Perhaps I was born a woman; perhaps, as in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, I have become a woman. In any event, being a woman is a very central part of the montage of my personal and political identities. Womanhood is the lens through which I view myself and the world.
It may be anachronistic to write about my identity as a woman in this post-modern era – especially ever since Judith Butler disrupted our universe with her concepts of gender identity as social construction, a form of performance, rather than something that is “natural.” Indeed, it seems that in feminist discourse, identity is always perched at the top of a slippery slope, tipping towards essentialism, social construction, and the very stereotypes that we seek to escape.
Yet along these slippery slopes and within the different spaces in which I move, I demand the right to actively define my own identity as a woman.
My identity as a woman is made up of pieces of women’s continuous history; it is composed of an ongoing dynasty of witches and story-tellers; farmers, cultivators and healers, women writers and scholars; women who cook and sing; women who have held a sleeping child close to their breasts. My identity is made up of my grandmothers, may their memories be a blessing, and my mother, may she be blessed with a long life; the sisters in my own family and the sisters I have drawn in close to me through the years. It is nurtured by and develops from my daily interactions with those whom my heart loves above all. It is made up of women I have never met and those I have met in the pages of books, pictures, and stories. It is made up of real-life women and mythological figures.
And over the past few months, I have come to realize that my identity also draws from the courage of brave Liberian women.
About two years ago, I first encountered the film that documents the struggle of Liberian women, Muslim and Christian, to bring peace and put an end to their country’s cruel, bloody civil war. The film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, is one in a series of documentary films about women throughout the world who have brought a peaceful conclusion to bitter, brutal conflicts.
Activism in the “Women Wage Peace” movement has brought me the opportunity to see the film again and again in screenings throughout the country. Each time I see the movie, I see another detail; another sentence engraved into my memory; another scene troubles my sleep. Yet each viewing also restores my belief in the human spirit and its capacity for great compassion, deep wisdom and emotional resilience in the face of unutterable cruelty.
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