Throughout most of history, women have been told, in open and unspoken ways, that they were important primarily for performing the roles defined for them by males: conceiving and bearing children, keeping the household, and catering to the needs and desires of their men.
For women who presumed to step outside these roles or to seek their significance in ways that the surrounding society didn’t sanction, disapproval was certain and punishment likely. Women who were determined to follow their own paths had to find their own, inner sources of validation and significance—society certainly wasn’t going to hand either to them!
In the same way today, if we, as women of ambition and vision, are serious about seeking self-definition and rejecting the ready-made roles that society seeks to force on us, we must be able to remind ourselves that we matter—even when everything and everyone around is trying to tell us we don’t!
The great cathedrals of Europe were built by artisans and laborers who, even in their own lifetimes, were virtually anonymous. A stonecutter would work his entire life to shape and place the stones that would form the walls, columns, and buttresses of these magnificent structures. He would grow old and die, often passing his trade and his role in the construction on to his son. That son, in his turn, might grow old in his labor and pass the mantle to his son who might, if he lived long enough, actually live to see the completion of the cathedral that contained stones laid by his father and grandfather.
Even though most of those who labored diligently to build and beautify the cathedrals might never see the fruits of their work, and even though their names are, in the vast majority of cases, lost in the dust of centuries, their work remains to this day. What they did was important, even though their names have been forgotten. In many ways, theirs was a work of faith—they adhered steadfastly to the tasks they were given, even though they knew that they were not likely to see the end results for which they labored.
In many ways, this is similar to the situation of “misbehaving” women today: they must persist in faith, believing that what they do is important—that it makes a difference. The short-term benefits may be difficult to discern, but women of vision must continue on, firm in the inner knowledge that what is most popular or most visible may not always be what is most important.