What does it mean to be a woman?
A lot of people will say that you are only a real woman if you have had children. Only when you’re a mother, do you know what it means to be a woman.
I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that kind of definition. I’ve always liked being a girl. I never played with dolls or held fake tea parties or whatever it was little girls did. But I never wanted to be a boy.
Growing up in the country in New Zealand is a very liberating experience. I could do everything and anything my male neighbours, cousins or students could do, other than standing up to pee. I was taller, faster and stronger. I didn’t need boys to do anything for me. I had no brothers, so unlike a friend of mine wasn’t raised having to make her twin brother’s bed! My sisters and I learned to drive the tractor, toss hay bales out to the cows in the winter, yell at the dogs (though I will admit I never learned how to whistle properly), jump the creeks, climb over or through the fences, chop the wood and carry it inside to the fire. When our “townie” male cousins would come and visit, we took great pleasure in their squeamishness at lambing time, or ignorance over what an electric fence would do if you placed a blade of grass on it. Boys were contemptuous creatures in our world.
There were few concessions made to us being girls. I say ‘few” rather than “no” concessions because I did learn, years later, that my father deliberately put the rams out with the ewes in a paddock a long way from the house to protect his delicate daughters! This upbringing fitted well with the societal changes at the time. “Girls can do anything” was the catch cry. I was confused. Why say it? Of course we could!
I waited for the maternal instinct to kick in until my late 30s, when it turned up rather belatedly, to the beat of a biological clock so loud it was suddenly deafening. The strength of the emotions that arrived were surprising and disturbing to me. I was equally surprised at how I felt less of a woman, judged by others, and isolated from much of society, through my simple and not uncommon inability to give birth. My failure to have children made me question my femaleness in a way that my previous lack of desire to have children never did.
After a few difficult years, my confidence has now returned, my sense of self is stronger than ever before.
I am who I am.
I’m a real woman. Because I know I am.