A friend of mine sent me and some other women those links to know our point of view: https://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/leaving-liberal-feminism/
I won’t comment specifically about where I agree and where I disagree in those links, if I am more a liberal or a radical feminist, because there’s too much there and I would have to read them a few times. The question of what it means for me to be a woman and what is an individual choice in the context of feminism is however something I think about regularly. I will keep the individual choice theme for another post, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what it means for me to be a woman. It’s still a bit messy, I might clarify it at some point.
About being a woman, I came to this conclusion. It’s continuously evolving of course and I only apply to myself, I have absolutely no problem with other people attributing the term « woman » to them if they feel that it fits. So here we go, *I* am a woman because I am a human female and I am a female because of the body parts I use to have sex (both for pleasure and for reproduction), to bear and grow my children, to give birth to them and to feed them when they are young. I cannot go further than that.
I don’t deny that our body parts and hormones do forge our global identity, but so do our age, race, upbringing, education, life experience, values, genetics, environment, etc… Preferences, opinions, behaviors, emotional reactions cannot be determined by only one component of our identity. Depending on the context, some component might be dominant, but none of them can fully explain/predict anything on their own. I like knitting, crochet and sewing because I am a « girly » girl? I work in a « man’s » field because I also have a strong masculine side? That does not make sense to me, I find it very reductive. How about I like and I do these things because I am, simply, *me*? I guess my point here is there is no such a thing as acting like a woman/man, thinking like a woman/man, ruling like a woman/man, etc. We act, think, rule, etc. like people with a global identity, not merely a gender-based one. And how much of our identity is determined by our biology is not relevant to me.
Not surprisingly, the only definition of « mother » that I can fully relate to is « female parent, i.e. parent with the necessary body parts to conceive, bear, grow, give birth to and feed children ». (I include taking care of the children as being a parent). Unless we talk about natural (as opposed to induced for the dads who decide to breastfeed) breastfeeding, I think as long as the baby receives love, cuddles, compassion and appropriate care, it doesn’t really matter who provides it. My daughter met her father before she met me. She connected with him. For the first 3 weeks of her life, he was the only one able to comfort her. He was her reference, her tie to this world. If it’s true that this happened because of how abnormal, un-mammalian and traumatic her birth was, it is also true that he was her main care provider during those weeks and he was excellent at it, despite his dangling genitalia. I, the other parent with breasts and vagina, was not.
I think at this point, it is relevant for me to explain how I grew up as a female. I adore my mom, but I must say that she was irresponsible when I was little. She was partying a lot and she left my brother and I for several months when we were respectively 3.5 and 1.5 years old, and then again when were were 5 and 3. I don’t recall this, but I suppose it must have had an impact on me. My point here is that my dad was the reliable parent and I spent a lot of time with him and by brother as a young child. Fortunately, my mom eventually put herself back together.
My first memory of being conscious of gender stereotypes was when I was 3 or 4 years old. I was in a shop with my grandma and my brother. She wanted to buy us a little something. They had these cardboard tv characters, one representing Nono, the little robot and the other, Candy. We both loved Nono and I can’t remember for my brother, but I found Candy’s show sad and boring. Of course, we both wanted Nono, but my grandma insisted that I must like Candy better since I was a girl. I argued, but she did not listen and bought Candy. Thirty years later, I’m still outraged.
Then I grew up seeing my mom being very self-conscious about her appearance and in constant seduction mode with men. Again, I adored her, but at the same time, I completely rejected her as a female role model (note that I did not reject her as a human role model, she inspired me in many other ways), and I’m very grateful that she respected that. Although I did identify as a female, I rejected what I perceived society thought femininity was about, i.e. being superficial, light-headed, weak, seductive, objectifiable. If transpeople feel that they were assigned the wrong body, I believe them and totally respect that. But for my part, I did not feel my body was wrong. I felt society was wrong to expect things from me based on my body. I know it will seem harsh, but still up to this day, when I see a woman in high heels, I resent her for representing the image of a woman who chooses sexiness over comfort and safety. Or a woman with makeup for contributing to the idea that women need to mask their face in order to look good. Anyway, I went through my teens refusing to play that game, wanting to be recognized for my personality and my intelligence. I was attracted to boys but refused to make my looks more appealing to seduce them, I felt that would be degrading.
I had my first (and still current) steady boyfriend at 19, and it is with him, actually whiles discovering what it was like to have fulfilling sex in a stable relationship that I started to really get in touch with my femininity. And because I had seduced him with my personality and not my looks, I allowed myself to slightly alter my appearance (nothing crazy like high heels or makeup of course!), wearing slightly more revealing clothes, emphasizing my feminine curves. Very soon after I started looking forward to get pregnant. Not having a baby, I was not ready for that, but pregnancy really appealed to me. I thought it must feel very sexy. I guess I was starting to see maternity as the natural extension of my fulfilling sex life and the culmination of femininity. I got pregnant for the first time at 27. It was a euphoric pregnancy. I was growing and glowing and I felt more feminine than ever. I was totally confident in my body’s ability to birth this baby and breastfeed exclusively. I am not a spiritual person, but I was thinking about all the female mammals who gave birth before me and would do it after me and I felt like I was part of something vast and grandiose. Then it happened. My daughter was born via c/section under general anesthesia without my consent and consequently, I did not have an adequate lactation. The fact that for me, femininity was canalized through maternity is one of the main reason why this was such a traumatic experience to me. Am I less of a woman because I did not birth my children or breastfeed them exclusively? Or are infertile women less women? Or women who decide not to have children (I feel grateful everyday that I live in an era and a place where this choice is really mine to make)? What about transwomen? For me it’s not about being, but about feeling less of a woman, and *I* most definitely do. There’s a big part of my femininity I will (more than likely) never access. And it sucks. Beyond reason.
So yeah, I am a woman because I’m a human female with all the bits females should have. I’m a mother because I’m a parent with female bits. And because I did not use all those bits the normal way, I feel incomplete. As a woman, and as a mother.