Right now, it feels like I am on an exploration of womanhood and its many wonderful paths.
That’s because the people I have spent the most time with since being made redundant in early April have been other women.
During my first stop in my home State of Western Australia, I spent a lot of time with my Mum and my favorite Aunt. One of them is a mother of five, one has no children of her own. They are both bravely learning to live alone again since losing their husbands after many decades of happy marriage.
Then in Scotland I stayed with my inspirational cousin, an 84-year-old who runs a large bed and breakfast. She was married but separated, and worked hard to raise a young child as a single mother.
Now on this tour of Spain with all single women, I’m learning about the different paths each of them is taking through life.
It has also had me thinking about the way we – people in general, men, and other women – judge each other.
In particular I can’t help reflecting on the night our group went to see some traditional Flamenco in Seville.
In the intimate theatre, we sat one row back from the stage and it was hard not to be moved by the passionate singing, dancing and guitar.
But there was one young woman from the Romani gypsy family who came on the stage and all she did was clap and stamp her feet, and occasionally call out ‘ole’. Number after number, this beautiful woman did not sing or dance. As an amateur singer, I really wanted her to sing.
When I swapped notes with my travelling companions afterwards, it’s clear that a few of us had watched this woman and initially questioned her contribution. If she wasn’t going to sing or dance, what was her role?
In the days since this recital as we have travelled around the Spanish region of Andalusia (the home of Flamenco) and beyond to Valencia, I’ve been lucky to hear more from each of the women on the tour about their lives.
Ranging in age from 26 to 70, the group includes women who have never married, some who are married and divorced (one of them several times), and one woman who sadly lost her husband too young, in his 50s.
Some have never had children (and either don’t want them, found they couldn’t have them, or still hope to have them), some have adult children and one woman had a daughter who tragically died.
It’s clear in talking to each of these amazing women that there has been happiness and sadness in each of their lives – both as a result of paths they’ve chosen and events that are out of their control.
The shapes each of our lives have taken are all different. Not right or wrong, certainly not of more or less value, and not necessarily better or worse – just different.
Yet regardless of how our lives unfold, unfortunately people do judge us based on things such as their own expectations, prejudices or lack of understanding. As a 41-year-old single woman with no children, I have felt this first-hand.
Perhaps there have been moments during this tour of Spain, when members of our all-woman group have also judged each other? Why has she never married? Why did she marry so often? Why doesn’t she have children?
That brings me back to the Flamenco woman. Our quick judgment arose from imposing our own expectations about what she should be doing.
Once you know more about Flamenco, you understand that clapping and stamping are essential to the performance – as critical as the singing and dancing.
It’s a good reminder that the more we seek to learn and understand about each other (all human beings), hopefully the less we judge and the more we can not only live and let live, but actually bring greater empathy.
Toward the end, the Flamenco woman did sing and it was worth the wait. While her language was foreign to me, I understood the story she was telling (a fight with her man) and I felt her pain.
Her performance was so gut-wrenching and real, I wanted to reach onto the stage and comfort her – one woman to another.