What Is Woman?

“The dark-haired Freda, who united the fearlessness and independence of a woman with the frankness and gaiety of a child, had won his heart.” – The Dragon and the Raven, by G.A. Henty

Every once in a while, a passage in a book leaps out at me and demands attention. “Look!” it says, “I’m just what you’ve thought so many times but couldn’t quite put into words. Here I am, all put together for you.” That’s just what this sentence did. In 24 words, it completely and eloquently states everything I ever aspired to be as a woman. The best of both worlds, as it were. To be a strong, confident woman, yet still open and vivacious like a girl, that is what I want to be.

When I was little, I always said I wanted to be a woman, but never a lady. I was something of a tomboy and this was the only way I could say what I meant. To me, “lady” meant being prim and proper, soft and sedate. I have long since realized my mistake – that a woman can indeed be both strong and ladylike. But it was a mistake in word usage only, never in the meaning behind the words. My thoughts made sense to me, but I never found the right words to express those thoughts. Mr. Henty, writing 129 years ago, has done it for me.

In today’s gender-confused world, it can be difficult to know how to truly be a woman. Or how to be a man, for that matter. In G.A. Henty’s day, the lines were more clearly drawn between the sexes. In 1886, there were very specific rules that governed the way a woman should dress, act, and think. I have no desire to return to such a restrictive arrangement – and I don’t think he thought too much of it at the time either. In writing Freda, the romantic interest of The Dragon and the Raven’s protagonist, he leaves no doubt that she is all woman. Yet she is both free-thinking and free-spirited. In today’s world, it is both easier and more complicated – easier because we are encouraged to be ourselves, more complicated because we have to figure out what that means on our own. I certainly haven’t figured it out yet, but every day I learn a little more and become a little better. But that’s life, right? Always learning, always growing, always striving to be a better person.