Friday, October 14, 2011

Female Life

Gender is a complex subject.  It would be helpful to hear your thoughts on the topic.

What is it that you feel makes you a woman?

Is it your biology?  The way you present yourself to the world?  The way the world sees you?  The way you dress and adorn yourself?

Is it your life-experience?  The way you interact with others?  The way you think and act?

Is it your secondary sexual characteristics?  Is it related to the ability to bear children?  Are people who've given birth more womanly than those who haven't?  Are infertile women less female?

Does your gender reside in your body, your mind, your reproductive ability, or your social presentation?  Do you have a gut-feeling or intuition that you are female?  Does gender lie in such self-knowledge?

Some female Olympic athletes learn, after testing, that they possess a chromozonal mutation that didn't announce itself in any previous way: their bodies are conventionally female with normal genitalia; their childhoods and upbringing were normal for girls; and their lives are typically female.  Yet scientists says these women are not biologically female in the strict sense.  What are they?  (Further discussion of this here.)

You've probably guessed this is not an academic subject to me -- I've been having a conversation about gender my entire life.  What makes us male, female, or something else?  What am I?

If you have any thoughts, please share.  Thanks.

(Drawing by Megan.)


  1. Hello! Growing up, I always thought I was "female" because of my biology. Now, I realize that I am "female" because of how I was brought up and how I'm currently treated by others. It's definitely a societal construct... For example, I can typically tell when someone is in "drag" (no matter how convincing) because of the way they act. Growing up, women are taught to be sexy, but not TOO sexy. We're taught that "you can be anything you want to be" -- yet proudly being yourself is too aggressive, so you must cut yourself down to size. Typically, drag queens/cross dressers/transgendered men haven't grown up with these conflicting ideas, so it's easy to figure them out. They're the ones that KNOW they are beautiful (because they are) and they aren't afraid to be proud of it or to show it off. I would be too scared to do this as a "true woman" because of the reactions I would likely receive from others: unwanted attention from men, cattiness from women. Although there are bodily functions that only happen to the female body, the core of female-ness is how society expects you to behave and whether or not you follow those expectations. (BTW: I would NEVER want any drag queens to behave like "true women" because THEY -- with all their fabulousness -- give ME the strength and courage to be myself. If they can embrace their femininity and not be afraid of it, then so can I!)

  2. To be honest, most days I don't fee like a "female". I don't feel like a "male" either. There are times I feel feminine (putting on nail polish, pantyhose, a frilly skirt) and times that I feel masculine (hammering nails, checking the oil in my car). There are even times when I will comment: "Look at how much I'm crying, I'm such a girl" or when I agree to drive someonewhere: "Fine, I'll be the man". I certainly believe there is a very socially constructed idea of gender at play, and that's why I am glad I define myself outside of the binary (or at least I do today!)

  3. I feel like I am female because, yes, I am capable of producing children (in theory). So far, I've made the decision to be child-free, and I don't see that changing. I don't think that makes me any less womanly, or my capacity for child-whelping make any other woman (cis-,trans-, or intersexed) less of a woman.

    I respect people to make the decisions and revelations about who they are in their own way.

    I believe in a certain capacity for genders to provide roles that are needed, but I also think our societal level has us at a point where biological needs are no longer as imperative as they once were.

    While I do see myself as female, I often feel -apart- from "normal" females. I grew up in a very different way than most girls. I did get the traditional aspect from my grandparents, the whole wife/mother/etc upbringing of a Southern Baptist home, but my mom and my friends gave me a radically different influence.

    As someone who has been friends or family of LGBTQ, my understanding of gender is open and fluid. As well as my now background in psychology I understand that labels and terms are not the end all definition and that everything is subjective. Without terms and labels we'd have no way to discuss concepts that are larger than we define with a word.

    Above all else, I just try to find a personal happiness. Mostly that means living as a traditional female role. But I won't deny any other variations of self I may feel.

  4. Thanks for such great insights, guys. This is exactly what I was hoping for from you.

  5. Being a woman is something I feel deep in the core of my being, the same way I feel my baseline of happiness. It does not rely on my genitalia, my hair length, or the size of my boobs (let's hear it for A cups!). It's who I am without explanation.

    But women love to tell other women that they're not womanly enough. I chose not to have children, and some mothers take great offense to that. I also get called "girl" a lot even though I'm 30 and married, probably because I'm only 5'0'' and have a bubbly personality. I've also been told I'm not a real woman because "real woman have curves."

    Ugg, there's a lot of negativity out there. But I am a woman. We all are.

  6. Thanks, Sage. I'm sorry for the bad stuff you have to endure. People can be mean.

  7. I've actually thought about this a lot, especially since getting to know some trans people (kudos!) - and I have to say that my cis experience answer is the same that trans people often arrive at after quite some struggle: "I just know!".

    I've never not felt that I was a girl / woman. Yes, there are some obviously girly / womanly things about me: The way I look, the way I dress, some of my hobbies, talents and interests, and my biology as far as I know it. (I'm guessing my chromosomes are lined up with my outward appearance! Though even if they weren't I'd say my experience was female so I am... )

    But I also have some stereotypically male interests, talents, even character traits that I think people wouldn't take as much issue with if I were male. In fact, when I was a kid I pondered in a fit of internalized misogyny if I had a "boy brain" (without ever wanting a boy body or a boy identity, though) because I perceived myself as smart, analytical, and not too emotional except for some badly controlled angry outbursts - because these were contrasts with my very socially invested, motherly, housekeeping, girly little sister that were pointed out to me - and because I found some of the girl behavior codes puzzling and silly. I still do, but the same goes for boy behavior codes. Let's all be grown-ups!

