I always felt like I should have been born a boy. Males were always valued more, wherever I went. So, I flew under the radar, dimmed my light, my intelligence, my creativity, and independence. It was expected back in the day, and I wonder if this is still the case.
I grew up in the middle of two turbulent decades. My formative years, embedded with the 1950’s homespun values of what a woman’s place should be and the turbulent 1960’s, where the proverbial shit hit the historical fan! The world turned upside down by revolutionaries such as Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan – just to name a few. No one sat in their assigned seats or roles anymore. The Civil Rights Movement and The Women’s Rights Movement marched together courageously, into the 1970’s, turning the world on its head and my life upside down.
My mother told me that a woman’s place was in the home. Virtues extolled were: domestic engineering, social demureness, and modesty at all costs. Men needed to be taken care of because they were the breadwinners. I was to keep my legs closed, smile and agree with my dates and hunt down a good provider. “That’s what I sent you to college for, to find a good husband,” my mother said when I showed her that I was on the Dean’s List in my Freshman year of college. I could aspire to be a teacher, nurse or librarian because the flexible hours could accommodate having a family as well.
I knew the SECRET! As a young girl, I already knew that I was being fed a line of bullshit, long before the “Feminist Manifesto” came out. I raged against the inequities as a girl – Why couldn’t females run and own companies? Why can’t females live on their own before marriage like males?” Mary Tyler Moore was considered revolutionary during this time! I wanted to be Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie” or Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman!
I was so busy with chores and helping my mother care for of six younger siblings, going to school and working part-time, that it didn’t look like “domestic bliss” to me! Why couldn’t I have a paper route or join the baseball league? I was ashamed to be born a girl.
Why was it that, “IT’S A BOY!” more proudly proclaimed that “It’s just a girl!” I always felt I should have been a boy, after all, “It’s a man’s world” I was told. I didn’t want to be tied down or tied up in a predetermined cultural expectation. I knew this at seven years of age. I always knew that God made males and females equally. The divine feminine spoke to me in the trees, skies, flowers, and oceans. I was fascinated with St Joan of Arc, my namesake – for kicking ass and standing by her divine female rights to her intuition and divinity. “She who will not go gently into the night” was she, my superhero, St. Joan of Arc! I had to keep these dangerous thoughts of equality and freedom underground.
Especially, when I entered my teen and young adult years, I needed to fly under the radar as a female. I was not as brave as Amelia Earhart, I didn’t want my fledgling wings broken beyond repair. By then, I had found my power of beauty during this time. Gloria Steinem said to celebrate your body – that it was not unclean or second class. “We were male’s equal!” Revolutionary at that time! Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll ruled the day, and so, I reigned. I used my superpowers of beauty and intelligence in tandem. My mother was shocked by me wearing pants to work instead of a dress, going braless, wearing miniskirts, crop tops and platform sandals (remember Candies!)
I now traveled off Long Island into Queens to college and collected a rainbow of friends, lovers, and experiences. I felt trapped in a time warp between “the good girl, do as you are told – you will be taken care of sheltered existence” and “You’ve come a long way baby” freedom of choice, reproductive rights, career paths, financial freedom, and marital status options. I was the first female in my family to graduate college. I knew I had options and intended to use them! And I did!
I moved out of my family home, and for seven years, I was unmarried (to my mother’s horror) and lived in an apartment in Queens while working in Manhattan, taking a Master’s degree at night, became a Special Educator before, I married my African American boyfriend and gave birth to a glorious girl. I divorced, was a single mom and then got remarried a few years later. I discovered that I was just as strong, capable and independent of living my best life as a female. Being a male would not have changed anything – I took the bull by the horns. I no longer lived in fear of being dependent or dominated by a man. I discovered my power as a woman.
I savored the full array of options just opened to women, during this time. Women running businesses, in the Congress and the Senate. I can call the shots in my life. “She’s just a girl” or “The little women” are phrases that do not exist in my world or my daughter’s. My daughter only speaks a language of equality and freedom. Life holds many doors opening for her, because of the options that our sisters in the Women’s Movement opened for us!
