When I was eleven years old, I flailed my reluctant way into womanhood. That year, my mother made me wear bras to school. They were rigid sports bras that gripped me painfully in a constant reminder that I had breasts. In the same year, I got my period and was so distraught that I could only stare into the mirror and sob. I entered womanhood unwillingly, feeling that my body had done something shameful. As I passed through high school, I fought desperately against that shame until I became comfortable with my monthly period, my 36-D chest, and my two X-chromosomes. There was no more guilt. There was no more shame.
Now, at age eighteen, having accepted the mixed realities of my womanhood, having been educated for 12 years at an all-girls school, and having declared myself a feminist, I have come to a starling realization: I believe that my gender is not important.
I was initially shocked by this belief, which seemed to have sprung unbidden from my mind. But as I questioned the belief, I was amazed to find that I could support it with arguments that, unexpectedly, came from the feminist Simone de Beauvoir. As I read her writing, I realized that she had the same belief long before I did.
In her book “The Second Sex,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “Woman is the victim of no mysterious fatality; the peculiarities that identify her as specifically a woman get their importance from the significance placed upon them.” And I believe Simone. I believe that my gender only needs defending because people are attacking it. I believe that I was only ashamed of my physical differences because of the way society characterized those differences. And I believe that single-sex education is only beneficial because both parents and children are conditioned to view developmental differences between boys and girls as divisive. Changes in the way that society views gender will only come when we hold different beliefs about gender. And so I say: I believe that my gender is not important.
I have warmed to my new belief. It no longer scares me. I have realized that when I say, “I am a a woman,” I am not saying anything important about who I am, because I am not in my breasts or my womb. I do not want to have children. I don’t have women’s intuition. My womanhood does not define my humanity. Everything that I believe it is noble to strive for – goodness, peace, justice, truth, love – is all beyond gender, beyond our physical circumstances. And if I have any worth, it is dependent on how I have striven for those immortal ideals. If I have anything like a soul, it is sexless. And If there is such a thing as pure love, it is not written on my second x-chromosome. My gender is not important. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.