Wednesday, 20 August 2008

X = XX

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.


  1. Gets me all farklempt. I'm that girl, in some ways. I have my next "x is for".

  2. So happy to see another X is for XX, although you have completely outdone me! So many wonderful things here, so tactile, so visual in discussing these concepts. And then so gut-wrenching.

    Last week I was sitting around with some other women who had chosen not to have children, and we were discussing societal pressures to have them, and I had to admit that I need to be more careful--that I've in fact been guilty of assuming that if a woman didn't have children that it was by choice! I must jump to bond with people who made the choice I did (look! someone like me!), but I hope I've learned to not make that jump and to let the information unfold. It's so deeply personal.

  3. I'm kind of that girl, too.

    Kind of.

    A hard X to live up to. Sounds like we're on the way to a long-extended series of related blog entries.

  4. I suppose Y is going to be for Yak or something. Sigh.
    That is a definite intra-gender issue:There's something incredibly deep and gnarly behind the antagonism which goes both ways sometimes between the childless and the mothers. Still in the woods.

  5. B: farklempt?? I tried googling it. Good word, I think! Eagerly awaiting your next X and Lisa's too.

    IB: I seem to recall you had rather a killer last line for your XX entry ;-)

    For me having no children was a choice - right until I was about 38 or 39 - and of course we've not adopted or pursued any of the other alternatives. So in many ways we are childfree by choice. But I am so much more aware now of different circumstances. Equally I don't assume just because someone has children that she had an easy time of it.

    Mrs S: Not just intra gender. I have a friend in similar circumstances who was told by a male "friend" that at least HIS wife was a REAL woman because she could have children.

    Oh, and I'm sure I couldn't presume to write about the Y part of XY. So yes, yak it might very well be.

  6. Sometimes verklempt. Yiddish for "choked up."

  7. My friends are caretakers for a property that includes yaks. Seriously.

  8. Wouldn't it be fun if we could all request a word for a particular letter and you would write about each one? My Y choice is yiminy.

    And I can't believe that some "friends" have such antiquated, narrow views of womanhood.

  9. Ok - here goes - any other requests for my next Y??

    We have Y-chromosome, yiminy and maybe yak.

    Be in quick!

  10. Yes? Yule? Yellow?

    Nah--I vote for yiminy.


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