How much “what it means to be a woman” is bound up with strength and not feeling fear or pain.Naomi Alderman – The Power
Last week I read a very interesting book by Naomi Alderman, called The Power. This book came recommended to me by one of my friends I’ve known for years. It’s a book where women evolve almost overnight to be able to produce electricity and inflict pain against others. What happens afterwards is a quickly escalating conflict where women have all the power over men.
This book has done an incredible job of turning the power dynamics of gender and sex on its head! What starts with simple things like segregating men in school for their protection, leads to a much larger issue where women take over completely. I must warn you, this book gets VERY dark in spots. So know going in, this isn’t a children’s book.
What is brought to my attention most in this book, is this quote, about “what it means to be a woman”. This is a question asked of trans women on a constant basis when they come out. “Well how do you know you’re a woman?”, “What does being a woman mean to you?” It’s also an extremely hard, if not impossible, question to answer. The reason being, it’s different for every woman.
So many women tie their feelings about what it means to these grand ideas, like motherhood, or being a caretaker for her family. Some women want to shirk their femininity and others still want to prove to the world that women can do “male” things like fix a car or be physically strong. All of these are valid things that a woman might say to themselves, what being a woman is all about.
However, no one asks the assigned female at birth women if they really are a woman just because they are pursuing something male dominated. Or want them to prove that they are actually a woman to someone else. Yet trans people are subjected to this kind of scrutiny all the time. Like somehow our words are less real, less true, than someone who was correctly assigned at birth.
It’s an almost universal struggle for trans people, to prove to society that we are what we say we are. Often, it leads to us being very stereotypically masculine or feminine. Of course then cis people say “you’re just putting on a show, playing the part. You are actually just playing dress up!” For some people, that’s actually true. Butch lesbians exist, queen gay men exist. That holds true for trans people as well.
But if we go down that path, then we get “well you aren’t a woman, look! You’re masculine! Why don’t you just stay a man?” It’s like they’ve forgotten entirely that people can have gender nonconformity! So we get stuck in this no win situation, where if we’re too stereotypical, we get called out, and when we try to break the norms, we also get called out. It’s like us trans people have to walk a non-existent line of what it means to be our gender. That we have to conform to 7 billion unique views of that gender based on who we are talking to at the time.
This kind of thinking doesn’t help anyone. It only serves to be combative and minimize our existence and erase us. People are varied, they always have been. There will always be someone who defies expectations of what your notion of gender is. It shouldn’t be on trans people to hold all the responsibility of falling into your box. It should be you, who makes a bigger box to fit everyone in it.