I have heard the question of “what do women want?” posed as a philosophical consideration, as more of an existential crisis or emergency question, and as just a plain old whiny complaint. For years I was confused by it but today I have an answer, a real answer for anyone who is still asking, who still doesn’t know. First I want to tell you how I got to my answer though. It is an all-American story with lots of violence and a little bit of sex, and I’ve even included a picture of me in a swimsuit right here, taken after I’d gone swimming with friends in Walden Pond – yes, the Walden Pond, this past summer.
I realize this might seem surprising (especially given the sexy blog content you have just viewed), but for years I secretly figured I should have been born a guy. I based this on what I now see were largely external and pretty arbitrary factors.
My brothers often teased that I was “kinda manly,” and that I was “the closest thing to an older brother” that they had. Considering the sister next in age was thin, blonde, and into dolls, while I was building forts, playing with mud pies, reading books, and beating up my brothers, I could see where they were coming from and figured perhaps they were right. After all, I loved the smell of cut grass while mowing the lawn. I hated changing dirty diapers. I even detested that newborn baby infant smell everyone else swore was “sweet.”
When I got to the age where my brothers became physically stronger than me though, I was sad. I felt like I’d lost, like I’d been left out. I now had the worst of both worlds. I didn’t recognize that it was being forced into a narrow and oppressive gender role that oriented me this way. I imagined I must have just been wired wrong. By utilizing a “might makes right” attitude, and by shoving me toward some boxed-in ideal of hyperfemininity, my family had suppressed my desire to be feminine at all. I despised the concept.
I cried angry tears when I grew breasts as a girl. “If anyone had asked me if I wanted these, I’d have said no,” I told my flat-chested and slightly jealous sister. I wore clothes that I thought hid my shape. That was parentally encouraged, but having any recognition or real understanding of what it was I was hiding wasn’t. After all, my sexuality didn’t belong to me and it wasn’t supposed to exist until I was given permission for it to.
When, a couple years after discovering what orgasms were, I learned from watching a movie that they actually had a name and were something to be shared during sex, I sadly expected that it was likely I’d go through life never knowing what that was like. I didn’t match the desired pattern. Even the boys I had secret crushes on professed interest in my thin, blonde sister.
I bought into the patriarchal story that all women were more or less all supposed to be about the same, only distinguishable by facial features, weight, and hair color. For years I also believed that the question of what women want was a real question with a real answer, that being female actually meant you were all supposed to want one thing, one secret confusing thing.
When male friends asked me what women wanted, hoping for tips on how to catch one of those beautiful creatures, I said I had no idea and I felt bad that I had no idea. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t woman enough to be somehow let in on this secret of what women want. If so many guys asked, there had to be an answer and because I didn’t know it, it was one more reason I couldn’t play the game myself. I was too different, not like most girls. I was nobody’s exotic muse.
I looked at my body and saw a shameful sort of strength mixed with a lot of flabby big-boned weakness. I never wore less than size 10 jeans when my sister and her friends wore two’s and zero’s and openly considered size six to be huge. I was not particularly proud that in the high school gym I had lifted bigger weights than any girl in my PE class, or that I had been second runner up in the girls side of a French club vs. Spanish club arm wrestling tournament, losing to a girl who was preparing to join the army come spring.
Those were accomplishments that showed how I just didn’t fit in with what I was supposed to be. They showcased undeniably useful skills though, which is why I appreciated them despite the shame. I wasn’t nearly as physically powerful as my Dad and never expected I would be, but I often fought back violently when he attacked and when those times came, when I needed to, I was immensely glad to be a bit stronger than the average girl. I wished I could have just swelled up like the Hulk and pounded him into the ground. At those times it was my “feminine side” that I hated, that I wished didn’t exist. There’s nothing worse than involuntarily shedding tears in front of someone who has mistreated you, knowing you will get only false sympathy or none at all, knowing that crying is seen as a sign that you have lost, admitted defeat.
Thing is, after escaping that environment, I began to realize that my core concepts of femininity and masculinity had been seriously skewed by this extreme patriarchal culture. It was when I started to explore who I really was that I discovered I was definitely a woman. It wasn’t finally embracing lace or pink ribbons or frills or wanting to wear twin sets or pearls or hold babies that made me feel feminine. It took doing something I was not supposed to do to connect with it.
I had fallen in love with a tall, quiet, blue-eyed soccer player who, inexplicably, loved me back. We hadn’t started having sex yet but were headed in that direction. In my new bedroom that I had all to myself at age 17, hit by a moment of impulsive bravery, I took off my clothes and stood in front of my 16 year old boyfriend in only bra and panties. His jaw dropped. He reached out his hand and touched my hips, my waist, and ran his fingers over my belly, around my belly button. I felt charged with electricity.
“You are so beautiful,” he said. “So so beautiful. I never expected to be loved by someone so strong and wonderful, soft and beautiful.” I looked into his eyes and then to where his hand touched me, trying to see what he saw. It worked, and it both shocked and thrilled me. My body suddenly looked different to me. What I had seen before, a disturbing pile of flesh, stronger and bulkier than my thin mother or any of my sisters, melted away. I saw my body through his eyes and realized I had never appreciated the full extent of what it was. I had been taught not to.
It took loving and being loved in return to break that spell, to realize I was a real woman, that my desire to fight and have strength, my urge to cry, and all my curiosity and desire were always supposed to be there. It was in being told that some of these traits were not supposed to be mine, not supposed to belong to my gender, that had left me confused. How could I have ever been sure of what I wanted when I didn’t even know what I was?
