What if I told you that what is feminine and what is masculine is completely made up by your culture?
If you’re a cradle Catholic reading this you might write me off as a heretic. I used to believe that I was born with feminine qualities as well. But, this belief in a feminine or masculine identity and using those qualities to define our male and female sex is exactly what is destroying our culture. Do you not feel like a woman? Well being a woman isn’t about feelings. You are a woman because you were born that way. Femininity or masculinity, on the other hand, is up to you, to us, to define.
Let me clarify something before we continue. When I speak of femininity and masculinity I refer to gender. When I refer to male and female I refer to sex. The two are not same. Gender is different than sex. Sex is a biological term. On the level of chromosomes, if you have Y Chromosome you are male. If not you are female. Gender on the other hand is the way we speak about qualities of the sexes.
What are these feminine and masculine qualities? As a passing point, Alice von Hildebrand says in The Privilege of Being a Woman, “It is our (feminine) heart which is vulnerable and, therefore, makes us realize our weakness, which is distasteful to masculine pride.” (2)
The heart, and emotions, she seems to assign as feminine. Pride on the other hand is attributed as masculine. With the first, you might be nodding your heads. Men don’t have feelings. With the second, I can tell you right now as a woman that I have a whole lot of pride. There is nothing exclusive to the male sex about pride. The same I believe applies to the heart. The heart is not only present in women. Men too have affective responses. It is our cultural interpretation of these human qualities that has isolated them within a particular sex.
I do not believe that von Hildebrand was suggesting that women are those only capable of feeling. Rather, I think she was highlighting one of our greatest natural strengths. There is a truth behind our cultural assignment of feelings with women. Not because it is specific to our sex, but I would argue because it comes more naturally to women in general.
As a human person I am an embodied knower. As a person, I experience the world through my body and its’ five senses. My sex is made manifest through my body. When I was born the nurses and doctors were able to say “It’s a girl!” because of my body. I depend on my female body to know the world. Because I was begotten as a woman, I am a woman. My soul became incarnate in and through my body. They together make me, me.
I know that my body is different from a man.
I know that I have experienced “masculine” traits. Pride for one. Rationality for another (Thanks, Aristotle).
My female body tells me that physically I am receptive and nutritive. Through the union of man and woman I am able to generate new life. This doesn’t discredit my rational capacity. However, a man will never be able become pregnant or know what that is like. Sometimes we look at this capacity as a source of pride and other times we try to hide it. With it, we try to hide the feminine qualities that naturally flow from it. I say naturally because it is a quality we are born with by the virtue of our bodies. We can choose to flex that muscle or not. As a child we are given toys that reflect our sex. A young girl is given baby dolls and plays house with her friends. A boy on the other hand is given a toy tool set and is put outside to conquer the world with swords. These are encourage our culturally define representation of sex, gender. My sister hated playing with dolls. I hated playing with dolls. They were stuffed pieces of fabric and didn’t do too much. I would much rather have been outside building a fort.
This does not diminish the fact that I have a woman's body that comes with the ability to receive and nurture. These traits come more naturally to me as a woman because my body reveals them to myself and informs my soul. In choosing to hide them, I think that we choose to hide our greatest strength and our greatest gift to the world.
It’s true: I am a woman with a strange mix of masculine and feminine qualities. You will never find a woman quite like me. There will never be a woman quite like you. We are each our own strange concoction of what our culture is attempting to classify as masculine and feminine. You are no less a woman because you enjoy playing sports. You are no less a woman if you don’t like ballet.
The human race is built of males and females. Together we are fruitful. Together we are complete.
Embrace your uniqueness. Don’t attempt to hide “feminine” or “masculine” qualities. There is no war between the two; they complement one another. Your sex is not determined by your gender. Stand strong when the culture tells you were born into the wrong body. Don’t listen if the world tries to tell you that you are not a woman because you don’t meet some culturally given set of “feminine qualities.” Your qualities of gender do not define whether you are a woman or not. You are a woman because you are you.
(1) Image one
(2) Alice von Hildebrand. The Privilege of being a Woman. Pg. 73
(3) Image Two
(4) Image Three