What Makes a Woman, a Woman? – Elaina – 7/16/15

a-woman-has-to-be-intelligent-have-charm-a-sense-of-humor-and-be-kind-its-the-same-qualities-i-require-from-a-man-catherine-deneWhat Makes a Woman, a Woman? – Elaina Portugal

July 16th, 2015

Dear Reader,

Sometimes in life, something happens that rocks us to our core and challenges everything we thought we knew, forcing us to reassess our perspectives. When Caitlyn Jenner made her transformation, I thought “good for her.” I have no perspective from which to fully understand that need or that decision, but if someone is willing to go to such extremes to find peace within herself, then I figure it’s something she needed to do. I felt a bit sad she went through 60 years of life unhappily, but glad she found what she needed now. Aside from flipping through her transformative pictures and feeling jealous as hell at her gorgeous physique, I didn’t give it another thought.

At least I didn’t think I had.

There are times when I think something hasn’t impacted me, but as time goes on, the background chatter in my mind keeps mulling over the issue, and I realize the incident left a mark. Caitlyn Jenner upset my apple cart. Transgender doesn’t bother me. We all need to feel happy in our own skin, but that’s my sticking point. What was it about being a woman that compelled Caitlyn to change genders?

I’ve grappled with this idea for weeks only recently giving it my full attention. What makes a woman a woman? What are those defining characteristics that separate the genders? The obvious biological differences come to mind: breasts, curves, uterus, vagina, estrogen, progesterone, and twice as many fat cells as men, yet that doesn’t feel like an adequate answer, Certainly in the example of Caitlyn, it doesn’t ring true. She may have breasts now, but she doesn’t have a uterus, a vagina,  and she certainly doesn’t have twice as many fat cells because she’s transformed. I think about women who’ve had mastectomies and hysterectomies. They aren’t any less of a woman because their body parts have been removed. As my thoughts about this continued, Caitlyn fell to the wayside and I began to think about women in general. Aside from the physical attributes, what qualities about women are unique and separate us from being a man?

For every attribute I identified; nurturing, loving, feminine, delaying personal goals for the sake of family, putting others first, shouldering responsibility without seeking recognition, I could think of men who had the same characteristics and women who lacked them. I asked friends what they thought made a woman unique from a man and my male friends tried to describe a difference between living from an emotional basis and living from an analytical one. They did not mean to imply that women are emotional/irrational, but more their thoughts come from the emotional side of the brain while men’s derive from the analytical. Also, across the board, everyone, both men and women believed that women will make sacrifices of themselves more readily than men, and women are in charge of the upkeep of the house as well as the family meals.

I have to admit, these “unique” female qualities did not instill positivity. Emotional, self-sacrificing, and chief cook and bottle washer don’t sound like qualities a person would long for, nor do they feel gender specific. From an anthropological viewpoint, they make sense. Women had babies. They were the only ones who could provide sustenance for the baby, so therefore, they were stuck in the cave, or back at the campsite. If the campsite was attacked while the men were hunting, women protected their children, often sacrificing themselves to keep their children safe.

Because the women were stuck at the campfire, they had time and proximity so cooking and cleaning became their jobs while men went out hunting and trading. Women tended the gardens because they had to stay close and care for the children. Over time, these tasks became gender specific roles because of our biological difference. However, the advancement of the world has allowed women to step away from those roles and leave the cooking, cleaning, and raising of the children to others. We do not live in caves anymore.

I’m still left with the question, what makes a woman a woman? Perhaps it is all biological and as society has progressed, our roles have been defined because of those biological differences. Yet society continues to progress. Women have shown again and again we are as capable, and sometimes more so, than men in similar roles. Men have proven they are capable of filling our societal roles when it comes to nurturing, cleaning, and providing sustenance for the family.

I wonder what it is about being a woman that called to Caitlyn. Is it the biology or society’s view of what it means to be a woman? Perhaps as a woman who’s never questioned or doubted her gender, I am overlooking the answer. I have to admit though, Caitlyn’s transition to a woman has left me unsettled. What is it that makes a woman, a woman?

Perhaps it’s only our perceptions.


To read more of Elaina’s letters, click here.

To read more of our authors’ letters, click here. 

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