I went through a major transition after the age of 50. I divorced, bought my apartment, left my full-time career and followed my creative passion for writing. These are choices not afforded to prior generations of women. I’ve had four pieces of work published and have created “The Enchanted Goddess Project: Literary Creative Arts Series, where women gather and celebrate the expression of the divine feminine in their lives! I now live a life beyond my wildest dreams! I have freedom of choice financially, socially and career-wise. I live in my petit condo with a big ass terrace that has a spectacular view NYC skyline, with Merlin my feline soulmate. As a woman, I can live independently, a choice not afforded by women of prior generations. I feel very grateful. Education is the game changer for women. We now have more choices in our careers and earning potential. We can now support ourselves and our children too.
Now I teach part-time, I write prose and poetry, perform at Open Mic’s, take classes, host and curate events and I date at will. I have so many loving and loyal friends and creatives that support my journey. Marching through the decades, society attempts to devalue females beauty and relevance. I will not stand for this. I no longer fly under the radar.
Even though recently, I had a “wake up fall” with 19 stitches on my forehead, I still “suited up” and hosted a public art event “Celebrating Queens Women Artists” at Queens Council on the Arts. I wear the scars of my heart, proudly on my face now – fiercely female am I! As I march through the decades of my life, I have never felt more confident, beautiful and relevant!
I have friends of all ages, I take new courses, wear graphic tees and sparkle Converse sneakers. I have cobalt streaks in my hair and love going to Art Galleries, Open Mics, and Literary Events. There is no place where I can’t go, and I take my girls with me. I am more open-minded, eager to learn new things and experience all the flavors of life. I have created the freedom in my life, after my long-term career teaching. I will not “tone it down” or “go gently into the good night.”
Seeing young women run for office, go into space or the Armed Forces, become CEO’s and run for President is exhilarating. Girls can play sports, explore technology and excel in STEM subjects. This is a dream come true in my lifetime. Gender roles are less restrictive and equality for women is becoming a reality. I see women retiring and recreating their lives, taking up an avocation, exploring the Arts, finding love again and traveling. Having financial freedom is a newly found freedom for my generation. It brings self-esteem and pride to females. It shifts the lens of perception about the value of our precious gender.
I no longer carry the burden of shame of being born a female. I feel stronger and am actively transforming my life as a woman in the “third act” of my life. Regenerative and creativity are the leading themes at this stage of women’s lives – how exciting! I just got on a plane and went to a creative conference in Venice, Italy! A woman alone, not knowing anyone and not knowing the native language. I had a blast! “We’ve come a long way, baby!” I am an out loud proud woman living as “The Enchanted Goddess.” This has a dream of mine since I was a child, that I could have magic and power in my life as a female.
In my “The Enchanted Goddess” groups, I encourage women to celebrate their lives as women standing in their full beauty, wisdom, and power. My daughter is a powerful woman, who is creative, brilliant and has the power to make viable choices in her life. The trajectory of my life has shifted profoundly. I no longer feel that being born a female is a liability or that age is a liability – women just get more creative and ingenuitive as we march through the decades! I was born just in time!
Joan Becht-Willette aka “The Enchanted Goddess” is a Queens Literary Artist, educator, curator/host and the creatrix of “The Enchanted Goddess Project: A Literary Creative Arts Series,” which hosts monthly workshops: “The Enchanted Goddess Writing/Reading Series” and “The Enchanted Goddess Creative Arts Collective.” She has been featured in the Huffington Post, Queens Gazette, Queens Tribune, Daily News and Queens Chronicle. Some of her work has been published by the Newtown Literary Journal (2014), Siren magazine (2015) and Silver Birch Press (2015).
Joan has been featured in The NYC Poetry Festival, the International Women’s Salon, Inspired Word’s Queens Lit Fest and on QPTV’s telecasts: Empyre Media Production’s webcast shows “The World of Art”, “The ArtistSpace” and “Power Women of Queens” produced by Luchia Dragosh.
Joan has received several “QAI Grants” sponsored by RPGA Studios. Her work “The Hestia Project” was featured along with 12 other QAI Grant recipients, at the Queens Museum in 2018. Most recently she received an Artist Residency from a “2018 SU-CASA Grant” sponsored by Queens Council of the Arts.
Joan is currently writing her first book, “The Enchanted Goddess of Queens” a series of prose and poetry. Visit her website at www.joanbechtwillette.com