Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Study in Form and Qualitative Definition

I was recently speaking with a 21 year-old male friend who described his interactions with “women,” meaning other females on my college campus. My internal reaction was, “Oh. Does that include me now, too?” Have I reached that point where I’m now a woman? When the hell did that happen??

When I was little, I avoided calling myself a “woman” because I always thought it demonstrated immaturity to presume to be more mature than you are. I guess I still think that. But the problem with “woman” now is different and more significant.

If I’m going to call myself a woman, I’d like to know what that means. I would state the obvious to say that society offers us skewed examples and inadequate (and sometimes downright false) definitions of woman and man. So where does sexual definition come from?

Am I “feminine” because of my physical composition? Is it because I have ovaries instead of testicles? Is it based in appearance? Here I am, sitting in jeans and a hoodie with no makeup on. I don’t think I look “feminine” today. Yet I retain that quality somehow.

Is it mental then? Is it related to maternal instinct? What of the women for whom motherhood is not instinctive? If this quality is mental (inherent to the way a woman thinks), how does that fit into the assertion that women can behave and perform as well as a man?

Is this quality emotional? I’ve always feared that possibility. People often scoff at females for being overly emotional. I scoff at women for being overly emotional. I hate most chick flicks because they encourage the emotional roller coaster that many women put themselves on.

*If I may take a moment to rant, I have to say that Grey’s Anatomy is one example of the self-imposed emotional overload. Sex, love, affairs, infidelity, flings, drinking binges, putting people’s lives at risk because someone can’t put personal desires aside…

Anyway, if femininity is emotional quality, can something be overly feminine? If an object can be too much or too little of something, is the quality itself inherently neutral?
What about the etymology of the word? WoMan. Is femininity merely a complement to masculinity? (I confess, sometimes I’m nearly convinced of this and it frustrates me. It doesn’t bother me so much that my significance or some essential part of my soul is incomplete or unrealized without the presence of a man; the struggle is that I may be incomplete but he isn’t. If we are both incomplete without each other (here I speak of woman and man as general beings, not any two people specifically), I could see some bigger purpose in that, some design, equality, and intention.

Perhaps that brings me to my final option. I’ve left one possibility for last. What if femininity is spiritual? What if it is a quality of my soul and therefore, part of my ultimate purpose in life? The question that follows is, how does that impact my goals, relationships, role, and desires?

So I cannot define this thing that I am or soon will be: feminine and woman. Even so, I cannot help but desire it and admire it. Perhaps my desire is an element of my femininity. But I confess, when my friend--someone I indeed deem a man himself--spoke of "women," I felt pride. I was proud of this quality and entity that he holds in esteem, of this thing that I have spent my entire life coming into (to whatever degree I have attained it at this point in my life).

This is merely an introduction to the thoughts that concern me regarding my own identity as well as this thing/quality/characteristic that God designed but society has skewed to the point that I no longer understand it. I don't know if I can answer these questions. I don't know what "experts," other women, men, or God think about the answers to these proposals. I may have to content myself with non-answers; maybe I'll even come to the answer by simply discovering what femininity is not. Whatever my odds for success, this is an exploration that is worthy of my time and energy and I think I want to really invest myself in it.

More to come?

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