Lately I joined a feminist writers’ group, and the conversation drifted – as it does – towards the crucial topic of What is a Woman? I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets here if I say that opinions differed. We’re all women, we know we’re women – but how do we know you’re a woman?
- Generally, a woman has two XX chromosomes, resulting in (among other things) a vagina, tits, and the capacity (in theory) to give birth to live young. Ok….but suppose you’re infertile (I’m not joking – that makes lots of women feel ‘unwomanly’) or, more controversially, you don’t have the chromosomes or equipment but you still ‘feel’ like a woman? What then?
- You’re brighter than your male partner (if you’ve got one). I know, it sounds sexist. It IS sexist. Put it down to my currently single and sour outlook on life. But look at it this way, it’s just evolution. Hunting is pretty straightforward – you need brawn. Juggling relationships in the tribe so you and your kids end up with enough steak on your fork, that takes brains.
- You often want to kill people, but you rarely do. This might be just a function of culturally-induced sissiness, but women can generally think of a number of options before they thump you. Sulk, overcook the steak, max out your credit card, sleep with your best friend…only once all this has failed will a true woman resort to violence, and then, it’s usually poison. Poisoned people don’t thump you back.
- You have an acute sense of priorities. A man will give himself a heart attack in the pursuit of status, he’ll dump his babies (if necessary) in 23 hour a day childcare (often called a ‘stay-at-home mum’) in order to one day sit at the head of the conference table. A woman will at least weigh it up first.
- At times, you’ll pretend you can’t do things, so that someone else will do them. Like changing tyres, inspecting rat-infested roof cavities and mucking around under engines. This is called Strategic Helplessness, and it’s double-edged (see below).
- At times, other people will pretend you can’t do things. Personally, I think this is a way of spiking the competition (see 2). A woman can’t manage a farm on her own, go to bars unattended, sleep with men on the first date, or run a country. When asked why, they will say ‘it’s the system’. Sometimes, a real woman will say ‘fuck the system’.
- You’ll be tempted to get whatever painful and humiliating treatment is currently prescribed for people who want to be Totally Feminine. In one of these episodes, I once got a bikini wax. Sometimes, you will see these temptations for what they are – a distraction from the fact that you don’t need to do anything at all to be female. You just are.
- At times, you’ll find yourself according a superficial respect to the male of the species ‘oh, dear me, you must know a lot! how strong you are!’ while simultaneously thinking ‘what a dickhead. Wonder if he’ll offer to pay?’ Sometimes, you’ll cast aside this ploy and be called a ‘ball-breaker’.
- You’ll be told (by people who want your money) that shoes are your consuming passion. Sometimes, you’ll give in and get a pair. They will cripple you for life, and it will serve you right.
- You’ll believe that a woman has to be pretty, witty, sweet and sexy to get herself a man. You’ll eventually realise that men are as easy to catch as nits,. Sometimes, you’ll decide you don’t want one anyway (see 2), and sometimes, this will be because you are gay. Sometimes, it won’t.
Where do you stand on the woman question? Is the above a load of sexist drivel? To be honest, I look forward to the day when the quintessential marker of being a woman is bravery, self-reliance, competence and spit-in-your-eye toughness…
And – speaking of the ability to have kids – here’s my latest song on Rose Sings Badly (a celebration of my beautiful live young).