woman behind bars

“For women are to a considerable extent slaves of this world, knowing nothing of their freedom, having not been taught how to be free.”
—Olga Tokarczuk, The Books of Jacob

What a statement. Bowled me over when I read it. But is it true?

The novel it comes from is set in eighteenth-century eastern Europe. Certainly women were not taught to be free back then.

What about now?

We modern Western females have seen several waves of feminism, won the right to vote, won respect in the workplace and in relationships, and are in many respects free to live our lives as we wish.

But are we? It depends. I grew up trying to hide my intelligence in social situations, lest people think me unattractive—but at the same time helplessly raising my hand in class, because I wanted to participate in intellectual discussions. In my 20s, I thought I was incapable of managing many aspects of my life—but was this because I was female, or because of mental health issues I struggled with?

And must we be taught to be free? Some people seem to come by personal freedom naturally. Others seem to require instruction, or at least modeling.

Furthermore, is anyone really free? We can grasp at it. But we will all pass into dust one day.

To me, freedom means being able to work to support myself, it means good health, it means being able to choose what to do with my time, it means being able to choose whom to partner with (or not), and it means so many other things.

What does freedom mean to you?