Recently National Geographic made a video for its “gender issue,” in which their reporters interviewed children all over the world and asked them about their favorite parts of being boys and girls (nonbinary kids were not included in this segment). The answers range from the comical to the heartbreaking.
After watching it, I found myself wondering what my answer would be, if someone were to ask me about my favorite and least favorite aspects of being a woman. As you might imagine, I found the list of pros and cons to be depressingly skewed.
For starters, I’d object to the question itself, since most of the time I feel I am engaged in the act of being a person, and being a woman has often felt like a set of externally imposed shackles on that experience. I don’t think they feel like shackles for everyone; some women wear them as gracefully as summer dresses (which I also don’t wear), but the secret bywords and arcane rituals of femininity have never come naturally to me. I have not drunk from whatever deep goddess-well confers an ease in hair salons and changing rooms. I do not know the difference between powder and foundation. I could not say how much to tip the bathroom attendant.
NONE OF THEM. I AM NONE OF THEM.
Nevertheless, the world suffers from no such confusion about who and what I am, and whatever internal contradictions I experience about gender, the world treats me like a woman, so it is simply the easiest shorthand when there is a box to be checked, a bathroom to be entered, a department store section to shop.
Here are my personal least favorite things about being a woman:
- Playing touch football with a bunch of guys and watching the physical and logical contortions they go through never to give you the ball. (“Okay, I’m gonna take the snap, fall back, and then throw it down the field, run really fast, and catch it.”)
- Hearing stories about travels to distant lands, or even song lyrics about walking city streets alone at night, and wanting so much to know the divine loneliness they are describing, but knowing you never will because the fear of being attacked is too strong.
- Menstruating is not a defining criteria of being a woman, but it is still remarkable to me that we haven’t built our entire society around complaining about it. It’s horrible. Ruining your clothes is horrible. Feeling like your uterus has formed a fist which is punching the rest of your organs in horrible. And most horrible of all is the persistent embarrassment I feel when buying tampons, the urge to hide them at the bottom of my shopping basket, as though this were somehow my fault.
- The suspicion that everything I say and write receives 20% less credence than if I were a man. I was recently talking to a trans friend who presents as male, and I asked him if he were treated differently, taken more seriously now. “Oh, absolutely,” he replied. “My colleagues at work listen to me more, and everyone just seems to assume I know what I’m doing.” You could just cry, you could always just cry, with the unfairness of it.
- ALL OUR CLOTHES COST 30% MORE AND ARE MADE OUT OF PAPER THAT DISSOLVES IN YOUR HANDS THE FIRST TIME YOU WASH IT. SHOES ARE TERRIFYING. THE LIFESPAN OF EVERY BRA ENDS WITH IT TRYING TO STAB YOU TO DEATH.
EVERY BRA ON EARTH IS A SLEEPER AGENT OF THE ENEMY.
6. Realizing I have internalized every shitty thing about womanhood that I hate, and having to tear out all of those ugly cross-stitch patterns society has sewn onto my brain. I go to a concert and realize I am judging the male musicians on their talent and the female musicians on their looks, and I despair of ever seeing women the way I would like to be seen: as people first.
There’s a lot of “worst.” But there is one, all-redeeming best.
1.Other women. Almost all of my favorite people in the world are women, and the greatest privilege of my life is the way they have let me know them, in the way that only women can know each other. Getting to stand beside and count myself among the incredible women who have fought for millenia, and fight today for peace and for freedom is a gift. We may be history’s greatest underdogs, but what a team!
Getting to learn from women whose experiences differ from mine (trans women, women of color, old women, young women) has taught me that there are infinite shades of strength and wit and grace. Falling in love with women, as a woman: that is the exotic continent I explore, those are the dark city streets I travel.
On this International Woman’s Day, to my fellow women, whether you are deeply tied to the female essence, are tap-dancing out of your shackles and all over that uncomfortable binary, or just trying to make it your own: you make the world, my life, this strange experience, worth it.