When looking for symbolic representation of women, I started thinking about the stereotypical images we use to portray women in North American culture. Are you only a woman if you wear a dress, or have long hair, or want to be a mother? Why is the curvy, pregnant form so often associated with women? Do you cease to be a woman if you don't fit into these stereotypes? How can we break down those images of make-up and high-heels and short skirts as being synonymous with "woman"?
I also looked at some much simpler symbols, some ancient symbols of women, where a triangle standing on its point represents woman, as a chalice of life, or the womb from which all creation is birthed. I rather like the powerful sound of this, but again, where does this leave women who choose not to procreate or who cannot?
A woman is more than a mother. A woman is more than a dress. A woman is so very much more than simply gender or sex imply.
So then, what does make a woman and more to the point I wanted to get at, what is a woman survivor of domestic violence?
1. We are strong.
If there is one thing I have learned from the many, many women I have met on my survivors journey, it is that to be a woman is to be strong and to be a woman survivor of domestic violence, is doubly so. The fear associated with being found out, with letting others know the pain we have experienced -- whether physical or emotional, and the shame that comes along with it -- it is a heavy burden to bear and we are strong while we carry it, and even stronger when we shed it.
2. We are courageous.
The courage to share our stories; the courage to leave; the courage to ask for help; and the courage we give to others who are in our situation and just need to see the role model of those who have gone before. Most of all, the courage to begin again after domestic violence.
3. We are resilient.
We may be down for the count, but are not out of the match. We have found a way to come back from the pit. And we often come back with a fervor. For some it is a quick turn around, for others it may take years, but it is always a forward and (mostly!) upward journey.
4. We are forgiving.
It is not just about forgiving ourselves, but also forgiving our abusers so that we might move on with our lives and leave the pain behind. Somehow, with support and guidance, we find a way to make this a reality.
5. We are looking and moving forward.
We see the future ahead of us and we reach for it. We may be timid and we may take only baby steps, but it is in that forward motion that we continue. When children are involved, they are often the motivation we need, but even for single women -- we all know that if we keep our eyes ahead of us, our spirit will follow. Going to groups, counseling, participating in the community of survivors helps us to regain that strength to take bigger steps, day by day, until we regain our stride.
6. We are community builders.
We know that the only way to heal from the hurt is to learn to trust again. We know how impossible that seems, especially in the beginning, and we reach out to our fellow survivors and begin to build a space, a safe space, where others can join and realize that they deserve to be loved and treated with respect.
7. We are compassionate/empathetic.
Here I will quote one of my favourites (which you will probably find elsewhere on the site, it really is one of my favourites!) from Kahlil Gibran "Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars." Because we know what it is like to be there, because we can envision ourselves in similar circumstances (even though we know no two stories are the same, no two journeys are parallel), as women survivors of domestic violence we are able to empathize with our fellow survivors and be deeply compassionate in all our dealings with one another. The most important aspect of all our interactions is to uphold and maintain the dignity of all women we cross paths with.
8. We are on a journey.
We are all on our very own, personalized journey. We will each take our own steps, in our own time as we see fit. Whether we reach for a fellow survivor to hold hands through these moments, or whether we take these steps on our own, our journey is no less significant. We are survivors who will make it through to the next part of our journey no matter what. We have the strength and the passion to keep moving and to continue to grow as we do.
And as a good place to end, I am going to take words from one of the greatest wordsmiths of our time, Maya Angelou, who could not have said it better "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style."by