“What’s the point of living if you don’t have kids!?” I passionately exclaimed as a 10-year-old riding in the car with my mother on the way to school.
I’m not sure what middle school predicament had me contemplating the purpose of life, but, regardless of the catalyst, that exclamation that I blurted out during that car ride has begun to haunt me in my adult life.
Recently, out of my personal grappling with the subject, I asked my mother what being a woman meant to her. I could tell from her long pause that she had never thought about this question before.
After a few moments of ‘ums,’ she finally answered confidently, “It’s great being a woman, because you can be a mother, and that is the greatest thing in the world.” My mother’s answer did not surprise me; she often recalls her love of pregnancy and the joys of motherhood, and, being her daughter, of course, I was flattered by her response.
However, when the flattery wore off, I began to question what this definition meant for someone like me, a female who doesn’t have children and doesn’t think she wants them in the future. (Now you can probably see why I am haunted by my middle school existentialism.)
After this conversation with my mother, I got to thinking: What is womanhood if it’s not motherhood? How can we define womanhood in a way that includes every person who identifies as female: every mother, sister, daughter; every race, religion, sexual orientation; every women, even those who were not born so, yet choose to identify with it? What are we all bound by?
I thought about this for quite some time. I questioned nature versus nurture, the psychological construction associated with biological difference, and our collective history as a gender.
There was a lot to think about and a lot to speculate on, but when it came down to it, I realized that the notion of womanhood has never been stagnant, it is constantly being revisited and revamped.
Womanhood fifty years ago may have been equivalent to motherhood, but now it has expanded to fit our evolution in society, an evolution that came from many revolutions, such as the Suffrage Movement and the Black is Beautiful Movement. Today womanhood means much more than our biological ability to have a child or our socially constructed duty to stay at home and raise our children.
The best way to describe womanhood in America today, is choice. The choice to work. The choice to vote. The choice to marry whomever we’d like. The choice to bare it all on a magazine cover. Although I am inclined to say “the ability” to do these things, womanhood means much more than simply being allowed to do something. It is in our sense of agency, not dictated ability, that we become Woman.
Today, American women have more control over their bodies than ever before. They can decide for themselves whether or not they want to have an abortion, have an at-home birth, have a tubal ligation, use a cervical cap, the patch, the shot, an IUD, a nuvaring, or the pill.
Those people who are born with male biological parts but identify as a female, now have the choice to have a sex-change, and this means wonders for womanhood. In America, we are beautifully redefining what being a woman means, because we are presented with options that help us to become who we want to be and help us to lead the lives that we dreamed of. But now all of this seem to be at risk.
Since Obama left the White House in January, our bodies are now at the hands of a government that sees us inferior. We, as a gender, know this inferiority all too well. We know that the belittling patriarchy is not new to America, however after having eight years of progress for women and other marginalized groups, the backtracking is, to put it extremely mildly, disappointing.
Although we now live in a world where women are able to work and get an education, our bodies are still, after all the work of our ancestors, seen as less than a man’s.
For the skeptics who say that this isn’t true, “it’s 2017, everyone is equal,” I say, “It is 2017, and a woman is still paid less than a man with the same job.”
It is 2017, and “our” justice system is still failing to protect the female body from men, like Brock Turner, who decided that we are too desirable and too drunk not to rape us.
It is 2017, and what we can and cannot do with our uterus is still being regulated by the government, a government which is 80% male; a government which is now run by a 70 year old man, who brags about grabbing women by the pussy, who is actively seeking to repeal VAWA and defund Planned Parenthood, and who has already begun to wage war against our female bodies by removing American funds from any international non-profits and health organizations that present abortion as an option to women.
And so, yes, it is 2017, but we, the women of America, are still being treated as inferior to men, and so we are still fighting for equal rights and treatment in the workplace, the government, the justice system and our communities. We are still combating the never-ending voices of anti-feminists, some of which even belong to other female bodies. We are persisting.
So when the patriarchy roars (and oh, it will roar thunderously under the new President), how do we protect our Womanhood?
First, we educate ourselves. We acknowledge how far we have come and we give thanks to the women who got us here. Then we look ahead and see how far we have left to go. We plan. We execute.
We use our most precious tool, our ability to create sisterhoods, the joining of seemingly disparate women in a bond of understanding.
These sisterhoods must be all-inclusive. They must defy every element that tries to keep us separate, from the media to ego. We defy these elements by engaging in thoughtful dialogue with one another, sharing our stories in order to acknowledge our differences and our similarities.
We listen with an open mind and come to understand that what is right for one woman may not be right for another.
We respect this, despite our egotistic opinions. We respect this because when we condemn another woman for what she chooses to do with her body, we condemn ourselves.
In order to respect, we learn to empathize with one another. Empathy is the key to our sisterhoods, as well as equality and the progression of the human race.
When we do these things, we learn to stand for the whole, not just for the individual or for a particular group. We learn to honor our stories and the stories of our sisters.
This union, these sisterhoods, makes us stronger than ever.
Dear fellow sisters, there will be challenges that we face over the next four years, whether they come directly from the government or from the oppressive voices that it has given rise to in our communities.
If, in the face of these challenges we as women of all kinds, all colors and all religions, unite with the suspension of judgement and a surplus of empathy in celebration of our bodies, our choices, and our differences, we will valiantly show the patriarchy that despite their efforts to make us feel inferior, we are more empowered than ever.