Being a Woman is a Leap of Faith

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I’ve heard it said that if it weren’t for faith, none of us would dare to venture out our front doors. Every time we get in a car, eat in a restaurant, have a medical procedure, or any number of “ordinary” things, we’re exercising faith that disaster will not strike us. Just staying alive is a leap of faith; suicides have lost their faith.

Now I’m going to make a contentious remark: I think it takes more faith to be a woman than it does to be a man. The most dramatic example of this is when a woman gets pregnant, but it starts long before that. When little girls ask questions about sex characteristics or reproduction, they’re told that their “stuff” is inside, where you can’t see it. Boys know their “stuff” intimately: it’s out there and it does things that can be felt and observed.

Little girls have to accept that their equipment is fine even when they can’t see it, and in fact, no one really knows if a woman’s reproductive system is in working order until something goes wrong. Late onset of menses, irregular or lack of periods, and infertility are all symptoms of underlying problems that can’t been seen. That’s partially true for men, but not to the extent that it is for women.

A little girl is always told that someday she can be a mommy. There’s no other explanation for menstruation. If a girl isn’t told what menstruation means, she may think something is seriously wrong with her; even that she’s dying. Yet the explanation isn’t all that comforting. She is told that she will bleed monthly for the next forty years, but that it’s “normal.” She has to accept that by a leap of faith.

She also has to take on faith that a baby can actually grow inside her, and even more so, that it can get out. She has to have faith that she won’t die, that the baby will be normal, that the pregnancy and delivery will take their natural course. Modern science has made it possible for parents-to-be to find out a lot of details that used to be shrouded in mystery—the sex of the baby, the likelihood of (some) birth defects, problems with the placenta or amniotic sac, and so on—but ultimately the pregnant woman just has to trust that things will be okay, even though sometimes they’re not.

Even with the strides made by women in the last five decades, women still have to have faith that they won’t be raped, that they’ll be treated fairly in the workplace and that they will be protected or supported when they’re at their most vulnerable (during pregnancy, after delivery, and while they’re raising children). And even knowing that some women do get raped, or treated unfairly or left without resources when they had a right to expect them, women still go ahead and attempt to do the same things that men do.

It can be scary to be a woman, which makes it all the more courageous when a woman steps out in faith and gets out of a bad marriage, or files a complaint of sexual harassment, or demands the same wage that her male counterparts get. Men have to do scary things, too, but at least their track record for success is more encouraging. Men have to go to war and support their wives and families, and yet, in recent decades, women have exposed themselves to those risks as well. Women are expanding their horizons while men are merely staying the same.

Yes, it takes a leap of faith to become a father or a husband, but more often than not it is the woman who will be left holding the bag if something goes wrong with the family or the marriage. Woman have more to lose when they become mothers and wives. Even though they are often granted custody and child support, their standard of living almost invariably goes down in comparison to their exes’ whenever there is a divorce.

Even (or especially) when marriage is avoided and the man and woman merely cohabit, this takes a tremendous leap of faith for the woman. She has no rights whatsoever if the couple breaks up. At least women used to be protected by the concept of common-law marriage, but that legal status is becoming a thing of the past. The man is not obligated to support the woman in any way, even if she becomes pregnant.

The greatest leap of faith I’ve ever seen is when a woman decides to go it alone when she has children. She may have only a dim idea of how difficult her life is going to be without a partner, but she takes the chance that her life, and the lives of her children, will be better without him as a live-in dad. She may lose her gamble, but at least she had the courage to try.

I made the comment the other day in a group of women that “we women are strong!” There were a few beats of silence before one of the women said, “Yes, but we need men.” I didn’t say that we didn’t; I said that women are strong. What does the one have to do with the other?

Maybe she thought I meant that women are stronger than men. And, you know, maybe that is what I meant.

 

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

2 thoughts on “Being a Woman is a Leap of Faith”

    1. Yeah, it was. I’m amazed at how many women throw the baby out with the bathwater. They’re so busy denouncing that evil feminism, they don’t realize they’re downplaying their own strengths when they do.

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