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.