  8. Hi Ally...Long time since I have commented - sorry - I have been visiting though...I agree wholeheartedly with Sage - our gender is in the core of our being....which is why you can be famale on the inside but male on the outside...Whilst "fate" or whatever you want to call it may have been unkind to you and has made your life more complex then a "normal" gendered person, it has also developed you into a stronger more sensitive person then you might otherwise have been...
    I am not a girly girl, by any means, my femininity comes from other areas.
    On whether or not being a woman is linked to bearing children, I think part of being a woman is the ability to bear children (pretty obvious I guess) but I don't think that not wanting or not having children makes a woman less of woman or wanting or having them, more of a woman, although there is definately a difference, a gentleness and patience that is born at the same time as a baby is born - not sure if this makes sense, but think about a new mother, there is a definate difference in her from before she became a mother...there has to be, otherwise she would not be capable of nurturing her children...fathers also change to suit fatherhood, although not as noticeably. The decision as to whether a woman wants or does not want children is strictly each woman's choice (like the choice to become parents or not is the choice of each couple - it should never ever be the choice of the man or the woman alone)...and no-one male or female has a right to judge another persons life choices...Lots of love

  9. Thanks, Poet and Linda-Maree. Very thoughtful comments.

  10. BTW - Sage - I just visited your blog - there is nothing unwomanly about you at all - Where do some people get their ideas...You look like a really fun, bubbly, lovely, outgoing, cute WOMAN...and I am sure from reading a little bit of your blog - you are....Lots of love

  11. I would say that you at heart a female, but I don't know what really is the solid definition. What is feminine and what is masculine? When I was little, playing with trucks and wearing backwards baseball caps is what made me a tom-boy. Liking pink and loving dresses is what made me a girly-girl when I got older. But then Kyle likes crafty things, he likes candles and chic-flicks and sunsets. Is he feminine? What makes pink feminine? Who came up with all of these rules? I don't know.

  12. I think what makes us male or female is within us and its not necessarily what society thinks we should be.

    There was an interesting programme on intersex on uk tv this week.

    I don't know if you'll be able to access it.


  13. Such a fascinating subject... I've found myself exploring this idea more and more as I observe my nieces who are ages two and three. My sister and I often find ourselves wondering how they came to be so typically "girly". As much as my sister despises the whole "princess" theme (bedrooms, storybooks, tee shirts with the words emblazoned etc) her daughters insist on being "fairy princesses" for Halloween! They are obsessed with lip gloss and beg me for it whenever I apply it to myself. They want their toenails painted, they play dress-up... I swear we didn't enforce this on them - it seems to come from a desire deep within them. I do understand it, simply because I can recall only ever wanting to play with dolls and wear dresses and I'm still drawn to anything that sparkles!

    I consider myself to be very feminine yet I've never wanted children or big breasts and in some of my past relationships I've taken on some typically "male" traits... I think we all have feminine/masculine sides and what is innate to us and how we are conditioned influences how much of those sides we reveal outwardly. I think it is such a complex issue there can be no real way to define it. I certainly feel for people who find themselves struggling with society's definitions and boundaries. I wonder how you feel about Chaz Bono dancing on such a mainstream and popular tv show. I think it will bring positive attention to the transgender community. For no other reason than to begin the discussion. Think of how Chaz was raised - Cher was his mother who loved to dress her little girl in elaborate dresses for her variety tv show! It really must be something felt deeply and known from birth, this identification with gender... I certainly love the idea of the discussion Shybiker, and your blog and ability to live openly is a step towards understanding and tolerance.

  14. Brilliant comment, Style D. Thank you. Personal stories like yours help us understand this better.

    I have reservations about Chaz Bono as a person but I appreciate how the exposure of his story on a popular TV show is bringing attention to the issue of gender. It's ironic that Cher, who did not support Chaz's transition, changed her attitude and is now cheering in the audience. Some people in America are going to be affected by that in a good way.

  15. I am biologically female but have never felt comfortable with the definition of what's "girly" or "womanly" and have actively defied it for much of my life. My preteen years were full of longing for a magical "while I sleep" sex change!

    Interestingly, fighting one sterotype just forces you into another. By defying the social norms of femininity, you are assigned the role of "Man hating feminist", which is BS. I love men, I love women, I love everyone who isn't an asshole. And if I self identify as a feminist, it also has other assumptions associated with it, like having a particular political stance on many ideas, etc.

    Exhausting. I just do what I want and if other people are confused because I don't fit neatly into a box, then tough noogies.

  16. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Freeda. My favorite part is your use of "tough noogies." :)

  17. No doubt! It really makes me think about gender identity = who you are, sexuality = who you want, and how much we think there's some "natural" kind of relationship between the two.

    Intellectually, either I don't have the capacity to grasp all of the important nuances .... or it's all baloney. I can't decide which. Our society has way bigger problems than how we want to dress and who we want to sleep with and how the two relate. How 'bout we feed some hungry people instead?

  18. A very thought provoking smart post.
    The question for me is IF I HAD TO CHOSE, what would I have chose to be ?
    I feel women are very stereotyped: long hair, breasts, someone's mom... and so on. It's bad if you are older and dating a younger guy but then if it's the other way around it suddenly "works".
    Women usually take care of the house, kids and juggle many things along the way -
    Guys most of the time just have to show up (in my case, this is what i see around me- certainly there are exceptions) -
    For me I think next time around I'd try being a guy.
    It seems just so much easier.