Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

How to Be a Woman

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On May 9, 2008 Steve Pavlina wrote a blog entry entitled, “How to Be a Man.” He issued the challenge for someone to write “How to Be a Woman”. This is my response to that challenge.

I am not going to tell anyone how to be a woman because I believe that we have inside us all the courage, strength and wisdom to decide for ourselves “How to Be a Woman.” I will share a few ideas I want other women to know.

I want women to know that we are whole and complete, strong and free just the way we are. We are first and foremost human beings with the body type we call female. I am the same person whether I am writing a philosophy paper, washing aviation gas out of my eye, or sitting on the bed crying because my milk won’t stop dripping. Whatever we think, feel or do is naturally female because we live in our female body.

I want women to know that our history is important. Not because we want to focus on injustice, not because it determines who we are or who we can be but because it has influenced the society and culture that shapes who we think we should be. For centuries we have been considered weaker, inferior, unable to control our lives and even immoral  because of our body type. Without an understanding of our history we have a tendency to blame ourselves for what we have been taught by others. Without understanding our history we may accept many limitations as the truth about who we are.

I want women to know that by accepting the stereotypes and labels of what is masculine and what is feminine we limit our individual creativity and potential. If male and female were inherently different in personality and ability, there would be no need for peer pressure to control gender. There would be no need to insist that women and men dress differently. There would be no need to teach girls to be feminine or to teach men to “honor the masculinity of other males.”

Consider this. The average height of males in the United States is 5’9.2″.  The average height of females is 5’3.8″.  But average is not the same as healthy or normal. There are perfectly healthy males who are 5’3″ tall and there are perfectly healthy females who are 6′ tall. There are women with coarse and difficult hair that looks “prettiest” cut short and men with long, soft, delicate hair that no amount of money can buy. Not average, but perfectly normal. Intellectual and psychological traits exist on the same kind of continuum.  We are all more unique as individuals than we are an average of our gender. It is destructive and limiting to an individual when we expect them to adhere to the average.

We have created the labels of masculine and feminine and interpret the world according to the way our beliefs say the genders are “supposed to be”.  When a three -year- old little girl is mixing bottles of perfume in the bath we say, “Oh look, she’s being such a girl.”  When a three- year -old little boy is mixing perfumes in the bath we say, “Oh look, he’s doing chemistry.” 

Even science tries to tell us that Girls Love Pink.  Not considering the fact that in the early 1900’s blue was for girls because blue was more delicate and dainty.

I want women to know that we can trust our bodies. I want women to know that breast- feeding is healthy, not obscene.  Our bodies know how to grow a baby, how to push it out into the world and how to nourish it.  When people discuss the differences between men and women, they like to talk about beliefs and feelings and abilities but not the real difference, our bodies, our biology.  Our bodies are different than men’s bodies. Sometimes that affects our experience and sometimes it doesn’t.

I want women to know that we can choose to have children or choose to not have children. Biologically, we are the ones who carry the next generation but we are not obligated to reproduce. There is no population shortage in the human race. Our lives are whole and complete whether we have babies or not.

I want women to know that before having children they need to consider whether they are willing to commit to raising those children alone. So many of us became single parents while thinking, “I never thought it could happen to me.”  Children need care whether you feel like it or not, whether you have money or not, whether you have found your life purpose or not. Read very carefully what Steve Pavlina says in his point #2 on “How to Be a Man.” There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  If you have children, create that village for yourself.

I want women to know that we make mistakes and we need not carry guilt for those mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves as well as others. We can learn from our mistakes. We can change our mind and do things differently. And we can change our mind again. That is growth.

I want women to know that we have the wisdom to discern when independence is needed and when cooperation is needed. If a woman is lifting weights at the gym we don’t say, “Here I can help you, it will be easier together,” but we know that many of life’s challenges are more easily overcome by working together.

I want women to know that we can trust our feelings. Our feelings show us where we are weak and where we are strong. They show us what we want to change and which direction we want to grow in. They show us who we are and what we love. The poet e.e. cummings (a man) said, “Almost anyone can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think, or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

I want women to know that it is normal to “be too much.” We are bombarded with advice for “Women Who Love Too Much” or “Women Who Think Too Much.”  We talk too much. We are too quiet. We are attached to our children too much; we pursue our careers too much or we love our shoes too much.  There will always be someone with an opinion that tells us to be different or smaller than we are.

I want women to know that we are stronger than we have been told we are. Our foremothers nurtured the human race through war, famine, disease, violence and abuse. Because of them we are still here today. We have that same strength.

I want women to know that when we take responsibility for our choices we have fewer regrets. We can weigh the costs and benefits and choose the best course of action. We can decide how much we will participate in social norms and how much we will defy them. We can forgive ourselves when we change our mind. We can learn and we can grow. We can try again. Do what you want. Do what you love, whether it’s feminine or masculine or whether no other human being has done it before. Whether our choices make our lives harder or easier, we know that we have done the best we could….and that is enough.