Silva Katchiguian

“I am not to be defined by my gender and the stereotyped box that characterizes me, but by the accomplishments that make me proud. I am woman.”

Powerful women influenced my childhood. I had two grandmothers who had lost their spouses early in life and who singlehandedly and successfully raised their families while working and living in a man’s world. I had a mother who held her ground and tried hard not to allow the societal definition of woman define her place in life. I have a sister who continues to voice her professional and personal rights to preserve her dignity and quash a needless compulsion of women to prove themselves worthy of respect. In brief, the women I looked up to had a lot in common. They were educated, they were married, they were mothers, they were involved in their communities, and they were bold, proud and heard.

Grandma Marie was the only sister among 5 brothers. She was smart, observant and resilient in a world of men. She married a doctor, and together they had six children. Marie saw the death of her eldest who passed away from an illness at a very young age and then the death of her husband who passed away soon after their sixth child was two years of age. As a single parent, Marie knew the power she gained in raising 5 children on her own, and giving each of them, without gender discrimination, the opportunity to receive higher education and enter professional fields. A brave woman who rose to chair the Ladies Auxiliary of the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, Marie had little patience for women who chose to remain victims of life circumstances. She spoke her mind and encouraged girls around her to do so fearlessly.

Grandma Victoria was stoic, disciplined and reserved. She was a woman of few words who had strength and determination that spoke volumes beyond her pursed lips. She was a no nonsense woman living in a brutal man’s world who preferred to depend on her own skills than to rely on an absentee husband. There was no room in her life to be less than righteous and principled in all her actions. Never a victim of self-pity, she tirelessly worked jobs in order to provide a stable life for her two boys whom she raised to become responsible, respectful and reputable gentlemen. At a time when women did not have the “authority” to take life into their own hands in the absence of “a man by their side,” both Marie and Victoria were women who relied on their own fortitude, and with matchless scruples they faced responsibilities in a patriarchal culture and society.  They became their own authorities. They both taught me that a woman is not defined by her gender and the stereotype box that categorizes her but by the accomplishments that make her proud.

I am woman. Being a woman is about independence. It’s about standing my ground alone or with my peers and voicing my opinion on what matters. It’s about stamina and holding my head up high and my ideals even higher. Being a woman is about pride; to be able to look people in the eye and brush the dust off my suit every time I am knocked down. It’s about support and unity; standing together and building up my fellow women. It’s about carrying another emotionally, and cheering her on through even her smallest of successes. Being a woman is about taking responsibility for my life and for what I want from that life. I am my own authority. I cannot be put into a box.

I am solemn and I am mischievous. I am audacious and confident but terribly shy and awkward at other times. I am intelligent and I like to look good (but do not ask me to dye my hair). I can make an argument about controlling the use of modern technology to prevent a future of depressed and electronically addicted generation “Z,” and I can follow that with a question about which dress goes best with my high heels and open toe shoes. I am traditional and I am modern. I am academic and I am activist. I am simple and I am complex. I am warrior and I am worrier. I live purposefully, not perfectly.

Raised on the shoulders of the women before me, I carry their power and pride as wings that give flight to my strength—a woman’s strength that comes from within my heart, my mind and my body. And that cannot be put into a box.