I realized I was not some creature who had broken or ruined her delicate femininity by questioning some role. I had grown an hourglass figure, strong and powerfully feminine, and it was mine, it matched with who I was. It must have been there for some time although I’d never seen it before.
Turns out I had actually known the answer to that silly question of what women want all along. The answer is that it’s a faulty question, and it’s the mindset behind such a question itself that leaves you lonely. Someone just wanting to use a woman’s body to scratch a biological itch or display sexual prowess in front of others will be disappointed, disconnected.
People are complex and difficult and yet most are approachable, relatable, if you are genuine in your quest to relate. Beauty and conceptions of it are diverse. The spectrum of men and women in this world is broad. Different ones want different things, but we all want love, respect, and to be free to be who we are.
Love this. I experienced almost the exact same thing, and I thought I was asexual so to speak. ugh, harmful teaching. curious, do you think there is white nationalism mixed in there? a deliberate overpowering of women, you know?
Thanks Lana, glad I was able to write on a topic that mattered. 🙂 After I posted it, I was like “omg, did I just post a picture of myself in a swimsuit and talk about orgasms? Did I really just do that?!,” but I figured it needed to be said.
I think it’s pretty crazy that some of the people who are most freaked out by ambiguous gender are actually helping cause gender confusion in places that it otherwise might not exist by being so rigid and unrealistic.
I definitely think there is a deliberate overpowering of women (Quiverfull is a knee-jerk reaction against feminism), and I think it can go with white nationalism but doesn’t have to. I read a fascinating article (wish I remembered exactly where) on the “colonization” of women and children being some of the last vestiges of white male ownership in the formerly slaveholding south. It made a lot of sense as a pattern.
I honestly don’t know much about the more racist side of the Quiverfull movement, with the slavery apologism and ideas on “outbreeding” people of color, because my parents didn’t subscribe to that stuff. My Dad got into fundamentalism through a black inner-city pastor, and living in a lower middle class neighborhood in New Orleans we were some of the only white kids there.
interesting. Maybe because of where you lived? I grew up in the South, too, but there was only one African American family in our large homeschool group, and they were not quiverfull. My dad recently told me that if for no other reason, sheltering your kids from public school so they don’t date and later marry an African American is a good one. He says its not because of the skin (rather the culture).
and your post is on No Longer Qivering too,:)
I wonder how to tease apart what’s southern, what’s generational, and what’s homeschool culture on the issue of race? I think my parents mainly had this idea that all cultures outside of the narrow one they had adopted were immoral.
Our small homeschoolers group was all white people if I remember correctly, but one of the large homeschooling families we spent the most time with was interracial, and my Dad once said that he was okay with interracial marriage sometimes – that it was lack of faith or loose morals that would be a deal breaker. He did seem to think the last one was more of an issue with black people though.
I honestly found people more inclined to say obnoxious race-related things in public high school, and both sets of my grandparents, who were less conservative than my parents on just about everything else, disapproved of interracial relationships.
When I liked a Creole boy in high school my Dad didn’t like him, but it wasn’t any more or less dislike than he had for any other guy I knew.
I just read this and I think it helps put together some of those puzzle pieces you were referring to. The phrase “unequally yoked” jumped out at me. Pretty sure I heard it used to describe both interfaith and interracial marriages…
I know what this is like… I grew up in the patriarchy movement AND in the South, so being “ladylike” was– well, a huge deal. And I never fit the mold. I had women yelling at me my entire life to be more genteel, more delicate, and I just couldn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of myself as more guy than girl.
And, it wasn’t until I fell in love that I ever felt womanly and beautiful. We had taken our clothes off, and he turned me to face the mirror. I hunched over, desperately trying to hide, and
avoided looking at myself. He told me to look at him, and I did, and, suddenly… I could see how beautiful I was to him. When I looked at myself, I could see what he saw. It took me a while before I could do that on my own, but it’s incredible, not to be so ashamed.
Yeah, I’m a southern girl too. I’m sure that played a part as well. I imagine if I’d had this experience with a guy who saw my body as a piece of meat or a series of steps to be conquered it would just have reinforced all my confusion instead of helping settle it. I guess we are both lucky that we had something different. 🙂
This is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. And I thank you for sharing so honestly. Your words have much power to heal, and connect.
Recently my sister told me of having felt the same way about her body growing up. She was afraid, and hid it beneath boys clothes. I’d never had quite the same body issues, I was eager to grow into a woman, but I did have boy issues. My tweenage evangelical sex education had taught me that boys were sex-crazed, ruthless perverts, and that my virginity was to be guarded carefully, because losing it out of wedlock would bring all sorts of heartbreak and destruction. And besides, guys wanted to marry virgins.
In my isolation, I didn’t really know better than to believe them about the nature of boys (I didn’t think much of saving my virginity for one of those hypocritical players, though, haha).
Looking back, I do not understand the evangelical fear-mongering and obsession with control over individuals’ sexual behavior. =/
My first sexual experience, sadly, was with a boy who saw my body before he saw me. Even so, we became good friends, and he taught me that boys were not as one-dimensionally psychopathic as I had feared.
I’m now with the sweetest man I have ever known, and he has shown me more love and respect than I’ve experienced anywhere else. I’ve found what you say to be true. Love heals. Respect heals. Together, they allow us to accept our own beauty and worth, which is exactly what every one of us needs.