TRIGGER WARNING This article contains graphic depiction of sexual assault.
We group things together according to their similarities, to the features they all have in common. For example all spiders have eight legs, all fish lack digits, all pandas have patches, all milkshakes are cold, all planes have wings, all countries have a capital, but what do all women have in common?
All women have vaginas? All women like men? All women are weak? All women have periods? All women are good at cooking? All women want to be taken care of? All women are angry? All women are mothers? All women are hard-working? All women are soft? All women want children?
I am a woman who is not even half of these things. But, for sure, there are women who believe that it is their bodies that define their gender. Or that it is their experience of motherhood that defines their experience of womanhood and it is their right to believe so. Similarly, there are also women, who, like myself, do not resonate with that depiction, and should not be confined to it, but should rather come up with their own definition for womanhood.
I cannot speak on behalf of men but, I am sure that there is just as much diversity in expressing gender among men as there is among women. I say that as I am look at the men in my life: my father, my brother, my best friend and my classmates. They don’t fit into one definitive category and they don’t follow the same guideline, if they follow one at all.
Consequently, any definition of a gender is not universal and cannot be applied to all individuals identifying with that gender. Any and all definitions are personal because everyone is experiencing gender in their own way. We have gotten used to talking about physical characteristics, social and behavioral aspects when describing a gender. But one sentence about biology and gender roles doesn’t cover the complexity of gender expression that we see around us. It also excludes people who defy “traditional” standards of gender expression, people whose biological sex doesn’t match their gender identity, people who break out of the binary classification, people who embrace the fluidity of their gender, people who simply don’t like labels and so many more. This is why everyone should choose for themselves whatever definition works for them, and nobody will have the right to question their definition.
For me, being a woman is more than anatomy and more than what society defines a woman as. However, I would be wrong if I said that I know exactly how to explain why I feel like a woman, but there is a particular aspect of my gender identity that always reminds me that I’m a woman. It’s the struggle-the struggle to be a person when you are a woman, the struggle to feel safe, the struggle to have the equal opportunities, the struggle to escape sexual objectification and the struggle to be taken seriously.
I was a woman when the boys in my neighborhood didn't let me play soccer with them.
I was a woman when I was told to mind my business.
I was a woman when I was told to be quiet.
I was a woman when my opinions were dismissed.
I was a woman when I was told that short hair are for boys.
I was a woman when I was asked why I don't shave.
Moreover, I am a woman when I am afraid, not because women are weak or lack courage, but because women so often find themselves in danger. When I was 5, an older boy pressured me into showing him my private parts. When I was 11 a classmate slapped my ass. When I was 12 a high school senior I was playing soccer with, immobilized me around the pillar of the goal and started to hump his heavy body against mine while my so called friends stared and laughed. When I was 14 an older man groped me in public transport multiple times and I didn’t have power to say a word and just sat there in my shame and my embarrassment as he took advantage of the hustle and moved his hands all over my groin.
I am not an adult yet but I feel like a little piece of myself has been taken away from me already. As I enter adulthood, more things will likely be stolen. Do I have to expect worse jobs, lower salaries, less opportunities for professional growth, harassment at work and on the street, objectification of my body? Is this really what it means to be a woman? I am certainly not the only one who will, is or has already gone through this. But if 2017 has taught us anything, is that we are not alone in our struggles but we are also not alone in our fight. I will not be defined by the things that the world did to me, but I will let my strength and my resilience and the resilience of all women who have defied the odds and have overcome abuse and inequity, take over my definition of womanhood.
I might have worked out a definition for myself but the fact that it’s so hard to define what a woman or a man is, only confirms that these are imaginary labels that can bring some people together but also drive others apart. This is not to say that we should get rid of gender right away but allow ourselves to be more flexible, more elastic in the way we perceive gender, because gender has no limits and it has no rules.