This past Tuesday (March 8th) was International Women’s Day, but I know what you are probably thinking when you see that title:
You’re not wrong. Listen to Helen Reddy, she knows what this is about. As a side note for all who care about such things, I do spell woman with an ‘a’ instead of alternative spellings like ‘womyn’, ‘womon’, etc. While I am not against the alternative spellings and their reasons for existing, I choose to continue with the ‘traditional’ spelling as I feel is is more inclusive and makes intersectional feminism less “scary”. A stigma – warranted or not – is that those spellings are used by “feminazis” (I hate that term, which I am sure will appear in my post about being a feminist. Those hard-line, exclusionary, man-hating, TERF-type “feminists” do exist, but that is not usually who is meant by the people using the term.)
I’m also going to at this time to acknowledge that I’m a cisgender woman, which I wrote about last week. I felt it would be remiss of me to enter into a discussion of what the identity of woman means to me with mentioning my trans “sisters” (As far as I am aware, non of my parents’ other offspring identifies as trans. I am talking broad strokes, people.), who have their own complex relationships with gender and how it might mean completely different things to them. There are a number of very well written autobiographies by trans women telling their own stories. I would recommend Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (2014) and Mirror Image: The Odyssey of a Male-To-Female Transsexual by Nancy Hunt (1978) as a few to start.
My relationship with identifying as a woman has a fairly complex history. As I talked about in my post about being cisgender, my identification as woman is really not about what is going on under my clothes. It is about connecting with other women over shared experiences that makes this identification such an important part of my identity.
There is a certain sort of support that can be found in some women-only spaces. Women’s locker rooms (after high school), community women’s groups, etc. There is often an acknowledgment of feelings and emotional health that I understand is sorely lacking from many men-only spaces. My experience in men-dominated spaces (and I frequent many) causes me to believe that the performance of toxic masculinity runs rampant in male-only spaces (“Do you even lift, brah?).
Women are often relegated (at least in my extended family(s)) to the kitchen or whichever room to prepare holiday meals, clean up after holiday meals, do whatever household chores were required to do whatever to ensure the smooth running of whatever function I was attending. This is where I learned about the strength of women. When I say that, I’m not talking about physical strength (Yeah, brah, I lift, and Mama slings around sacks of flour and juggles children like it ain’t no thing.) and I’m not talking about the Corporate Bulldog who must out-alpha the men with stoicism and personal sacrifice. I’m talking about the strength of women who blend in rather than stand out. These women take what many staunch feminists – who are stand out women – might call work of oppression and spin it into camaraderie; a safe space where they can air their complaints about their husbands, their children (hopefully when they aren’t in the room), the requirements of doing most of the housework and have to get dinner on the table by six after coming home from their full time job at five. More than just ranting about those things, they crack jokes, they offer wisdom and solutions, and they bond.
After my paternal grandmother died, I lost access to most of these spaces due to family dysfunction. I forgot about the quiet and gentle form of strength that these women in my early life possessed and I became a brash, stand-out woman. In my adult life, I have again gained access to these groups of collective womanhood. However, I have learned that being a brash, stand-out women can be seen as “intimidating”. There are some women who recognize their quiet and gentle and will still embrace my form of loud, in your face, I-will-out-alpha-you strength. Some of them might even recognize that there are portions of that on any given day that are a facade to hide my insecurities (not all of it, because I’m awesome and a badass). Other women see strength and overlook their own, especially if theirs is quiet. Some of those women become intimidated by strength in others. This is unfortunate, because I think that insecurity can lead to “cattiness” and trying to tear others down in order to feel better (although, not something specific to women).
There are shared experiences that aren’t so great as well. Much has been written about rape culture, sexual/domestic violence against women, pay gaps and economic inequalities, all of which I have some experience with. I can relate to women when they talk about being afraid to walk down that street/enter that place/ walk anywhere alone, especially after dark. There is bonding that happens among women over some of that stuff too.
Also, I speak from a Canadian perspective. I’ve had the right to vote, drive, wear pants, work, own property and lots of other great stuff before I was even born. I’ve been able to marry someone of any or no gender since I was 17. I have it pretty good. Not all women everywhere can say the same, but I know we all have the strength to make things better.