e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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On "Being a Woman"

While I have been mostly delighted with the Makers series on women in many fields, intended to encourage girls and women, the sponsors do tend to recycle the same quotes from interviews over and over...and one of those quotes, by Diane von Furstenberg, bothers me.   Disclaimer: I don't know von Furstenberg, and neither like nor dislike her personally.  I know she is a famous fashion designer and successful businesswoman--I have nothing against either choice of career.  But when she talked, in the interview, about the importance of remembering to be a woman, I winced.  I winced because to me that's another attempt to define--and to limit--what "being a woman" is, as opposed to being an adult female human being.

In the hasty tweets I wrote this morning, I made one mistake, in equating being born with two X chromosomes as permanently determining gender identity.  There are cases of intersex infants, and of persons who have extreme gender dysphoria and despite having the XX chromosomes, feel that they are not women, but men. For people like that, XX does not mean "woman" in any social sense.
But for me--as a woman with XX chromosomes who is OK with being designated female--the problem is largely with the cultural definitions of "woman" that exclude some women by insisting that a "real" or "proper" woman fits into a narrow definition of behaviors appropriate to her sex.   This, it feels like, is what von Furstenberg meant.  "Never forget you are a woman"  or "Never forget to be a woman" is tied to a cultural definition of what a woman is, not the biological one.   It is tied to conventions of femininity: what a woman wears, from hair and makeup right through the colors and fabric of her clothing down to her shoes...appropriate choices of occupation, hobbies, interests, opinions.  It is specifically intended to divide humans into two different genders, not on the basis of biology but on the basis of culture.

The admonition to "remember that you are a woman" presumes that a woman can forget her own body, manage not to notice that she has breasts (or the scars where they were), that she has no penis, that she has (or once had) a uterus and ovaries.   The admonition to "be a woman" presumes that a woman can be anything else (without, in the case of persons with gender dysphoria, going through long and difficult transition.)  I'm 70, past menopause, but I still have  plenty of daily reminders that my age-spotted female body is the not the same as my husband's age-spotted male body.   And since I was strongly enculturated from infancy with my biological sex and what it meant culturally, I am unlikely to forget that I'm a woman and how society as a whole has, and still does, view women.   I don't forget--I can't forget--that I'm a woman, because my nose has been rubbed in the fact from day one.

But...what is "being a woman?"   The world is full of women who are very different from one another.  Tall women are women.  Short women are women. There are women with every color of skin, every color of hair, every color of eyes.  Skinny women.  Fat women.  Rich women.  Poor women.  Women who have children.  Women who do not have children.  Women who enjoy sex.  Women who don't enjoy sex.  Educated women.  Uneducated women.  Athletic women.  Unathletic women. Women who follow fashion. Women who don't follow fashion.   Women acknowledged as beautiful.  Women acknowledged as plain or ugly.  Urban women. Country women.  Suburban women.  Women for whom a day at a spa is a delight; women for whom a day digging up artifacts is a delight; women for whom going to a party is a delight, women for whom climbing mountains, or knitting socks, or making bread, or running a business, or flying airplanes, or cleaning house is a delight. Women who like variety in their life; women who like regularity in their life.  All women live their lives--whatever they are--"being a woman."   They cannot, without transitioning to another sex, live their lives as anything but women.  So everything that any woman has done, or does, or will do,  is part of what "being a woman" means.  Attempts to define "being a woman" with some list of what women do/like/want and don't do/don't like/don't want always defines some women as "not really women."  Yet they are alive; they have the XX chromosomes, they have the breasts, the uterus, the ovaries (or the scars where these were removed.)   How are they not "real women?"   What is "un-real" about them?  Nothing.

The fact is that there's a huge overlap in the abilities and natural interests of humans of all sexes.  The most important parts of our biology unite, not divide, the sexes.  Women do not need any reminders to "be a woman" or remember that they are women...women know that.  They've always known that.  What they need is encouragement to remember that they have a self, and to be themselves, whether that matches someone's cultural notion of "real womanhood" or not.  Because every woman is a real woman.  She cannot be anything else.

And that's why what von Furstenberg said in the interview, and the quote that keeps showing up in Makers Twitter posts, bothers me.   It feels to me like an attempt to nudge women into paying attention to, caring about, obeying the rules that von Fursterberg believes define "being a [real] woman." 

Tags: politics, women
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