Thursday, 1 August 2013

What is a woman, anyway?

Before you read this, you might want to read my previous entry ‘This is where it all started’ to understand the context of what I’m saying.

What does the word ‘female’ mean to you? Or the word ‘feminine’?

I think if anyone had asked me this question up until a couple of months ago, my answer would probably have been something along the lines of: a female is usually the smaller, more fragile sex of a species. It is the female that carries the babies or lays the eggs and therefore females tend to be more mothering, protective, caring. Something would be described as feminine if it was fragile,
petite, curvy, meek, in need of protection. Feminine women are youthful, delicate, vulnerable and submissive, have long hair, big eyes, long eyelashes and pink childlike lips, but also have curvy bodies- small waists, big breasts and wide hips. They wear make-up, jewellery, dresses and high heels.

I would not have related my answer to myself in any way, shape or form. I would have picked a few aspects from the stereotype of ultra-feminine and convinced myself THAT was what femininity was, without stopping to contemplate how my opinion was affecting me on an unconscious level.

It wasn’t until I was leant a couple of interesting books on the subject of fertility and female health, that I even contemplated my ideas of femininity and my feelings towards my own femininity.
The first book I read was called ‘The Fertility Solution’ by Niravi Payne. The second was ‘Consciously Female’ by Dr Tracy Gaudet. Now, please don’t be put off by the names of these books, I know they sound suspiciously airy-fairy. But please keep reading, there’s good stuff to come I promise!

I felt very odd being given a book called ‘The Fertility Solution’. It’s not as if I am planning to have children any time soon. In fact, with no boyfriend on the scene, the chances of children are… oooh I’d say… zero. So why did I want to read about how to become pregnant? I found myself wondering this as I read the first few chapters, wading through Americanisms and flowery language like ‘an absolutely exquisite sun with its rays penetrating deep into your uterus, streaming forth from your womb to the world, healing the world.’

But I perservered, and discovered, to my surprise, that I really engaged with the thoughtful exercises and meditations suggested in the book. More and more, I became aware of the connection between my mind and my body. Why had I ever thought of them as two separate things?

I’ve written before about our bodies and minds, and how each of us is a complex system of many parts working as one. The brain is one of those parts, albeit one very important part with the ability to control all other parts. Our brains do the thinking, the decoding, the memorising, the balancing. It’s easy to forget: the same body part is controlling unconscious and conscious behaviour. Just because we’re not aware of what the insides of our bodies are doing most of the time, does not mean we are not thinking about it just as much as we’re thinking about our shopping list or our guilt at upsetting our next door neighbour yesterday. To me, it makes perfect sense to me that our conscious thoughts, or even subconscious thoughts (such as my own perceptions of femininity) would affect the ‘performance’ of our bodies.

I could go on but that is perhaps a subject for another blog. Let’s just say, after reading these books and thinking a great deal about the mind-body connection, I came to the conclusion that clearing my mind of some negative thoughts towards femininity, fertility and self-perception may just have a positive effect on my health. At the very least, it was worth a try!

And this is where pandora’s box opened for me.

I’m still amazed that I managed to carry around so much undiscovered negativity towards these subjects, never knowing it was there. To begin with, my own description of feminity was so far away from a description of myself, I might as well have described myself as a man!

“Tall, heavy set, with small breasts and narrow hips. Independent and fairly physically strong as well as strong-willed.”

The next thing I discovered was a massive ambivalence towards having children. Now, I grew up with such a fascination of pregnancy you might have described it as an obsession for a while. I can remember reading my Mum’s books on health and first aid: I loved anything to do with how bodies worked… but most of all, I loved anything to do with pregnancy. Mum had one book on pregnancy and I read it so much the pages began to fall out. I wrote stories where women got married and had babies. I played games where I stuffed a pillow down my top and pretended I was pregnant. There was no doubt in my mind that I would grow up, get married and have three children. It was all planned in my mind from the age of four.

And of course, it didn’t happen like that. I grew up, I made friends, I partied, I had a few boyfriends who were never fussed about commitment, and one who I would’ve had kids with at some point in the future if it hadn’t been for the sad fact that I fell out of love with him. THAT was never in the plan! And then I found myself at thirty, still single, the years of my fertile life drawing to a close rather more quickly than I had expected- like sand in an hourglass where it seems to go so slowly at first, and then suddenly speeds up as the hourglass empties.

This is where I realised that years back, for some unknown reason, having babies had slunk into the depths of my consciousness, hidden somewhere under the label ‘naughty thoughts’. I think I’d had to hide it there for the sake of my sanity, and for the sake of my commitment-less relationships. How many of us do this, I wonder: protect ourselves from our own dreams in order to avoid the disappointment of not achieving them?

So… what was there to do, but to dredge up the shipwreck of my childhood plan to get married and have babies; to clean off some of the crap that had built up over the years, and see what was left underneath.
This is one of the drawings I did

Suddenly I was looking at it all in an entirely different light, because of course a lot has changed in my life since I was a child with childish dreams. And a lot has changed since I was twenty one years old, just out of a four year relationship with the man I thought was going to live those dreams with me. I spent a long time thinking about the whole subject: writing, meditating, drawing… I looked at it from every angle I could find, and came to one final conclusion:

Women’s bodies have the ability to grow children inside them. That is an AMAZING thing and I can’t believe I never appreciated it before. Whether we choose to use this ability or not is up to us, but I think the very fact we can do it is something to be proud of. And with such a complicated and delicate system, it’s not surprising things go wrong and women often struggle to have children.

Personally I think this ability is the cornerstone of what being female is about. Not for some, I am sure, but for me. At the very least, as a woman I think you have to accept and respect your body’s need to go through the baby-making-motions. Every woman spends half their life having periods; even if we don’t want children, we still have periods and we still go through the menopause.

I myself want children at some point, when my life is in the right place for it. And I’m not talking perfection here: yes, it’d be great to have the perfect house and the perfect job and the perfect husband before children come on the scene… but I would at least like to have done some more travelling, got my business to a place I am comfortable with, and be living with a man I love, who loves me and also wants children. I am not there yet and therefore I don’t want children yet. It’s as simple as that, and I don’t have to be embarrassed by this. There is simply no need for the guilt, sadness, fear and denial I was feeling up until now.

Being feminine is not all about being A. motherly or B. girly. Right or wrong. A or B. Feminine or manly. For a person who rebels against all stereotypes, rules, regulations, routines and clichés, I certainly did let myself fall into this trap. Perhaps out of self pity and martyrdom, perhaps just because I never properly contemplated it… but I did unconsciously believe that feminine was everything I wasn’t! But I have made the choice now, to decide for myself what I want femininity to be. And I choose my own version: the Amazonian goddess, tall, long-limbed, strong, defiant, but also pretty, with a hidden vulnerable side. A woman who can cope on her own, but will melt if you find the right way to approach her. A mother to those who need mothering- but not necessarily to those who simply WANT mothering. Independent, intelligent, sexy, graceful, playful, calm and content. That is my idea of femininity.

And that’s a picture I can relate to.

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