our rapt attention.

Perhaps most amazing, these admirable women are a lot likeyou and me. When you pull back their Oz curtains, you'll findmerely mortal beings standing at the controls. Kat sometimesappears to be superhuman because she handles adversity by pickingherself up, brushing off the tread marks and holding her head highwith a willful grace.

I reserve a different kind of respect for another friend whowants to get back out in the dating scene but was hesitant becauseof her weight. I encouraged her to adopt the attitude of my proudblack female friends, several of whom are plus-sized. Not oncehave I heard them downplay their size. Instead, these women ownand celebrate their figures without apology. If we follow theirprecedent, we may realize that we don't have to match someoneelse's standards of perfection to go out and start living our lives.

Many of us live with the "pause" button on. We hold ourselvesback until our circumstances improve. We express supposed flaws -"I'm not thin enough/smart enough/pretty enough/together enough" -as excuses for not realizing our potential.

When those less-confident moments strike, I would love tohave the bottled essence of "feminine mystique" to draw from.Following in the footsteps of women I admire, I could pull out anAretha Franklin attitude, bob my head as if to say "Oh honey, NoWay!" and demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T.