As I am growing up, experiencing more, piling up responsibilities and basically discovering the world without some naive and childish lenses, I am stuck, wondering what being a woman really means in our Western society. The question, as basic and simplistic as it sounds, can be quite complex and relative. With the apparent rise of popularity and awareness gained towards transgender and transsexual, majorly propelled by the media, I have been wondering how transgendered people have affected the concepts of genders in Western culture. Since switching genders is starting to be widely recognized and understood, are we slowly disintegrating the characteristics we have erected centuries ago, determining the differences between males and females? Thus, what does it really mean to be a woman in 2015?
First, let’s talk about the sociological aspect of a woman. For the longest time, the difference between men and women was the gender conforming aspects closely linked to stereotypical assumptions adopted and perversely comprehended by our society. Thus, does it make it adequate to say that a woman is someone who wears makeup, shaves her legs and flaunts gracefully in heels and dresses? No, of course not! While these characteristics might relate to the concept of femininity, they surely cannot determine thoroughly the divergences between both genders. Being a woman appears to be much more than that, making the actual gender identification become even more complex. Therefore, since social behaviors put forth the discrepancies concerning the actual definition of womanhood, can biology helps us?
According to the proper dictionary definition, a woman is “a person bearing two X chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries, and developing at puberty a relatively rounded body and enlarged breasts, and retaining a beardless face; a girl or woman.” Here comes my first problem. In the actual proper biological definition, it is said that a woman “normally” has female genitalia. So does that mean transgender and transsexual aren’t normal? Based on statistics, they surely are not part of the norm and are quite unusual. However, in no case should a minority be considered as irrationally abnormal. Thus, since transgendered people are the actual proof that genitalia and body features cannot determine one’s gender, this biological enunciation is utterly groundless and inadequate in our modern Western society.
Here is a great example of how science and biology cannot fully determine genders in some cases. A few weeks ago, I read a story about a Quebecer called Maude Hubert who was considered an “hermaphrodites baby” since she was born with a penis, one testicle, a uterus and one Fallopian tube. When the baby was born in 1996, the sex was almost impossible to determine based on the equal repartition of male and female organs. However, based on a purely physical and biological analysis and opinions, the doctors have decided to proclaim the baby as a female. She was then baptized Maude Hubert and her male genitalia were completely removed from her body. The problem is, little do these doctors know, she would eventually become a he. Indeed, after spending her entire childhood, trapped in a body she felt did not belong to her, asking desperately her mother when her penis would grow, Miss Hubert decides to present herself publicly as a young boy named Justin. The young lady finally decides to start taking testosterone supplements at the age of 17 years old, in order to become the man she was supposed to be right from the beginning.
I truly believe that since no biological methods can differentiate a female brain from a male brain, it is our society that forms what we understood a woman is. Actually, as young women, we are confronted with various conflicting messages. The media tells us to settle for nothing less than perfection, both in our careers and our appearances, while our society teaches us to be fragile and vulnerable. For people like Jenner who has not lived her entire life, as a woman cannot fully understand the oppression we face everyday through street harassment, sexist joke, inequalities, lack of rights, etc. Not only does he not understand what being a woman really means, but also he will never face the real struggle of a transgendered person who, with financial and personal issues, will never embrace a new gender and will never receive international admiration.
In conclusion, given the fact that so many physical and psychological components are putting in consideration when analyzing the difference between a man and a woman, is it really possible to determine what is exactly womanhood? As long as reproduction will lead to the development of penises and vaginas, we will always be assigned genders at birth, whether it goes with our thoughts or not. But, the perception of genders in a social environment is determines by us only, without any biological or scientific influence. Within these stereotypes of womanhood, if being a woman has so many different definitions, how can we know which one is right?