De Beauvoir wrote on becoming a woman. She’s right in the sense that none of us are born with a sense of being male or female, we are born human beings.
I was born an infant female of the sexually dimorphic species we like to call humans. Gender wasn’t a big thing in my life. Though I had two older brothers, it didn’t cross my mind at that age that there might be any expectations of my biology. I didn’t know because no one told me, and nobody seemed all that bothered at first. I was raised around a child who was gender nonconforming to a degree that these days would certainly get him marched straight down to the gender clinic, but us kids thought little of it and certainly never questioned, belittled or made fun of his preferences. He was our friend and playmate and the adults never turned a hair when he wore his favourite frilly pink dress, so why would we?
Nearly half a century later he is a well-adjusted gay adult – and like the rest of us kids, doesn’t even remember wanting to be a girl.
… so yeah.. I remember NOT wanting to be a girl, though. Round about the time my breasts were developing and I couldn’t keep the male gaze off me or change the way people treated me by hiding the problem parts. I guess around 12 or 13, when I began to understand that being a woman isn’t always just what you think about yourself. Some people think it’s whatever men say it is. It’s what you are told you are. It’s a thing that is less important to you than it seems to be to everyone else. It’s the culmination of letting countless generations of men enjoy their biological privilege long after they broke their side of the “social bargain.”
Retaining their sense of sexual entitlement, the dominant sex class has lost any sense of responsibility to their target sex class –women- who are most disadvantaged by sexual dimorphism. So, if it’s not an internal sense of self, but a lifelong series of externally imposed assumptions, how do I know I’m a woman?
I know I’m a woman because everything that’s ever been done to me, everything about the way I’m treated, spoken to and understood, misunderstood, marketed to, and presumed to be, tells me I am.
I know I’m a woman because I’m the one who ruined all those mattresses, sheets, carpets and clothes with my menstrual blood. I’m the one who bled so heavily it confined me to the house for two or three days every month for 40 years, because no amount of VAT was ever going to find me a product I could rely on during my heaviest days, and no amount of bleeding was going to convince me a man with a scalpel knew or cared what was in my best interests after what they did to my mother. What I recognised later on, was the pathologisation and control of women’s bodies by men who inhabit a medical specialty that places them uniquely in a position of god-like power over women’s bodies, while never sharing female experience.
These, our female bodies, which they can meddle with or ignore, trivialise or medicalise with impunity, overriding a woman’s opinion, consent or medical need on legal, ethical, religious or cultural grounds, thanks to the privilege they earned on their 100 grand degree courses. As a nurse and then as a midwife, I have heard with my own ears: male registrars in bars, boasting about how many “snatches” they had their hand up that day and how much they enjoy their work. I witnessed egregious disrespect of women who were under anaesthetic, and non-consensual use of their bodies for teaching purposes, and jokes I would never hear about male patients. I heard obstetricians joking with husbands while women lay torn or cut and bleeding from giving birth, about the doctors’ skill at suturing postpartum vaginas back up “like a 16 year old virgin,” for the benefit of husbands worried about how such injuries might affect their penises.
I know I’m a woman because it was my body. It was 15-year-old me who had to abort the child of a man who pretended to be my friend, then drugged and raped me. It was my underage body he infected with disfiguring papilloma virus, which in those days was treated by cauterisation. I was the terrified and traumatised child, too ashamed to tell, and with no one I could trust anyway, who woke up from an anaesthetic and found they had burnt away most of her vulva and left such scarring on her perineum that she would never be able to give birth without 3rd degree tearing and despite this longed for babies anyway.
I know I’m a woman because it was my body that produced our children, not his. It was my body that fed our offspring for a total of four years, while my unemployed husband slept all day and played computer games all night. It was me who scrabbled and sacrificed and worked and worried to feed our children and keep a roof over our heads, and didn’t inherit a house and get to walk away when the responsibility became overwhelming.
I know I’m a woman, because I am not allowed to be angry, only crazy. When I say I’m a woman, no one is impressed. When he says he is a woman, everyone thinks he’s amazing and wants to be his friend. And when he hits me I’m supposed to be loyal (silent) and when he dresses in my daughter’s underwear and masturbates, he is brave, not creepy. And when he dresses in my clothes and wants have lesbian sex with me, it’s transphobic of me to feel uncomfortable, even though this was not my choice or my sexual orientation or identity.
I know I’m a woman because when I agree to go out shopping for make-up with “her,” she does everything she can to disassociate herself from me. Is it so I can witness all the male attention “she” gets, or is it because she fears she won’t get any male attention with me around?
I know I’m a woman because I am puzzled by this behaviour in a man I have known for three decades, as a man, and he has just informed me he is actually a lesbian. I know I’m a woman because I’m supposed to take this seriously and not have needs or an identity of my own, and my reality does not matter, and I’m not to tell him how ludicrous he looks under any circumstances, because I could get seriously hurt by his rage and spite. But in the end it doesn’t matter, because a few weeks later when he decides to transition, I no longer exist in his world anyway.
I know I am a woman because when I was a homeless kid on the streets and needed to earn money, I was considered worthless except as a sexual commodity men could profit from. I knew I was a woman when the restaurant manager locked the office door and orally raped me “in return for my wages,” which I never got. Twice, before I gave up trying to get my wages. The very same restaurant owner who was congratulated in all the national tabloids for his successful business venture providing titillations for Prince Andrew and his business friends who were caught getting their bottoms spanked or caned by adult “waitresses” dressed as underage schoolgirls.
I know I am a woman, because even though I am heterosexual, I am old enough to have learned to fear and actively avoid male attention as far as humanly possible. I know I am a woman because I love and protect my young with a ferocity I never knew I was capable of before. I know I’m a woman because I am only acceptable when I am silent and invisible.