On being a woman

Eleanor Burns on her thoughtful blog A Belated Existence has written an interesting piece on what it means to be a woman, prompted by material in a course book for a women’s development programme offered by her employer.

She set me thinking. For some reason I don’t feel comfortable about saying that ‘I am a woman’, though saying that I am female causes me little problem. I want to understand why this might be so.

For more than 60 years I have identified as male and as a man. My maleness is hardly open to question, I have the visible sex organs of a male and I am sure my chromosomes are exclusively x-y. I also identify as a man. However my idea of what it is to be a man will I am sure differ from other men. Some will emphasise their prowess in sport, in their body strength, in their sexual conquests and in numerous other ways. Few will define their manhood in terms of empathy, nurture, respect, obedience. As a man and husband I respect, honour and obey my wife.

My sense of what it is to be a man has been developed and altered over my life. Most is learned from my peers, from local and national culture, from the way my father conducted himself. I absorbed the values of providing for a wife and family, of forging a career (at a time when most girls were expected to take on a menial job, until marriage and motherhood), of not showing my emotions, bottling feelings, dressing conservatively (read – dull and boring). I’ve lived my life to date being ‘shown’ how to ‘be a man’.

I suspect that what typically may pass as ‘being a man’ will vary between cultures. That what constitutes ‘being a man/manhood’ is a social construct, dependent on ones society and time. Being a man in England in 2015 is rather different from being a man in the England of 1960, 1940 or 1840 etc. And so it must be in terms of what it is ‘to be a woman’.

I don’t know that I will ever be able to call myself a woman. Female, yes. Feminine, yes. Part of me will also always be masculine and male. Gender is just not binary; most of us lie somewhere between the gender opposites, part male part female. I am sure I have always been more female than male but never recognised it. Now, I feel maybe 70% female and want to express that in how I live the rest of my life.


6 thoughts on “On being a woman

  1. Good point.
    I know from my own experience that it can take a long time to get to terminology about oneself that one feels comfortable with and which one can say describes oneself in the right way. I think “female” as opposed to “a woman” is how I feel too, although trying to explain why there’s a difference may be difficult. But at the end of the day if we have to “define” ourselves at all it’s up to us to do it in ways that we’re comfortable with, not in ways that make other people comfortable.
    Thanks for the “follow”, reciprocated. 🙂


  2. One of the lovely things about living in this day and age, one doesn’t need to identify themselves in binary terms, but in whatever way they truly are. Plus it can even be fluid, it doesn’t have to be a static definition. So if you want to feel a man one moment and a female soon after, it’s no one’s business but yours. Just be yourself is all anyone could ask.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for the love. 🙂 I am pleased my more personally challenging posts are read as thought-provocative rather than as simply troublemaking, as one can get into all kinds of nastiness online for speaking heterodoxies…

    I could say I “identify” as a woman, but the phrase itself strikes me as all too open-ended in itself. Does it mean I “feel like a natural woman” and if so, how would I even know? (unless I am in the habit of remembering past lives) Or does it just mean that I feel more comfortable and fulfilled the more I am assimilated into a feminine role and aspect? And if gender did not exist (as radical feminists of course would prefer) then would I perhaps not need to transition at all because the traits of masculinity would no longer be inextricably tied to being biologically male? Quite probably, but that is a huge if with no end in sight.

    Given how constructed these concepts are, I feel on safer ground IDing specifically as a “transwoman,” not that this term does not irritate a fair few of the hardcore radfems… but most people seem to be reasonably cool with it. My friends Jacqueline and Aoife tend to stick with that vocabulary, though they do not shy away from admitting their biological maleness. That, as you point out, is an ineffaceable chromosomal fact. Not that I wouldn’t love to hear from a doctor that I have been carrying XX chromosomes all along, but even if I discover myself to be a “mutant genetic women,” I think it makes little difference socially: as you also point out, the social concepts of “masculine” and “feminine” are not only constructed but always in flux. Our “masculinity” and “femininity” certainly comes more from our social programming, history, culture, and our peers than from our genes. I like to believe it can also come from choice and effort, though.

    Thank you for the shoutout, and wishing you a Happy New Year. 🙂 xxx ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your clearly reasoned and heartfelt comment. Though I agree wholeheartedly with you when you say ” Our “masculinity” and “femininity” certainly comes more from our social programming, history, culture, and our peers than from our genes. I like to believe it can also come from choice and effort, though.” I feel it’s not an argument I should offer to the Gender Clinic when I get to meet them; seems ‘binary’ is all they understand. Have a wonderful New Year XXX

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As far as that goes, I would exercise your own discretion. I doubt they will want to hack out internet gender theory with us anyway. Dr. Lorimer’s only concern is minimising suffering and saving the occasional life along the way (and Cal found him very compassionate and impressive). If he can see that you are committed to living this way and that you cannot see yourself socially detransitioning, I can’t imagine why he would obstruct. Good luck, though. xxx

        Liked by 1 person

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