I am a woman. According to Simone de Beauvoir, the late and great social theorist and feminist author of The Second Sex, I was not born this way. Rather, I was made into a woman by the society in which I was raised. There was a time when I would have argued this, stating that my breasts and my genitals are what makes me a woman. I would have argued that my love for children, my compassion, my appreciation for beauty are what makes me a woman.
But now I no longer live in a tiny town with no exposure to the outside world. I am no longer confined to the limitations put on me by the adults in my life controlling what knowledge I am exposed to. Now, I have a vocabulary to describe who I am and it is not limited to simply "woman" and "tomboy", or in the case of my male counterparts, "man", "girly", and other such asinine terminology that boxes in the very complex and intricate humans that such words attempt to describe.
Now, I have taken multiple gender studies classes. I have participated in discussions at various events bringing awareness to the injustices committed against both men and women because of the imaginary divides drawn between the two sexes. I have written papers, walked in marches, met with doctors and philosophers who are the heads of their fields, professionals of incredible caliber who don't bother with petty arguments over facebook that inevitably deteriorate into name calling and accusations.
Now I understand that by defining myself as a woman simply because of my breasts, I would say that any woman with larger breasts is more of a woman, and any woman who has had a mastectomy and chosen to not go through with reconstruction is no longer a woman (or if she has gone through reconstruction, she is a "fake" woman). By defining my womanhood by my genitals, I say that those who have had cervical cancer or severe ovarian cysts and chosen to have the sources of their pain removed are no longer women.
I realize that by saying that I am a woman because I get along with children, any female who does not like children is not a woman, and any male who teaches and loves his students, or the Sunday School leaders and camp counselors and child therapists are all women. By saying my compassion is what makes me a woman, I also say that women who are not empathetic or are not tender are not women, and all the men who have shown me kindness throughout the years, all of the male activists who fight for others are all women. By saying that my appreciation for beauty is what makes me a woman, I am also saying that anyone whose breath is not stolen by the sight of the sunset and the mountains is not a woman, but all the artists and the designers of the world are women.
By putting such definitions on womanhood, I automatically join into the masses of oppressors who limit what women are allowed to be, and that is not something I can ever allow myself to do. I have been forced to fight my entire life to be recognized as equal to men because of my sex. I have seen too many women degraded and put down because of their sex. I have been shamed for my body, for the choices I make and the things I have no control over because of my sex. I have witnessed myself and my friends wither under an onslaught of limitations and critiques because of our sex.
I refuse to partake in such behavior.
We as a people have been trained to believe that feminine and masculine are opposites and that they are a binary rather than a spectrum. We have been taught that only women can wear makeup (just not too much, but god forbid you to wear too little) and that only men can wear suits. We have been taught that women who are not polite are bitches and men who cry are weak. We have been taught that even colors and scents are gendered - just look at the names and marketing campaigns of deodorant options at the supermarket.
We have, as a society, been conditioned for millennia to believe that the biggest and most important defining trait of people is based on their reproductive organs, and that there can be no grey area in regards to how we separate those reproductive organs (yet just look at how much variation there is in sexual biology). How ridiculous is that?
I do not want to be limited by my sex or my gender. I am a woman, but not because of my biology (look at the multitude of women who have faced sex verification issues in the Olympics because they had naturally higher levels of testosterone), and not because of my personality (I am thinking of my younger brother, who is so empathetic that he cries every time Sarah McLaughlin sings "In the Arms of the Angel" for the ASPCA commercials). I am a woman because society has made me a woman, and I have chosen to continue to identify as a woman because of my experiences within that society. But I also choose to not let my womanhood be a limitation on me, no matter how much societal conditioning might try to convince me that it is.
My sex makes no difference in who I am, just in how society views me. It is because of the views of society that my sex has any bearing on who I am as a person. But I am a woman, and I am also the toughest person I know (other than my mother and grandmothers). I am a woman, and I am also ambitious, and strong-willed, and cynical. I am a woman and I rough-house with my cousins and brothers. I am a woman, and I know I am capable of everything a man can do because being a woman is not a definition or an explanation or a limitation. I am a woman, and I am all of the same things I would be if I were a man.
"One is not made, but rather becomes woman... it is civilization as a whole that elaborates this intermediary product between the male and the eunuch that is called feminine," (The Second Sex, 1949).