What Makes a Woman?

I go back and forth between being a gender essentialist and not.  Sometimes, I believe that men and women are pretty much the same and except for differences so inconsequential as to not matter, but blown out of proportion by ridiculous gender expectations, we are pretty much indistinguishable from one another.

Other times, I believe that there is something grand and mysteriously different between men and women, that our experience as women is and must remain at some level utterly foreign to men.

But, if that’s the case, what, exactly, would it be that would make men so different from us?  What would be the locatable area in which we could begin to look, even if we couldn’t know?

Men often say that they are much more visual creatures than women and if women only understood how men cannot help but respond to visual stimulation.  And yet, I can tell you exactly how pleasing I find the curve of one man’s face, right where the eye socket meets the cheek, at his temple.  Or how impossible I find it to concentrate when men with big, square meaty hands are trying to talk to me.  Or how the ropey muscles in a forearm can stop me short.  Or how I’m convinced that women would be banned from baseball games everywhere if men had any idea how many of us sit there trying to remember to keep our hands above our waists.  And when Rachel Maddow comes on MSNBC?  I’m sorry to tell you, but few women are listening in rapt attention only because she’s brilliant.

We might not talk about how much we’re looking, but, whew, we’re looking and enjoying and thinking, all the time, about what we would do, if only the opportunity presented itself.

So, I’m not buying it.

I don’t know.  It doesn’t seem to me that there’s one universal thing you can point to and say “THAT’s the thing all women share in common.”  We don’t all menstruate.  We don’t all have children.  We don’t all have boobs or for that matter darling boob freckles.  We aren’t all nurturing.  So, what is it?

We know it’s not chromosomal.  We don’t all share two Xs.  Though they don’t make up a huge minority of women, there are women who have three X chromosomes (one in one thousand women), women with just one x chromosome (maybe one in 2500), and XXXX and XXXXX variations (though much much more rare), and there are women with XY chromosomes, both those with Swyer syndrome (where the sex-determining gene on the Y chromosome doesn’t click on and no gonads develop and so the fetus remains female and so then does the person once born) and women with androgen insensitivity (where the testes develop in the abdomen, but because of the androgen insensitivity, the switch over to male doesn’t happen and the woman develops a “normal” body but with testes up in her abdomen instead of ovaries).

And we have some sense that it’s not what a woman looks like.  Even if some of us are uncomfortable believing that a woman could be born with a completely functioning unambiguously male body which she might want to transition out of, I can’t imagine any of us would doubt the word of a person with ambiguous genitalia if she said that she felt like a woman.

So, if it’s not in the behavior and it’s not in the body and it’s not in the chromosomes, where then is it?

I don’t have an answer to that.  I don’t even know where to begin.

Except to say that I think the only choice is to take people at their word about who they say they are.  And remember that the world is always more complicated than we’ve been lead to believe.  And to remember that we are, at heart, just the stories we tell and that all of those stories can be retold in a way that lets us live more comfortably in the world.

(check here for what inspired this post)

Guess that Dog

If you’re not playing “Guess that Dog” over at Say Uncle’s, I feel sorry for you.  Is there any better use of the internet?

See here and here.

I was completely wrong on the first one, but I think I’ve got a solid guess on the second. (Which is actually opposite of how I linked them, because I am a doofus.)

Making a Bag from Bags

Well, this weekend, I was able to get a good jump on the first bag of bags. I think the trick is going to be putting it through a rigerous test once it’s complete, because I’m not sure about the bottom, if the seam is going to hold and I might need to modify how I’m doing that.  Also, the stamping on the bags is not as firmly affixed to the bags as one might hope if one is going to have that stuff passing over her skin repeatedly.

All this, of course, means that I’ve finished the witch’s hat, but keep forgetting to bring it with me up to Mack’s so that he can help me figure out what kind of form I’m going to need so that it holds its shape as it dries after I felt it.

