A friend issued a writing challenge, asking to answer the following three questions. Below is my entry.
(1) What does being a woman mean to you?
I realized right away that the way I wanted to answer this question was to start highlighting the many incongruities with the concept of “womanhood” and what womanhood actually means to me. In other words, it was going to be an essay about what it doesn’t mean to be a woman.
It doesn’t mean I like shopping, or babies, or makeup, or that I have a vagina. Being a woman has nothing to do with my anatomy or my hobbies or my sexuality or my talents.
So I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what it does mean.
I think that being a woman means learning to adapt to a world that insists on making decisions for you. It tries, at first, to make you believe that this is the world you want to live in – because “decisions are difficult, and women are weak, or emotional, or incapable – and as a woman, it is a relief to be given all the answers.”
And when, as a woman, you begin to question that – because, at one point – we begin to question that, you face the many ways that the world continues to manipulate you into staying inside the nice, comfortable box they have designed for you.
I think that being a woman means learning to adapt to being consistently underestimated. Some adapt quietly, some react with defiance – but regardless, it is a fact of life for a woman.
I think that being a woman means absolutely nothing, because “woman” is a socially constructed label.
Being a woman means that I am a person.
And being a person carries far more relevance in my world than being a woman.
(2) What about being a woman do you want or would you impart to your own daughter by the time she reaches adulthood?
Were I to have children, I would want them – regardless of gender – to understand and respect the power of living authentically. With respect to women, I would want them to understand that our society will attempt to erase their individuality while simultaneously selling on all the ways they can be more special. I want them to understand that so they can never fall victim to it.
I also want them to understand that those who hold tightly to the systematic oppression of women are often as much victims of the patriarchy as we are. When we confront these ideas, we are confronting their stability. Instability frightens people. Fear makes people feel attacked. People who feel attacked attack back.
I would want them to understand the difference between forgiveness and understanding. One must strive to understand their oppressors, but to forgive them is a personal choice, and not one I’d likely to make without a sincere apology.
At the same time, I want them to understand the power that forgiveness gives them over their own pain. When they are ready, I want them to embrace that power for themselves.
I want them to understand the importance of respecting nuance, imperfections, and the diversity of perception. I want them to embrace the challenges of facing our own imperfections and learning from them to become more enlightened members of the human race.
I want them to love themselves and to not feel like doing so is a sign of selfishness. I want them to love themselves so well that the people who love them have a template for how it’s done properly.
An I’d want them to know that regardless of who they are, who they love, or how they choose to express that love – they would never lose my respect, unless they willingly harmed people without consent.
(3) What would you impart/share with her around the age of 13-14 as she’s entering her teen years?
There’s a part of this I’ve written before:
By the time my step-daughter wanted to read the Twilight series when she was in her early teens, I’d already read them. I told her she could read them on one condition – we had to have a chat first, and we’d have to have another chat before she got to the final one.
All her friends were reading it so she agreed to the chat.
Here’s the gist of what I told her:
This book makes the bad guy sexy. He wants to hurt her but he loves her. She is the ONLY one that drives him this kind of crazy and because he loves her so much he holds the whole “I want to kill you” instinct back. This is not a healthy relationship. This book will make you want that guy, and it’s okay to fantasize about that guy – but that guy is not the right guy when you start actually dating.
By this point in her life, my step-daughter had not yet given us many clues as to her sexuality. She had admitted she liked boys, but had not denied that she might also have an interest in someone who was not a boy.
And if she had shared with me that she might be into dating someone other than a guy, I’d probably have done a lot more reading with her on what some of the challenges and hardships that are inherent in that. I’ve recently become aware, for example, that there is inadequate-to-zero sex-education for lesbian teenagers leading many to find out much later than necessary about safe sexual practices, and have some confusion over what “losing one’s virginity” even means.
So, yeah. Right around when the hormones are about to hit – my priority would be to help my daughter prepare for them.