Thursday, June 23, 2005
Unfurling My Wings
This whole breast cancer experience has been a big lesson in femininity and the significance of being a woman. I grew up in a wonderful time where the feminist movement had opened doors for women, and although I know that today everything is not equal, even-steven, or completely interchangeable between the sexes in the workplace, I never gave it much thought. If I wanted to do or try anything, I did it without thought to gender. My mom was one of many “Rosie the Riveters” during World War II and set an example of working hard and doing whatever was required in order to get the job done. Although I am sure she and my father would have preferred the traditional female job roles, I was never discouraged from any career dreams no matter how far from traditional they might have seemed at the time.

In fact I know that both genders bring certain traits or skills to an organization that compliment each other to some degree. For example, research shows that female managers and business owners prefer a more relational model that encourages cooperative behavior as opposed to male managers and business owners who prefer a dominator model that fosters competitive behavior. Though there are people who cross boundaries, women are traditionally the nurturers. While it may be good for an organization to have that yin and yang, unless the genders are in sync with one another, it may create friction or barriers. I have always tried to focus on the sisterhood-brotherhood, yin-yang balance and have been lucky to avoid the friction in most cases (though not all).

I have never set up a project with thought to how I should change my style or approach because I was working with one gender over another. This is in fact what I attribute my modest success to while working in a very male-dominated field, but perhaps I am just naïve. I have always approached every task or project from an organizational perspective and not a gender perspective. Maybe in some ways I developed an edge to my personality dealing with men so frequently; however, I would like to think I would be the same no matter the career. Though likely I have been influenced by what is around me.

Dealing with breast cancer has brought, in my mind, light to all that is feminine and womanly about me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It has focused the lens on my womanhood as an integral part that defines my personhood. It is not something I can compartmentalize and address in private. This past year I have been making excuses for and trying to minimize the traditional female attributes, like being emotional, focusing on that relational management model, and being nurturing. But times have changed.

Perhaps in an attempt to resurrect the female physical attributes I have lost to this disease, I find myself embracing more strongly my womanhood. I like wearing sparkly pink earrings and brooches. I like soft gentle perfumes that leave a tiny hint of fragrance on your clothing when I hug you (you’ll think of me when the tiny waft of fragrance almost eludes your senses and sparks the memory of that hug earlier). I like the fact that I have the courage to reveal my feelings even though the hormone fluctuations from treatment have made this challenging in recent months.

I like wearing pink on construction job sites. It may not meet fluorescent orange OSHA standards, but people will remember that a competent woman was on the site. I like nurturing and encouraging the employees I supervise as well as my peers. Our cumulative success is what makes the organization succeed.

I no longer make excuses and wonder why I ever thought I needed to in the first place. I am all that is beautiful in my womanhood. I have not succeeded in a male-dominated work environment in spite of being a woman; I have succeeded because I am a woman. I hate like hell that it took me this long to realize it and embrace it. With or without the traditional physical female attributes, the essence of my femininity is stronger than ever before. I am whole and complete in spite of the breast cancer, in spite of people who I have allowed to make feel like I am less than because I am a woman, in spite of my own naïveté and stupidity.

The cocoon is breaking open and this butterfly is testing the view. These wings may be about to open.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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