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Dancing Awkwardly into Womanhood

My One-Step Forward, One-Step Back Shuffle Toward Responsibility

A few years ago I sat across from an astrologist in a West Village apartment in Manhattan feeling a weird mix of nervousness and skepticism. He was my first astrologer and I’d been half expecting a cape and a crystal ball. Instead I got a muscle tee and a laptop. Gahl was gruff and no-nonsense, a bald Israeli with plenty of muscles for his tee and no time to waste on niceties.

“You’re a woman now,” he told me halfway through our session, sounding a little mad. “Step into it.”

I was 30 and he was right. No more eyelash batting, he said. No more feigning innocence or naïveté—that’s for little girls. You are a woman now. Step into it.

So I walked out the door and did exactly that. Turned my life around and grounded myself in the Divine Feminine. Power, creativity, and tough love shooting out of my chakras like laser beams. Unicorns everywhere.

Yeah. Not exactly.

Instead I silently fumed. What did he know about acting like a little girl? I was confident, self-employed, and newly single by choice. Major woman stuff.

But his comment, which had shot out at me like a laser beam and landed like a unicorn horn to the heart, pissed me off because it was true.

I was silent in conversations that mattered; confident on the days I liked the way my stomach looked and frustrated on days I didn’t. I avoided my family because they made me uncomfortable. I was angry at strangers whose lives looked like the ones I wanted.

And that relationship I’d ended? Yes, it had been an empowering choice, but I’d blindsided my partner when I said it was over; I was so wrapped up in my own needs and wants that I’d forgotten he had some, too.

Pretty juvenile when I look at it that way.

So, a little at a time, I stepped into womanhood. I worked on owning my actions, which seemed like something a woman would do. I replaced excuses with facts – “I’m running 10 minutes late. Thank you for waiting!” – and practiced saying what I meant and not what I thought the other person wanted to hear. I edged closer and closer to places of discomfort, even if that meant arriving at confrontation, my least favorite place to visit in the world.

What else would a woman do?

She would own her sexuality, too, I figured. When I caught myself trying to be beguiling—mentally flipping through an outdated playbook of Cosmo tips and rom-com scenes even though they were so lame—I squared my shoulders, stopped fellating my straw, and gave smart answers instead of coy ones. (I also stopped worrying about my neck dimple, which Cosmo says is super alluring.)

In bed or in conversation I stopped working so hard to please, instead asking myself, “Is this pleasing to me?”

Owning my sexuality didn’t mean only masturbating or never flirting again. It meant taking responsibility for my body, my desires, and my creative potential. It meant creating my own definition of sexiness (turns out it’s nuanced, complicated, and has nothing to do with dimples) and lining my actions and my partners up with that vision.

Around this same time I heard a life philosophy from a teacher, one of my mentors in the yoga world, that upleveled the concept of ownership.

Assume responsibility for your life in full.

Cool, I thought. No problem.

Wait, let me say it again: Assume responsibility for your life in full.

Oh. All of it?

Yeah, that’s right.

You mean like my parent’s divorce? Or that time in middle school when the mean-cool girls called me Big Bird because I was tall and…yellow? What about the boyfriend who dumped me, broke my heart, and then got angry when I started dating someone else? Or my dad’s alcoholism, and then his liver failure, and then his death—are you saying all this shit is my fault?

No. The more I listened to what my teacher was saying I heard that fault and blame weren’t the issues here. Ownership was.

This was the next step of stepping into it—it being womanhood, life, power. Assuming responsibility for my life in full didn’t mean shouldering blame for acts of abuse or violence; but it did mean picking those acts up, looking them square in the face, and saying, I see you.

I see you, and it’s up to me to decide what to do with you. By taking responsibility I take my power back: I get to choose my reaction. I get to determine my reality.

Stepping into womanhood meant no longer acting like a little girl. Assuming full responsibility meant no longer acting like a victim.

It also meant owning up to stuff that was my fault and doing my best to make amends. I’ve had hard conversations with friends, incredibly awkward conversations with family, and moments of deep relief when my apologies were greeted with compassion and good humor.

To call this process a work in progress would be an understatement. It’s a backward-and-forward dance. The missive I received was “Step into it,” but what I’m doing feels more like the hokey-pokey. I put one foot in, put one foot out, and turn myself around.

That’s what it’s all about.


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    Alison Baenen
    About the author

    Alison is the Editor-in-Chief at On Our Moon. She lives in Los Angeles (most of the time) and occasionally dreams of moving to Mexico to become an unprofessional watercolorist. She recently started eating bread again. It's delicious.

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