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.

Headlines Everywhere: Girls Love Pink

Monday, August 27, 2007

In my local paper I came across an article from Reuters London reporting a new scientific study that showed: Boys like blue, girls like pink and there isn’t much anybody can do about it, researchers said on Monday in one of the first studies to show scientifically that there are gender-based colour preferences.”

Scientific American has run the Reuters article verbatim: starting with the above quote. Newspapers everywhere are proclaiming the above line or something even more scientific sounding like that of the Toronto Star : “A new study, appearing this month in Current Biology finds for the first time that girls are hard-wired to like pink.

In this study 208 subjects age 20-26 looked at pairs of coloured rectangles and picked the one they preferred as quickly as possible. While both sexes preferred blue tones, more women picked reddish-blue tones than men. Based on the evidence, the conclusions published around the world are sheer nonsense and, sadly, people will believe those conclusions have been proven by science.

In the summary of her paper submitted to Current Biology researcher Anya Hurlbert talks about how no previous studies have found sex differences in colour preference and “This fact is perhaps surprising, given the prevalence and longevity of the notion that little girls differ from boys in preferring pink.

First off, in order for little girls to prefer pink they would need to be offered a choice. Babies and toddlers have no choice in the colours they are dressed in, girls are born surrounded by pink and boys by blue. Walk down the girls’ aisle in the toy store – what colour is everything? What would little girls play with if it wasn’t pink? How often do they have a choice between a blue, green or pink Barbie car? The choice is pink or pink or pink. Any little boy who who loves pink is quickly re-directed to the correct toys and colours. It is parents and marketers that choose pink for girls and blue for boys, not the children themselves.

It’s interesting to note the age of the subjects. Previous studies found no differences between the preferences of males and females. Subjects age 20-26 have been more heavily subjected to consumer culture, more toys and television than any other generation. Also interesting that Chinese subjects of both sexes had a greater preference for reddish tones than the British subjects. In Chinese culture red is considered a lucky colour.

Hurlbert explains these findings as having a biological basis because to her it seems logical that women would prefer reddish colours because it helped early females find fruit and be attentive to babies’ skin colour changes such as fever. However there was no evidence in her experiment that women noticed the colours faster, only that they preferred these shades.
If we’re going to look at this from an evolutionary perspective and let’s assume it’s true for a moment that women are hard-wired to prefer pink. If it were true, wouldn’t every man looking for a hot date be wearing some shade of pink?

Ben Goldacre on Bad Science points out that choosing pink for girls is only a recent cultural phenomenon. He quotes a 1918 Ladies Home Journal that says girls should wear blue and boys should wear pink because “pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

It doesn’t really matter what colour you prefer as long as the truth remains that males are strong because they are the hunters and females are dainty because they are the berry pickers.

I abhor pink consumer goods, but I’m a darn good berry picker. So perhaps I need to accept that, perhaps, biologically I’m a Neanderthal.
In the comments Nikku said: This article is misleading as female humans preferring a slightly redder shade of blue has nothing to do with liking a pink shirt. EXACTLY! That’s my point. To use this data to say that girls are hardwired to like pink is just bad, bad science. Trouble is all the media in the English world, and maybe more, said this proved that girls liking pink is a hard-wired trait. It’s now three years later and if you Google “Girls like pink” you will read the following: “A new study, appearing this month in Current Biology, finds for the first time that girls are hard-wired to like pink.” — and that is just wrong on so many levels.

Why Write

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I’m guessing that people will ask me why I am writing. “Because I want to,” is probably not an answer that will satisfy them. And that’s okay.

Why do I want to write? I have decided to write a blog because I can speak without asking permission. I can write about whatever interests me without worrying about an editor’s opinion, an acceptable tone, an acceptable style, a niche, a slant or the best marketability.

First and foremost I am writing for myself.

I am writing for the little girl who was never allowed to have an opinion. The little girl who was tossed outside by her mother and had the door locked behind her. The little girl who cried and screamed and pounded on the door. Because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.

I am writing for the little girl, seven years old, who was ordered to leave the classroom for talking. In the dark hallway her hands were strapped before she was allowed back in.

I am writing for the teenager who heard people say, “She’ll never be successful in life, she’s too quiet.”

I am writing for the young woman who was asked point blank, “How come you never say anything.”

I am writing because women have been silent for centuries. Strong and silent, their thoughts never recorded in history. They kept their children alive through war, famine and disease. They were strong enough to pass life on to us. We have lost their thoughts and their wisdom because they were told to keep quiet.

From Marge Piercy’s poem For Strong Women:
“A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why
aren’t you dead?”

… why aren’t you quiet … why aren’t you dead?

I am writing to reclaim my life.

Sue Monk Kidd said this about writing:

“The hardest thing about writing is telling the truth.
Maybe it’s the hardest thing about being a woman too.”

May be.