I talked to my cousin J. yesterday and his wife is all wondering what our Grandpa was like and J. says he told her to think of all the things that bother her about my dad, his dad, and our aunt and that should give her a pretty good clue about what Grandpa was like.

Am I getting soft in my old age, America?  Because, yeah, he was a grouchy old absuive jerk.  But he was brilliant and quick-witted and good to people he wasn’t related to.  When he died, the congregation at the funeral was about half African American, because he was the only white guy in the city who would sell black folks insurance.

I don’t know.  You know, it seems like the thing with being dead is that, as time washes over your memory, you get that small, round, hard polish, like river rock, that what remains is the hardest stuff.  And maybe it is true that, at his core, my grandpa was a complete fucker.

But I don’t know.  You know, that weight isn’t his to carry anymore and while I would completely be opposed to revising history to remember him as someone only sweetness and light, it does seem to me that it’s a weird thing we’re doing to ourselves as a family–trying to say that being a member of our family means something great and special while at the same time tracing that family back to the kids and grandkids and great grandkids of a man we’ve all collectively written off as an abuser who did our parents wrong.

You can’t carry both things and move forward.  It’s too much weight.

On a side note, my dad is all upset because he feels that my nephew is disdainful and dismissive of my mom and that his attitude towards women sucks and my dad is disturbed because my brother seems to move through life like women only have one purpose.  And my mom said to my dad “What did you expect would come of how you treated me?”

Which, I have to admit, made me laugh long and hard.  But my mom made her choices, too.

It’s funny.  We were talking about stuff yesterday and I was saying how embarrassed I was at how old I was when I learned that women could have orgasms.  And the person I was talking to was like “Doesn’t that kind of make you angry that your mom didn’t tell you that.”  And I didn’t really have an answer.  I mean, after the disasterous tampon discussion, it didn’t surprise me or seem odd to me that Mom and I didn’t really talk about anything intimate after that.

But I was thinking about it on the way home and I can’t really remember my mom teaching me anything serious.

I don’t know.  I think my mom wanted more from life than she got, but she never seemed to act like she felt like she had any right to expect it.  So, if anything was going to get done in my family, Dad had to do it.

But even that isn’t fair, because my mom has always been the bravest person in our family, too.  The person charged with getting bugs out of the house and catching mice and dealing with the public and just making sure that things happened as they needed to happen.

My dad was always like “You’re not going to do this. [pause] Okay, go ahead.”

And my mom was always like “Oh I’m not sure if you should be doing that.”

And my mom could have walked away at any point and we often, all of us, expected that she would.  Probably thought that she should.  But I think she drew her line at a place she knew my dad would never cross, so she stayed because he would never do the thing she had decided would mean she had to leave.

But the thing is, had she left, he would have gone with her.  In fact, I often thing he was pushing her to leave so that he, too, would have an excuse to leave.

It’s a hard thing being married to a minister.  It’s like a third person in your marriage, and not in the fun way.  And the thing, I think, that’s always been hardest for my immediate family is that my dad felt like he had to be a minister and my mom was never going to be the person to say “Okay, we’re done with this bullshit.”

And that, my friends, I think is the fundimental issue.  At its core, of course, it’s sexist.  My dad could have and should have left the ministry way back when he first realized how much it sucked.  But he could not defy God, conveniently, who was conveniently silent on matters after His initial butting in.  But my mom bears the brunt of the blame for not forcing the issue.  Which is grossly unfair.

I don’t know.  That’s why I think religion is stupid.  You do what you’re told and what do you get for your troubles?  It just seems like a bad deal all around and the response to recognizing it’s a bad deal is just to be told to have more faith, pray more, put yourself on the line more, open yourself up more.

And to what end?

Where was I?

My grandpa.

Was he a fucker?


But aren’t we all?

So, what are you going to do?  I’m tired of fuckers, for sure, but I’m much more tired of good people who are sure of the rightness of their actions, let me tell you.  Give me some uncertainty and some rage at that uncertainty and…

I guess what I’m saying is that we’re all going out one way or another and I would rather burn than be smothered.