I sat in a frigid moot court room at a conference on the morning of March 8, trying to concentrate. Within an hour of the program’s opening keynote, my underarms had become damp with that weird cold sweat that happens when you are at once freezing and yet decidedly overwarm in your wool overcoat. I was distracted, trying to decide whether I was sick, menstruant, nervous, or inappropriately dressed. My coat was long and fitted over my suit coat, and I was vaguely worried about bleeding through or around what had become a misaligned feminine product. Sitting straight in all those stiff layers for several hours felt, I imagined, something like the confinement of a full body corset.
The collar was taut around my neck, which made me feel sort of protected, but my presently over-long hair was caught up in a bun that kept bumping against the back of that same collar. My glasses were smudged, and I can barely see out of them anyway at present, so I pushed them on top of my head. However, my piled up, giant-feeling hair kept rocking them off center, so they sat at a precarious tilt on their perch. Every time I leaned to get something from my purse, they would clumsily tumble forward off my head and onto the floor. My pulled-back hair was giving me hair headache (which is just hard to explain if you’ve never had it – maybe something like a toothache in your hair follicles), and my left eye was working a sty that made my left eyelid twice the size of the right one. My eyes are naturally a little unevenly sized, and it is especially apparent when I am tired, so with the sty, I was rocking a sort of partial Peter Lori look.
Sitting there in my increasing discomfort, I was reminded of my sister in high school, who came home on the first Valentine’s Day she shared with her first love, lamenting her total body experience. She reported having felt “cute” upon leaving the house, but when she saw herself under the unforgiving florescent glare of the public-school toilet, she had a radical reversal of opinion. Her sweater was ill-fitting, her hair flat, a pimple had appeared along with her period, her stockings got a runner, and while crouching to void, she peed all over the back of her skirt.
While I was considering this (and taking rigorous notes on the conference presentation, of course), a woman leaned over to me and said, “You have on pantyhose.” I did. This was true, and I am still not sure why she said it. I think she was suggesting that I must naturally be cold, which I was. I didn’t think I would have been much warmer, however, even if I had been wearing pants on account of the fact that one of the conference organizers was wearing pants but nevertheless spent the morning at the podium jumping clown-like from foot to foot in a gangly, awkward dance as she tried to stay warm between housekeeping reminders and panelist introductions.
I realized, of course, that it was massively ridiculous to be so uncomfortable, worrying about bleeding though my skirt and whether I had to take off my coat in order to present my little talk. It was even more ridiculous that I was actually grateful that I had a small thing of deodorant in my purse. My purse itself seemed exquisitely absurd. I recognized that all my female colleagues were, like me, shifting around, taking off and putting on coats, just as I noticed the bathrooms filling up with evidence of women’s recently-made-tax-free feminine products over the course of several hours. I heard two colleagues make plans to leave early to pick up kids, and I realized all day how uncomfortable I was being away from my own children. They had had a day off school, and I just plain missed hanging out with them.
In all this, I was also aware that this same day was International Women’s Day, which is a day I had all but forgotten. I am sort of ashamed to admit this, but then, I can’t say that I have ever heard it mentioned, let alone celebrated, in any of the circles I inhabit. Scratching under my collar again, I took a moment to look around the room at all the women there, in various dress, phases of the moon, and styles of coiffure. I noticed their heels and flats, purses and backpacks, professional functions and physical ornaments. I saw lot of hard-working, dedicated human beings. I was aware that we, there, freezing in that conference room, had a lot to be thankful for, just as we have a lot to be fatigued by.
As I took down more notes and jotted ideas to return to my deans, I furtively searched the theme of this year’s women’s day. One UN theme that caught my attention was building sustainable infrastructures. The phrase “sustainable infrastructures,” I think, properly meant to refer to intentional organizational models of economic, environmental, agricultural, etc., structuring, aimed at achieving ideal goals for quality and longevity of life and health for people, non-human creatures, and the planet itself across the spectrum of local to global concerns. The idea of sustainable infrastructures, however, hit home to me, that is, it hit me at home, in my home, where the first infrastructure, I realized, is the integrity of the self. Oneself, one’s body, one’s hygiene, one’s mind, one’s relationship with kids and colleagues, one’s ponytail head pain, one’s clothing, one’s blood, one’s work, such as mine which sent me to that conference in the first place – this, these, are the first structures that need to be sustained sustainably in a whole, healthy, human life.
Tired and sweaty though I was, I decided I liked myself. I liked all the women in that room, tired and sweaty and trying to advance their ideas and teaching and research. I liked all the tired and sweaty women who weren’t in that room too, and I especially liked all those who would never be in a room or a meeting like that, doing whatever they were doing. I liked my period, despite the cramps and general discomfort it was now causing me. And, while I felt no need to invite anyone over for a party, I really celebrated and really enjoyed International Women’s Day, freezing away under my coat and aching in my abdomen. If I’m not too busy next year, I’d like to feel that way again.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.
5 thoughts on “Integrity of the Self by Natalie Weaver”
This is one of your best posts yet. I remember sitting on a couch at Union Seminary listening to a lecture and realizing there was a huge splotch of red blood between my legs very visible on my white slacks. This is the life (or part of it) of a woman academic! Thanks for telling it. Happy women’s day, evey day!
‘The idea of sustainable infrastructures, however, hit home to me, that is, it hit me at home, in my home, where the first infrastructure, I realized, is the integrity of the self. Oneself, one’s body, one’s hygiene, one’s mind, one’s relationship with kids and colleagues, one’s ponytail head pain, one’s clothing, one’s blood, one’s work, such as mine which sent me to that conference in the first place – this, these, are the first structures that need to be sustained sustainably in a whole, healthy, human life.’
This struck a chord with me, thank you. In our race to attain our birthright women have been driven into the ground physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually because our birthright seems to be in addition to our gendered duty of care. For our lives to be sustainable women need men to show up and support us.
This week I’ve been reading Gesshin Claire Greenwood’s book Bow First Ask Questions Later. It recounts her time as a Zen Buddhist Monk in Japan. One observation she makes is that enlightenment is a Male fantasy and she comes to that conclusion because Male monks sit zazen and study for very long periods of time, while the practice for female monks is in washing the dishes and sweeping the floor; preparing the food and pulling the weeds, thus providing for the bodily needs of Male monks. Zazen and study came after these duties for women – this was the case in a mixed monastery or a female one. Many nuns became ill with this regime and still returned to continue.
Sustainable living requires adequate rest – perhaps that should be the theme for next year’s International Women’s Day?
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What a jolly post! I love your decision to like yourself and all the other women. And your description of your personal infrastructure is priceless.
I love these words:..”the first infrastructure, I realized, is the integrity of the self.”International Women’s Day” came and went with me dealing with a betrayal involving two other woman and feeling just hopeless about women as a group. Solidarity just isn’t. It wasn’t until I had a dream and did some personal writing that I realized that I had inadvertently betrayed myself by taking the high road… destroying my own integrity in the process. My anger could have helped me, but I dismissed it. Thank you for reminding me that integrity of oneself includes acting on anger…
Thank you for this resonant post, Natalie! I found myself saying “yes!” internally with each sentence.