I remember my first women’s history class, and the many books I read to discover what the patriarchy was so I could smash it. I wore blinders so I couldn’t see it in my life because that distance was a safe one to keep. I saw it in make up and it gave me an excuse to not wear any because it was feminism and not being lazy (which is what it often felt like). It was fighting against a man that would hit a woman, and not the one that alienated her from her friends and denied her permission to have her own checking account. It was pointing out that high heels made a woman look like she was always ready for rear entry and claiming empowerment in knowing this when I walked in them. It was hating on Hello Kitty because she was created with a large brain, tiny body and without a mouth to speak. But it wasn’t the ways I let motherhood define me, rather than deciding what motherhood meant to me.
In recent weeks, I’ve gotten to know a beautiful transgendered woman with a more fluid gender identity than I’m used to. I was given my name, and the nickname “Yessie” before I could speak. She chose to go by Jessie before we met and that makes her super special. Our friendship was one of those things decided before we met. We hang out because she’s sweet and caring and smart. She has a geeky flair that soothes those itchy parts in myself and we get along really well in spite of the fact that I could probably be her teenage mom. By being the bright and amazing person she is, and without ever saying a word, she has been pushing my idea of what a woman is. She can dish on gender studies and you should listen here. If you’re looking for an actress, producer or editor, check out her amazing here.
It made me take a look at Caitlyn Jenner and what it means to be him/her/them. I won’t pretend to know where they stand on their gender so using fluid language will serve my laziness in researching who they are right now. The identity they have chosen calls out the idea of what a transgendered woman is supposed to be. I don’t actually watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race, but the idea of a transgendered woman always meant to me that she had a fit body, perfect makeup and outlandish style. She could dance in 8-inch heels when I can barely walk in them. Clearly I’m writing about it because I recognize the parts where I’m wrong.
What does it mean to be a transgendered woman?
Is she supposed to look more beautiful than your average woman? Is she supposed to look like a man on most days because that was what she was born as? Could she choose what gender she expresses herself as on any given day? I learned from my new friend that being transgendered is much like being autistic. It places you on a spectrum where you can fall under an umbrella because those that don’t understand it need to quantify and qualify what someone else’s life means. I do that and I’m examining it so I can stop, because it’s not okay.
In terms of race, it’s like saying, “Racism means . . . and when white people say . . . ” without ever looking in the mirror because that moment when you identify another race . . . Yeah, have you met that kettle yet?
Uh, oh, no she didn’t . . . Yeah. I did. Was it good for you, too?
When I was enjoying my friend’s company yesterday, I asked her a question I would normally never ask another woman. Do you ever wear make up? It was a question I brought up because some days putting on layers of glitter and gloss make me insanely happy. After the words left me, and I settled into my drive to my next destination, I thought about what I asked. As a feminist, you don’t need to wear make up. Alicia Keyes made the news because she chose to go out without a full face of spackle and I applauded her. It’s her face. But being a woman that was once a man somehow placed in my mind a need to make up for something that was lacking in femininity. You would think that lacking a penis, having boobs, and owning an identity that she chose is enough to hand over my girl card, but then there I go again, assuming we would even carry a girl card to be who we are.
Yikes. I’m that person.
On most days, I’m still working out what it is to be a woman. At what point is wearing a dress about what I want, and not what my experiences with seduction have made it? When it comes to being the Mrs. Cleaver I once thought I was supposed to be, how did it become okay to let the girl I was die in favor of a person I had imagined and could never live up to because she wasn’t real?
When it comes to being a woman, and ideals of femininity, is it about makeup or nails? What about hair and clothes? I generally don’t exercise, and decided a short while after my first pregnancy that yoga pants and sweats were a gateway drug to not wanting to brush my hair or teeth. It was a way to hide from the world by wearing something I found completely unattractive.
This weekend when hiking with my beautiful friend (okay, so it was a short walk) I admired her strength and beauty and she was this powerful woman in yoga pants, hiking with her 3 year old son on her back. I admired her for it and bought a first pair (or 3) of yoga pants for the first time since I swore I would only exercise if it looked like fun about 4 years ago. I’m not planning a marathon or anything that looks more sweaty than fun, but I’m planning outdoor adventures once fall settles in and temperatures dip just enough to not need shorts for survival.
Right now I’m lounging in yoga pants, and no makeup and wearing my glasses and diamonds because I want to. I think that’s what a woman is really about. It’s not what magazines sell. It’s not about sexualizing your existence. I’m a firm believer that male attraction is easily persuaded by your confidence, interest and willingness to play rather than how sexy you look. Boys can be easy in terms of attraction. On the other hand, my confidence is intimidating to most men and I think I like it that way.
When I was working on my BA, I had my first quarter as an English major and a baby to deliver in the middle of it. I had a husband that sometimes supported me in school but more often gave me the reasons why he didn’t. Each quarter presented a new challenge but that is how life works. Nothing you need badly is ever too easy to be considered work. I was heading to a luncheon where I was honored as a scholarship recipient when I found out my grandmother had a stroke. We drove to Houston, drove home, then I forced through finals and flew back out to get to her funeral. I had cars die, child care that fell through at the last minute, the last surrogacy put my last quarter on hold for a year. It wasn’t easy. It was something I wanted to do and even when I was working on no sleep, making my family happy and being the best student I was capable of, I couldn’t complain because there were too many excuses offered for why I couldn’t do it. It was a time when I learned that you do what you choose to at any cost, and as a woman, if you complain, others will find reasons why you couldn’t do it to begin with. I learned that as women, we suffer in silence so we can accomplish what we want and make it look easy.
Being a woman isn’t about being able to have a baby. I’ve carried babies for women that were beautiful and powerful. They were gentle and caring and in nurturing me, clearly everything a mom should be.
Being a woman isn’t about wearing makeup and having perfect hair. I still can’t work a curling iron. It’s not in my wheelhouse and that’s okay. I still have days where my makeup makes me look like I’m going for a raccoon or clown look and no amount of YouTube videos will make up for my lack of talent in this area. If it’s not important for a woman, it’s not important for a transgendered woman either.
Being a woman is about the inner strength to face what life hands her and power through gracefully. It’s about knowing that if the words you speak were a dress you wear, you’d be just as beautiful as you are with your elaborate or simplistic covering. With your foul mouth or polite demeanor, it’s finding ways in which you are beautiful to yourself. It’s not the size or shape of a body.
Being a woman is about loving and hating what you see in the mirror but finding ways to appreciate all you are because you recognize the gift that is life and the love you offer can hold someone else up and that feels good.
Being a woman is about loving and caring without reservations and doing what you can to create a better world because as nurturers, it’s part of who we are. It’s also okay that some of us are incapable of nurturing and find our strength in being able to accept help and being cared for. It’s perfectly fine that some of us are fiercely independent and would wilt under someone’s protection and covering.
Being a woman is about deciding what is right for you, whether it’s marriage or children or a career and knowing that you are empowered by and through your choices.
Being a woman is about letting others live the existence they choose and supporting where you can because in the end, we know our sisterhood is a strength to rely on and not a wall to tear down.
Being a woman is about building up what we can and helping others reach their full potential while balancing our power with our influence so others feel this accomplishment was their own. (I feel this one is often a subconscious act of mothering and I’m working on being more mindful of it because I don’t have to be everyone’s Momma.)