If, as I suggest in my previous post, gender isn’t not about strict roles or living up to a cosmic ideal, what does it mean to be a “man” or a “woman?” Do our biological sex and psychological gender have any impact on our lives?
Of course they do. My whole goal is to explore how our embodiment affects our humanity, and living in a male or female body has a huge impact on our personhood – not in terms of worth, but in our understanding and experience of the world.
I would love to hear from some male readers what it’s like to live in a male body, but as I’m a woman, I’m going to start with what it’s like to be female – at least for me. The point of this isn’t to create an “ideal” that all women must reach or a “norm” that all women must adhere to. The point is to listen to a diversity of voices so that our understanding of the world gets bigger.
First, the most obvious: children. Most women have the capacity to bear children and nurse them naturally. I don’t believe this is a criteria for womanhood – not all women can have children, and that affects them deeply in a unique way. I’d love to hear from some women for whom that’s the case – there’s a huge amount of diversity in what it means to be a mother (see this post by The Bloggess for example. Some language) But if you can have children, it changes your perspective on a lot of things, even if you never actually do.
Our reproductive cycles make themselves very visible on a regular basis. There’s just no getting around it, and it connects us to the physical world in a deep, painful, messy way. We are reminded over and over that our bodies have the ability to nurture life. For many women, this results in an increased sense of responsibility. Statistics show that empowering women through a country’s policy decisions can have a huge impact on GDP and poverty levels, because women are more likely to invest in their family’s food, shelter, and education rather than spending the money on themselves. This isn’t always true, but it is one impact that our female bodies can have on our human psyches.
Many women also feel a drive to shelter and nurture that is probably at least in part biological, or conditioned into our personalities by our bodies. Again, this is not a criteria, but something that is commonly experienced. We can also seek more inclusive solutions to problems rather than hierarchical ones. This means that many women have a difficult time in traditionally male industries – the hierarchies are often designed in a way that can be considered traditionally masculine. But I think both men and women benefit when this approach is softened with a few traditionally female characteristics – not by adding a token female to the board, but by letting lots of women at all levels challenge the way things have been done so that both men and women (and the company) can benefit.
Even if not all women exhibit “traditionally female” characteristics, combining them with “traditionally male” ones really does create a more balanced environment. It’s like someone, somewhere decided to call half of our humanity – mostly the warm, friendly parts – “female,” and then said they’re the least useful half and men should never exhibit them. Women should develop and cultivate these traits, but then women should keep them within the realm of the home and not try to bring them out into the world. And God forbid that a woman ever possess a trait we decided to call “masculine” like leadership or confidence – that makes her, pardon the language, a manipulative bitch! Her traits are seen as less desirable, but she’s not given any room to develop other ones. Is it any wonder so many women feel disempowered, even when individual men aren’t trying to be misogynist or discriminatory? This is what we’ve heard, subtly, through media and culture our entire lives, even in America.
Lastly, women have a very different experience of simply living in the world. This is often culturally conditioned (and stereotypical), but we are very aware that the men around us are usually bigger and stronger and more aggressive than we are. We are constantly in a heightened state of awareness because we know that we may not have the physical or societal resources to stay safe if our environment turns sour. Things like street harassment are particularly insidious, because even if the situation doesn’t turn violent, it reinforces our paranoia and prevents us from relaxing into our daily lives the same way most (but not all) men do. This is why people often refer to “male privilege” – most men aren’t intentionally sexist, but they still don’t know what it’s like to feel this stress all the time. Again, this is stereotypical because many man experience violence or abuse at the hands of women, but in societies around the world, this is a very real part of the experience of living in a female body.
What else do you think is part of the “female” experience? Any guys out there who want to take a stab at the other side of the coin?
Here are some other links on this topic:
Jonalyn and Dale Fincher on how this view of gender plays out in a Christian Egalitarian Marriage (CEM): “For a CEM marriage, Jesus is the spiritual leader, not the husband or wife. A CEM that walks daily with Jesus will find each partner leading, liberating each other with new insight. CEM believes that only by being responsible of taking care of ourselves are we better able to reach out and love our spouse. The husband and wife are to challenge one another in spiritual growth equally and both lead their children equally.”
A male’s perspective on feminism (some language): “When I say I am a feminist, I am saying I want to listen. The women in my life have their own conflicts, their own struggles, their own victories, and their own defeats. The narrative of their life as a human belongs to them. I want to hear their stories, their wisdom, their fear, their pain. It is not my story to steal and turn into something else. If I believe women can and should speak up on any and every topic they choose, then I must listen when they speak.”
Another article about understanding Paul’s instructions to women. This writer asks whether some of the verses are actually original to Paul, but even if they are, he goes into detail on where commands for women to remain silent in church contradict other passages, like the one that says women should prophesy with their heads covered (which presumably requires speaking!): “Philip the Evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9) and the context of their prophecy makes it clear that they prophesied to Paul about his situation. By the time Corinthians was written, somewhere around 25 years after the crucifixion of Christ, women and men were actively engaging in prophecy, and that certainly was the case in Corinth, where sometimes everyone in the church had a prophetic word (1 Cor. 14:24). However, as we saw above, women were told to prophesy and pray in public with their heads covered as a sign of the authority over them (1 Cor. 11:5).”