Am I a Woman?

and Who is the Other?  

I don't mean to be elliptical.  On the other hand, maybe "egg shaped" is exactly what I'm going for. This year I'm co-facilitating a class exploring how we project onto others what we can't welcome in ourselves.  Our categories are Disability, Race, and Gender.   We started the examination of gender with the question:  

Am I a woman?  Why or Why not?

Here is my answer (some names are changed):

I am a woman because I have been treated as a woman.   I received the operating instructions and did my best to execute them.

In my family, if you were female, being pretty was the most important thing.  My grandmother—we called her Buba—was a luminous beauty renowned throughout the whole universe!  Strangely, she insisted that she only appeared to be beautiful because she knew how to use cosmetics.  Buba told my very pretty mother that her eyes were too small, so she got in the habit of trying to open them wider.  As for me, I was pretty enough as a child but juvenile arthritis stunts the growth of the jaw.  As the rest of my face grew, my chin remained small, and then tucked itself in under my larger upper teeth, making my face look like a cartoon character instead of a luminous beauty.  When I begged my mother to tell me if I was pretty, she would respond that I had an interesting face.  Buba would tell me that I was radiant when I smiled, and so, being a rebel, I did not smile. I defended my depression and self-hatred.  It took me half a lifetime to come to peace with my appearance.

In middle school I received the teaching that I must praise boys and flirt with them, not compete with them.  I had a very big crush on a very smart boy, Bill Jenkins, so I aimed to be smart too.  I became wildly successful in school, and was treated with a mixture of awe and pity by the other students.  I’m not sure Bill even learned my name.  By high school, I succeeded in being daffy instead of diligent.  

I am a woman because I was born with a vagina and a uterus and ovaries and cycling female hormones, and I have given birth to and raised a child.  I persistently love a sentient being who persistently requires more of me than I believe I have, which spawns transformation, and gratitude, and more love.  When she was young, I was overwhelmed with the infinite tasks associated with motherhood nowadays--schedules, reminders, school meetings and volunteerism, meal planning, locating things, and of course being available for nurturing no matter what, and yet there was no one else who would do it.  My husband was ready to help, but I had to tell him what to do.  Rarely have I been congratulated or thanked for this herculean task.  Is there a female word to describe something this hard?  Who are the notorious female heroes?  As an older women, the expectation to nurture younger people continues.  Sometimes nurturing is meaningful and satisfying, but sometimes it is exhausting.

I am a woman because I apologize for things that are not my responsibility, because I feel guilty when I take things for myself, because I find safety in knowing what other people are feeling, which requires vigilance.   

I am a woman because I feel angry about who I am expected to be, especially when people don’t realize they are expecting it.

I am a woman because I get to dress up and not get attacked for it.  I get to cover my flaws and accentuate my beauty by wearing makeup.  I get to attach fringe to my dresses and put purple in my hair and still stay just slightly outside what is normal.

I am a woman because I am allowed to show my vulnerability, to cry, to ask for help if I'm not strong enough to do something.  I am allowed to fail, to laugh at myself.  Then again, if I don't cry or giggle, or if I succeed, I might be perceived as cold or nasty, which makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve noticed that as I get older, people expect less of All That.  In fact, I’ve been called “Sir” twice in the last year.  I wish that Hillary could have the luxury of androgyny.  Unfortunately, she is stuck trying to please the patriarchy even while undermining it just by persisting in the face of all of the attacks.

I am reminding myself to persist.  Maybe that is what women do.

Are you a woman?

Related posts:  Vote for a Vagina.  Insider Feminism

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