Taking Up Space
Three years ago, I went to a New Year’s Eve Chanting Meditation with Jarek Czechowicz.
Yes, I really did.
And it was one of the best New Year’s Eve celebrations I have ever been to, and not just because I was sober and can actually remember it.
One of the memories I have from that night, was talking to a woman in one of the breaks. She told me that she had just started using her bike more, and was cycling whenever she could – to work, to the shops, to the event we were both at.
I commented that while I liked cycling, I was a bit nervy about the cars I was sharing the road with.
She agreed that she used to be too – until she realised that she needed to Take Up Space.
Own her place on the road.
She explained that she would wear striking clothing, make confident arm gestures, and would hold her ground on her designated part of the road.
Nope, no curb-riding for this bike-riding warrior woman.
And it made such sense to me – to be seen and therefore not get hit by a car, you have to be visible.
It got me thinking that as women we get told not to take up space. To constantly lose weight. To not wear clothing that is too unusual. To show just the right amount of skin to be noticed but not noticeable.
Because it’s important to look attractive, but it’s important to be safe too and let the male gaze just glance over us – while we pray that they think:
“Nothing unusual here. Nothing worth harassing. Just another woman trying to fit in.”
So, I got to thinking… how can I unlearn this cultural Keep Invisible Bullshit and learn to take up more space?
Like all big changes they need to be done with baby steps. And while these seem too small, they are proving to be super-hard to action:
I’m learning not to comment on my ‘baby weight’.
I’m practicing not giving up the best seat in the house.
I’m trying to give myself the best pickings of the food I sourced, prepared and cooked.
When sharing the kitchen with my mother-in-law, we are both trying not to apologise when we need to get a utensil from the other’s work space. Instead of saying, “Sorry, I just need to sneak in here” followed by gushing “Oh thanks so much!”, we are learning to say “Excuse me” or “Can you please pass me the …?”
I’ve noticed that it’s harder to change my behaviour outside of my own home.
I’m learning how to be still when someone leans in front of me at the supermarket, and not shrink away or spring backwards like a startled cat. They aren’t being rude – they have accounted for the polite margins – it’s me that is worried that I might possibly be in their way, or mortified that I didn’t anticipate their move already.
Yesterday, a man I was sitting next to on the tram stood up and said, “Excuse me, this is my stop”.
I leapt out of my seat like I’d been electrocuted (yes, that was me. You saw it didn’t you? On the 11.42 tram into the city? I’m sorry about that).
I gushed to the man,“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
He didn’t say anything or even give me a backwards glance as he went on his way, which made me feel unvalidated in both my helpful action of standing up for him, as well as my misery in apologising for something that I didn’t need to apologise for.
I settled instead for berating myself for being so apologetic – right when I’m meant to be trying so hard to take up space!
But this feminine invisibility cloak is so well-worn by me, and is such a part of our cultural dress-code, that it’s going to take some work. Meanwhile, I can continue to lament the culture or… I can try and do the hard work myself, by changing my own behavior.
It starts with just one person.
And then another.
And then another.
So today, I strapped on my helmet and put all my bike lights on. You know, the red flashing one on the back, and the white headlight beaming out the front of my handlebars.
Sure, it was only 2pm and it wasn’t going to be dusk for another 6 hours but, I wanted to be seen. To be visible. To not apologise for being there.
Sure, I still have a ways to go on this road, but in the action of travelling it, I will get better at taking up space.
I need to hear more stories about strong women leading beauty-filled and spiritual lives, and so I created Empress Crow and Rabbit. It’s a forum to showcase the inspirational stories of women in uniquely feminine careers. It's also a bridge between what we think we know and what we feel is right. Thank you for joining me – let’s all learn, grow and celebrate the feminine together.
Photo credit: Lucy Spartalis