Subject: female and/or woman
Date: Sun 16 May 1999 - 13:21:01 BST
In a society with rigid gender definitions, is a key part of the definition
of woman "being female?" Yes.
Do women do both things to be more physically attractive, to enhance their
"femaleness," working towards some hypothetical ideal of beauty, and do
things to be more socially attractive, in behaviors and choices? Yes.
Is it easy to tell where socially derived fashion ends and sexually derived
femaleness starts? In a society where gender and sex are hardlinked, no.
If we want to look at "trans" whatever, though, the separation of body from
role, the notion that not everyone with a penis finds it easy to be a "man,"
not everyone with a vagina finds it easy to be a "woman," then looking at
those kinds of issues are key.
Are cultural gender and biological sex separate, even if related?
If they aren't, then the notion of transwhatevers being "really the opposite
sex" is the only possibility. It's birth defects all around. But then we
have to start deciding if fetishists or crossdressers or whatever are really
the opposite sex, and we get into all sorts of messes.
If they are, then we have the challenge of looking at how these forces come
together. For example, is makeup a social sign of individual creativity, or
a response to hegemonic pressure to conform to an idealized female beauty?
If we can find some resolution about makeup, then is cosmetic surgery just an
extension of that, or is there another impetus there?
To me, the distinction between the choices we make which can be made again --
our words, our clothes, our makeup -- and the choices we make which alter
ourselves in some biological way are different. Not everyone will agree with
that, I am sure.
But the question of motivation, for any choice, is the unanswerable question
which needs to be answered. Are we doing it because we believe that it will
express who we are, or because we believe if we just change ourselves in this
way, become more "normative" or "ideal" our life will be better, easier, more
fun? Is it a quest for expression or a quest for social normativity? For
example, do we get thin to be more fit, or do we get thin to be more
normative? What is the cost of that pressure, or is it just a simple choice
For me, the contradiction between trying to be more ideally female and trying
to be more effective as a woman makes sense, though it probably doesn't to
someone who has never faced making the choices of a woman. That's one of the
truths about gender -- unless you have faced the choice of what pumps to wear
in the morning, it's easy not to understand the nuances of the social
discourse which is inherent in expressing a gender role.
For any woman who has seen her femaleness going away, and knows that men on
Viagra may be sexy, but females with sagging skin aren't, this is a very
understandable pressure, the pressure to female for attractiveness, which is
different from becoming womanly. Most 16 year old boys don't mind being
called "sir," but call a 16 year old girl "ma'am" and she is likely to bridle
-- she doesn't want to be womanly yet. This may be incomprehensible to
someone who has not immersed in that pressure, either though narrative or
Are sex and gender the same thing? Is being sexy the same as being
manly/womanly? Is being female the same thing as being a woman?
In transsexuals, is the urge to become female and the urge to become woman
the same thing? Is one required to have the other one? Is the only way to
become a woman to become female? What happens when "sex change" is not
enough, like for transmen?
As Ed Wood put in "Glen Or Glenda," "Those whose sex can be changed, they're
the easy ones. But what of those who so desperately want to be of the
opposite sex yet cannot change their sex?" For balding big boned males over
6 feet, the ability to female is limited.
How, in theory, can we see the power to change role/choices and the power to
change bodies? Can the impetus happen in different ways -- "I femaled
myself, and that helped me make more woman choices," or "As I lived more as a
woman, making woman choices, I felt the desire to female myself."
I believe if one chooses to change your role and change your body, that
doesn't have to mean you see a linkage -- "One can only be a woman if they
are female/femaled" -- it can mean that you only chose to do both for your
It's impossible to dissect how much the desire to change both role and body
comes from socially implanted expectation of linkage, and how much is desire,
but if we talk about them as discrete desires which are often linked, but
don't have to be, then we allow the space for not seeing that heterosexist
linkage as gospel.
Sex and gender. Becoming female, becoming woman. Related but distinct.
It seems useful to me.
-- Most women would rather be pretty than smart because most men can see better than they can think.
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