Sunday, January 18, 2009


I've been chasing something around in my head lately that I'm having a hard time articulating. I like to consider myself pretty open to gender bending, whether I indulge in it overtly myself or not, I'm not the least bit bothered by trans-women/men, effeminate men or butch women. And yet, I identify very strongly as a woman. I have several very good women friends and a core of close women friends that I consider closer than my family in many respects. I enjoy spending time with these women and laughing or crying over our shared experience as women in our communities, families and society at large.

Even as I say this, I realize that I don't really even know how to define the word woman for myself. I'm certainly not the type of woman my mother and sister are. I've always leaned more toward classic/liberal arts education and before leaving Mormonism, had a hard time relating to other women because of this. I've always been more career oriented and reluctant around babies, another characteristic that made it difficult for me to relate to most women in the church. For the last couple years of my stint in Mormonism, most of my mentors were men, and I related better to the husbands (with a few exceptions) than the wives in my circle of married friends.

Now that I've left the church, I've found more like-minded women and formed bonds that have surprised me with their strength. There's something very fulfilling for me to sit and visit with women in my mother's or even grandmother's generation--as if we share a common heritage or culture all our own. My core female friends are some of the most important people in my life. I relate to them and rely on them and support them in their own struggles on many different levels.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that in theory at least, I don't consider myself to be a gender essentialist. I do think that gender is more fluid than we acknowledge in our society. So it confuses me that so much of my identity is wrapped up in being a woman--not androgynous, not lesbian, not butch, not feminine--but a woman. It's just that my views about gender are so flexible that I have a hard time defining that in any concrete terms. I think of myself as a woman, but I realize that I can't under any circumstances generalize what it means to be a woman from my own experience. So I'm wondering why that label is so important to my identity and why it brings me so much fulfillment.

Anyway, I'm not sure that was as clear as I would have liked it to be. Any thoughts anyone has on the matter would be welcome. How do you define the two genders? How do you see yourself on the spectrum?How do you relate to others of your "assigned" gender? How much of gender bending is perhaps anomalous (by anomalous I mean outside "normal" gender identification but acceptable nonetheless, clear as mud)? How much of gender identity is socially fabricated and how much is biological?


darlene said...

Wow, when you DO take time to write, you are pretty deep!

I've always considered humans to be basically bisexual, with preferences that are fairly strong in some people, less so in others.

My first real boyfriend was gay. I was so much into him that I wanted to have an operation, and be a male, and be a gay male at that. I identified with men, hung out with men, had little in common with women. (Weird thing, my family saw all that and deduced that I must be a lesbian...)

Of course this made for problems when I got married, if we had married couples as friends, because I liked the men better, usually. I just had no use for most women.

When I divorced and became employed, I was still 'one of the boys' and was one of those nasty competitive women you read about or encounter. It took me a long time to learn to appreciate my fellow woman, to promote her needs, to help her out, to support her. But as I learned to like helping women achieve things that I had to fight for, I discovered it was pretty fulfilling for me.

Now that I'm fairly old and no longer 'on the market' I'm even more comfortable with women, socially. It's been a long slow journey but I think it could be said that I'm even more comfortable with myself, too.

JohnR said...

Wow. Each of those questions could consume 10 long discussion threads (esp. on fMh). :P

Here's my take. I think that we typically assign more to biology has and less to society/culture when we think about gender. Like you, I like to avoid essentializing gender, but I'm not ready to take it to the extreme and say that gender is 100% fluid. My approach is to think less in terms of binaries and more in terms of spectra.

And there are so many facets that are typically crammed into this whole gender thing: role definition, sexual orientation, prescribed aesthetics, etc. Society tends to group all of these things together and say that if you're male you should have one set of joined attributes (primary bread-winner, sexual preference for women, aggressive tendencies, aversion to pink, etc.) and if you're a woman you have a different set. My experience is that this is all so much more complicated than we typically have patience for.

angryyoungwoman said...

In some ways, I identify very strongly as a woman, but I think that has a lot to do with my life experiences--so many of them are stereotypical "female experiences." Another part may be that for much of my life I thought of men as bad people (sorry, men), and didn't want to identify myself with them. Then, I do just really, really like women.

Of course, as I've gotten older, I've found it's a lot of fun to mess with people's heads by bending my gender a bit--wearing men's clothes, being more than competent at "manly" activities. And I do hate pink and Disney. And I only wear skirts if it is so hot I can't possibly wear pants. And makeup is just a no-no. So, yeah, I'm not really feminine, either. I'm just a woman.

xJane said...

I think they're closer to biological than "nurture". As one of six (actually, six of six, by Borg accounting), I'm the only one who doesn't seem to identify as strongly feminine. I try to cultivate a "strong identification" but it's just not there. I don't even have that many female friends—the friends I do make who are women surprise me and make me wonder what makes this woman different from all the others. Coming out of the Church with it's big Mary emphasis was easy, in some respects, since there wasn't anything there for me; there was nothing I could identify with. But then, since the archetypes that were there were the only acceptable female archetypes, it made me wonder what was wrong with me.