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.