I am not transgender. I was born in a female body and feel no dysphoria, no desire to make any kind of physical transformation. Now that I have grown up in and lived in this body, I have come to love it and think of it as home — even if I sometimes catch photos of it in unflattering angles and wish that it were a bit smaller, a bit more aesthetically pleasing. I do not wish I were a man in the physical sense; I wouldn’t know what to do with a penis or heavy facial hair or the expectation to build muscular definition. But I do wish that I were able to experience what it is like to be a man in the societal sense, to move around in a world that was, in many ways, built on the assumption that I am an individual — one who is allowed to construct his own value and not have it printed on his forehead from the time we are able to determine how attractive he is.
In truth, I love being a woman. The fact that I am able to create and sustain life is an incredible thing, something I feel profoundly grateful for. I enjoy many things which have typically been considered feminine, and I have always felt proud in my decision to embrace them. I enjoy all things femme, and appreciate all that is wonderful about being a woman. I want the definition of woman to be expanded in all directions, allowed to encompass every expression of femininity that one could possibly come up with. I want it to be an umbrella under which all are welcome, because there is no reason it shouldn’t be. And I love being under that umbrella myself — I am proud to be a woman.
But it is hard not to see, in daily life, where being a woman is deeply frustrating. Everywhere from Seth MacFarlane’s misogynist Oscar-hosting schtick to the offhanded comment of a young woman throwing all other women under the bus to make herself a more appealing candidate for male affection, there seems to be a real premium on hating us. I hate the way we go after Taylor Swift with far more vigor than we do any host of grown men who make terribly sexist commentary in their music. I hate the way we deem it acceptable to trash Lena Dunham’s body when making a criticism about her opinions or her work as an artist. I hate the way endless reality shows perform their best when adult women are going at each other with claws fully bared, ready to rip the flesh off one another’s emotional bones to come out the most universally adored cast member.
The truth is simply that as a woman, people are predisposed to listening less. They come into the conversation with a host of notions about what your sex (something shared with over half of the world’s population, mind you) is supposed to say about you. You are supposed to be soft, to be compliant, to be demure, to be understanding, to be shy. And as you move into professional spheres — when you are navigating life as an adult who is free of parental aid and the safe haven of educational institutions — you realize more every day that you are simply treated differently. You get comments about “doing well for a woman,” or “not being like other women,” as though that could possibly mean anything when there are so many of us. You are told that you are a bitch when you display confidence or an unwillingness to be walked over. And a call-out for behavior that might hurt someone else is always wrapped in gendered language, because the accusation can never be about you as a person. It has to be about you as a woman.
Personally speaking, I never used to consider what it means to be a man or a woman. I feel lucky in that I was able to exist for most of my life without much of a concept of gender, that I rarely felt that I was treated differently based on sex. I even dismissed feminism as reactionary, and looking for problems that ultimately have no solution. But the issue is so much deeper than taking umbrage with a TV host’s sexist jokes or not wanting to be referred to as a female dog in the workplace. It comes down to what it means to be constantly defined by your gender. You simply begin to understand that you will have to work harder to get the same level of respect or recognition, because you are walking into the room surrounded by a cloud of judgments about what you are capable of. Your successes and failures are never isolated incidents, they are always able to be pinned on your being a woman. The punishment is always swifter, more severe, more humiliating.
When we call out women for being jealous of each other, or putting each other down, or being hard on one another, it is worth considering that this seeming cruelty is often not randomly spawned because the Taylor Swifts or Jenna Marbles of the world are inherently mean people. It is important to look at their lives, to see that they have most likely been praised countless times for not being like other women, for being better in some way, for proving themselves in spite of their sex. Just like the reality TV producers who whisper negative things about fellow female cast members when one star is in the confessional, these women have been living in a pressure cooker of resentment about themselves and who they are up against. When one woman fails, we are all trained to take it as a black mark on ourselves as well. When another succeeds, we feel that it is one fewer chance for us to do the same.
I wish I were a man, just for a day. I would like to see what it feels like, because I’m genuinely curious. I don’t imagine that my life would be perfect, just as I don’t feel that my successes in life will be forever inhibited by my own gender. But it would be nice to feel that what I do or do not accomplish, the paths I choose and the things I say, were judged on who I am as an individual. It would be nice to hear compliments that don’t often come at the expense of everyone else of my gender who does not exhibit said qualities. I would like to go into a meeting or present a project and not feel that people are holding their breath and waiting to judge me to a just-slightly-lower standard. Because although I live a life which is by all counts filled with privilege and luck and happiness, I doubt I will reach a day where I do not hear at least one comment that is in some way based on my gender. And as long as men aren’t hearing “I don’t usually like male writers, but you’re okay,” or “Ugh, you’re such a whiny bitch, men really complain about everything,” I would like to know what that is like.