What is the best thing about being a woman?
This is a question that I have a weak, and fairly inconclusive answer to. Mostly, I’m left wondering the same thing: What is the best thing about being a woman? It’s not that my lack of an answer stems from the belief that women have nothing of value to offer, or that in and of themselves, there is nothing inherently great about being a woman. But what is it that distinguishes and defines the female sex on such a level?
Is it the things that we as women can do that men can’t?
People often laud childbirth, and the distinctiveness of the female form as the reason that females trump the sex card. Or perhaps it is our monthly period that gives us this distinction because we are excused from acting like total monsters for a week out of every month. But is this really the best thing about being a woman? Are we saying that our lives are only significant during the short nine months of pregnancy, and then perhaps for the remaining child rearing years? Do our lives need excuses to justify our existence? It seems an unfortunate declaration to say that our worth is dependent upon the creation of another human being, or a contrived reason. It suggests that in and of ourselves, we are not enough. Though I too am wowed by the miracles of the female body, and think raising one’s children well is a noble pursuit, I’m not sure that this is the best thing about being a woman, though it is unique to the female body.
Is it what society conditions and allows us to be?
Studies show that men and women grow up in very different worlds. From the time a baby is first held, girls will be coddled and cooed over more than males, and both genders are given guidelines for who they “should” be. For instance, as women we are often dismissed as silly, frivolous types with small minds, love crazy hearts, and sentimentalist attitudes, but we are also allowed to be this way. Though I think this a negative and ignorant dismissal, I also feel that there is something nice about a woman’s allowance to explore a side of humanity that men are little afforded. The best way I’ve heard it put, is in a quote by Zooey Deschanel that reads as follows:
Though I do appreciate tenderness, I don’t identify this characteristic with womanhood alone. I think it’s unfortunate that men aren’t afforded the same opportunity to be “soft” or “tender” so I must reject that this is the best thing about being a woman, because I don’t feel that it is gender specific.
Similarly, is it the roles we can fall into without consequence, or defy and be praised for?
It’s the typical underdog win-win situation: If the underdog loses, they fulfill an expected reality and don’t receive criticism for their performance. However, should the underdog win, they will be loftily praised. Though I hate to perpetuate stereotypes, because I believe that a woman can be anything and anyone she wants to be, it is nice that should a woman (no matter how progressive and feminist) want to engage in traditionally feminine pursuits (Stay-At-Home Mom, Seamstress, Baker, etc.) she CAN without being chastised or heavily scrutinized by society. At the same time, when a woman seeks to pursue a traditionally unfeminine role (CEO, President, Entrepreneur, etc.) she CAN! Though she faces many obstacles, she will most likely be lauded for her efforts.
Appreciating this perspective however, comes at a price when considering the reverse. If this is truly a positive aspect of being a woman, then what does it say for men? Men are the prospective winners society places their bets on. If women are in a win-win position, this sets men up for lose-lose prospects. Men are still expected to hold the office of CEO, and President, but should a man pursue an occupation considered traditionally feminine, such as being a “manny” (male nanny) or a Mr. Mom he may draw heavy criticism from society. Claims that such a man isn’t a “real man” are tossed around insensitively. Additional levels of insult are callously added with the claim that such men are “gay,” a separate issue entirely, but worth consideration because our society uses the word inappropriately as an insult.
I struggle to know, if, in my contemplation of this question, I have come across a personal weakness. Perhaps I am trying to avoid controversy in my eventual career choices, or possess an irrational desire to be accepted. I am forced to reject the notion that this leeway is the best thing about being female, when considering the male perspective. It’s not appropriate to punish men in this way. What’s more, this appears to be a fundamental societal flaw, separate from the issue of what is best about being a woman.
I’m not completely disillusioned about the greatness of being a woman; there remain thousands of factors working against women today. Some commonly discussed struggles include the glass ceiling, pay differentials, sexual harassment, and the objectification of women. I care deeply about these issues, but also know that as a group, we are no longer being ignored, and we have momentum. Each country possesses its own social standards towards women, some far more progressive than others, and some surprising when considering the “third world countries” that have women in places of power. Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Ecuador have all had women serve as president, while the US has yet to achieve this gender equality within politics, but ironically Latin America remains a machismo society. Ultimately however, while sexism still exists, we cannot overplay our part as victims.
Another observation affecting my decision is that as individual groups, I feel that men and women pit each other against themselves in an “Us vs. Them” dichotomy that goes too far. I have never identified as a woman amongst women, I feel no solidarity towards others by virtue of sharing gender alone. However, I do undeniably belong to a category of women. I’m not trying to make an argument that men and women are equal in all capacities; at least physically they can never be equal. And in feats of physical achievement, the same is true; the fastest man will always be faster than the fastest woman. However, when asked the question what is best about being a woman, I don’t feel that there is a unified group response. I feel that the best thing about being a woman is decided by the individual. What makes me a woman doesn't mean that the next woman to come along will agree. What is so great about being a woman, is the individual opportunities I have been afforded in society to feel that I am not simply a woman, but a friend, a daughter, a writer, etc.