Ladies, thank you / by Steph Stepan

Guys are smart. They don’t carry bags around when pockets will do. I thought I’d try the same and it backfired within a day: I reached for the wallet in my coat pocket and out fell a tampon. Nicely played, Universe. Nicely played.

A girl I’d just met called out ‘Oh, you dropped something!’ and reached down to pick it up before realising what it was.

‘Oh man.’ I exclaimed. ‘Oh woman.’ is what I should have said.

‘Don’t worry.’ my new friend said. ‘If it makes you feel any better, I once walked around with a tampon sticking out of my pocket for a day.’

‘Yes it does.’ I smiled. ‘You have no idea how much it does.’

And this, friends, in a graphic nutshell, is the brilliance of women. Don’t you think?

For every face-palm moment you have, a woman is willing to one-up you. It’s not that it’s a competition; we just want you to know that this shit happens — unceremoniously, unfairly and universally every day. And it’s totally okay.

Our sharing also has a wonderful domino effect. Every time you dare to share a sliver of your imperfect self with her, a woman will sense your discomfort and let it rest on her for a little. She’ll hold it until you don’t feel embarrassed to carry it around with you anymore. So, next time, elsewhere, you’ll probably dare to share more.

Where does this compassion come from? I feel like I should know this by now. I’ve spent 30 years in the lady tribe and I struggle to say anything more than it just it is. It unfolds quite naturally and often unexpectedly — not just in homes, or over coffee, but on the street and in passing too.

I wish many things for women. I want to see more of us in the media. I want sports gear that isn’t fluro pink. And I want us to speak up more, even if it is but a squeak. But this compassion thing — this ability to openly admit our shortcomings and fold people in under our wings — I believe we have in spades.

This should be an easy piece for me to write, but I keep running away. I find myself rummaging through the fridge. I eat last night’s leftovers. I demolish the dark chocolate. And when I do finally get back to this Word doc I find I’m unsure of where to begin, and of what I’m really trying to say. How can this be? How hard can it be to write a thank you note to the best cheer squad I know?

I am discovering, snack by snack, that I feel unqualified to write about the experience of being me. Well, female and me. I feel as though I can’t talk with much authority on femininity, feminism or female qualities. I have no stats to offer because what I want to talk about is based on gut feel. It’s immeasurable. It’s already a force to be reckoned with and it can’t be taken away from me.

I don’t want you to think I’m living on Sesame St. There are things we can and should measure. I get that there has been positive change for the lives of women but there are still changes to be made. And that when you think about the state of the world, your heart catches on fire and you wonder, how can this be?

But I don’t feel like I hear many good news stories anymore, and I’ve always found that when it’s just me and a friend, my sister, or a stranger who makes my cheeks burn a little less, I can feel some hope again.

That’s why I wish it were simpler to say: Listen up, world. There’s a lot of shit going down but you, ladies, are nothing short of wonderful. So, party’s over here.

Which brings us to this intersection: Can you party and fight at the same time? They are two different postures, but surely it must be possible to celebrate the good stuff and come away with an equal part of the pie as well.

This is where I start wanting to run back to the fridge. I don’t know how to pick apart the role of anger and joy. All I know is that anger doesn’t make me want to lean in, but I probably should. And that I feel silly putting my hand up because there’s a niggle that says, Wait, hold up now, can we talk about the happy stuff too?

My mind is doing backflips trying to get down all of this. It’s trying to read your mind before you read the words I haven’t yet written, so I can censor what you’ll never know was going to be written. How’s that for meta. For instance, do I need to say, dudes, you’re pretty fab too? You are by the way. I know many of you. Also, who am I to put a rope around compassion for all the ladies in the room? It is a fundamentally human thing, after all.

And can you talk about the compassion of women without talking about the way our heightened sense for other people’s feelings can lead to surprise when we aren’t nice all the time? What a shemozzle all of this is.

I spent my teens at an all-girls school and I was neither the most popular nor the least popular girl going around. This gives you a pretty good observation deck. I saw war spark and dissolve over the course of a lunch break, and I witnessed plenty of warmth and silliness too. 

There were no pillow fights and confetti, oh no, but there was an underlying feeling of camaraderie. I still feel this when I see friends from high school today. It’s more than just shared history, I think.

I’m not in high school any more, thank goodness, but I know this little pocket of femaleness is still easily found. You need only visit the nearest bar or restaurant and head to the rest rooms. On any given Saturday night, women around the world marvel at the lack of them. And so we queue. We get squished behind the swinging door, shift our weight from leg to leg and lean against tiled walls. We silently will our female comrades to pee faster. Sometimes, if we’re really busting, we say it out loud.

And something else happens, too. We chat with one another, we might ask where you got your shoes, we listen, we pass loo rolls to the next cubicle and snippets of our lives roll out as well. I don’t know what’s happening over in the dude toilets, but I’m fairly certain it’s not this.

Women know shit happens but we will never just say ‘shit happens’. We feel the weight of things, sometimes we misread, or over read, but know this: when you need someone to lean on, or you just have some time to kill in the ladies room, a woman leans forward, she listens, she consoles and she cheers. She’s ready to give you whatever you God damn need.

And after you’re done queuing and decide to head home, you might come across buffoons like me. You’ll see that my no bag experiment has gone horribly wrong and so we’ll talk until I don’t feel like such a buffoon anymore. I’ll smile, you’ll smile, and then we’ll part ways.

Ladies, thank you.