Somebody want to explain to me what femininity is and how I might define myself as a woman?
Because there is literally no train that can be defined as “feminine” without excluding someone, and excluding people is bad.
So apparently there’s no difference between men and women anymore?
I don’t remember how much of this I actually said to you before (maybe none?) so congratulations and apologies here is a bunch of rambling.
The problem is:
If you define what it means to be a woman (or a man, or androgynous, or some other gender) in a firm, specific way, that hurts people. Because people feel obligated to be (whatever gender) “the right way” even if it’s not a good fit for them, or else they feel hurt and excluded because they aren’t capable of doing it “the right way”.
But if you don’t have any solid definition of what each gender is, then how can anyone have a gender, or know what gender they are?
I’m not a fan of the idea that the concept of gender should be gotten rid of entirely. Maybe in some hypothetical sci-fi future we’ll get there. At the moment, though, lots of people (almost everyone?) feel like their gender is a really important part of who they are. We can’t just ignore that. We can’t make everyone instantly forget the idea of gender, and that’s what it would take for it to stop being an issue.
I think the solution to the above problem is to let go of the idea that a gender has to have a totally solid, consistent definition.
Being a woman doesn’t have to mean exactly the same thing to everyone– and, I mean, it already doesn’t.
There’s sort of a loose constellation of things that are generally accepted as part of being a woman, but very few women fit all of them, of course, and many women consider their identity as a woman to contain things that aren’t part of the most common definition. Sometimes, different women even see directly opposite things as part of their identity as a woman. Like, some people see motherhood as being soft and caring enough to understand a child’s needs and treat them gently. Some people see it as being emotionally and physically tough enough to put their child/ren’s needs above their own. And then of course some women don’t see being a mother as part of their identity at all.
Being a woman already means very different things to different individual women. All of us already pick and choose among many stereotypes, and ideals, and traditions, and role models, to create a picture of what womanhood means to us. That’s how identity works most of the time. It’s based in culture, but it is personal. We take in messages about what it means to be women, or anything else– note that verb, we take them in. We make them part of us. We explore them and decide what they mean to us. We adapt them to fit us. It’s not a certification checklist that we go down and rigorously fulfill every item.
I know I go a little overboard on comparisons and similes sometimes, but I think this is useful as an example that other identities already work this way, too:
A lot of people feel that the place they were born, the place they grew up, the place they live, is an important part of their identity. They feel attached to a place and its specific culture.
But two different people’s perceptions of what it means to be from a certain place may be extremely different. That’s true even for a small town, and when it comes to identity as a citizen of a nation– that’s very important to a lot of people, but how in the world can we expect people from opposite ends of a continent, which are very different in everything from ethnic makeup to climate, to feel the same way about what it means to be American? Clearly we can’t, they don’t, there’s a huge amount of disagreement about what being American should mean and who should be included. Yet we don’t question that “I’m an American” can be a part of someone’s identity. We feel like we can still define it easily, because the government has a specific definition of citizenship, and this covers up the fact that “being an American” isn’t necessarily the same as citizenship and it very much lacks a specific definition.
Gender can be the same way– it should be the same way. The same word can have meaning to lots of people without having exactly the same meaning. No one has to be judged or excluded.
Not so much for Sparkly as for the hypothetical radical feminist in the back of the room:
“But OMG what does this mean for feminism, how can we advocate for women if we can’t define women?”
You may have noticed that we already have trouble advocating for women, because women already view their identities differently, have different perspectives and needs, and prioritize different things.
(By which I mean, you probably should have noticed, or you haven’t been paying attention– for instance, to the huge problems that black women often have with mainstream feminism.)
Feminism isn’t a monolith, it doesn’t need to be one, and it definitely doesn’t need tons of gatekeeping and concern about who’s really a woman. We can help women without expecting to help all women at once, or insisting that all women agree on what kind of help they need most. There is no way to make women into a monolith without harming women who fall outside of what you expect the monolith to be.