Defining womanhood is a great challenge in our day. Our children are exposed to differing concepts of gender early, shaping how they are growing up and thinking about their own sexuality. They are hearing conflicting messages about males and females being interchangeable and gender being maleable. Beyond the rejection of God and his created order, I would argue that strong stereotyping has done us huge disservice and is, at least superficially, one of the main culprits for our gender insecurities.
“What does it mean to be girl?”
My daughter’s question was straightforward enough, but it caught me off guard and I fumbled around in my thoughts and my words. If you are anything like me, I imagine you too would struggle to give a simple answer that would satisfy the curiosity of a child.Would your definition span history and cultures? Would you tell her that the differences between boys and girls are merely biological? The more one tries to narrow the definition, the harder it gets. And yet the answer to this question is of paramount importance in light of the current state of confusion surrounding the topic of gender. Some would answer that despite anatomical differences, girls and boys are basically the same. Others would want to focus on the differences, assigning certain qualities to one gender or the other. Others still might question the concept of gender altogether, dismissing the universal binary for a sliding scale.
Defining womanhood is a great challenge in our day. Our children are exposed to differing concepts of gender early, shaping how they are growing up and thinking about their own sexuality. They are hearing conflicting messages about males and females being interchangeable and gender being maleable. Beyond the rejection of God and his created order, I would argue that strong stereotyping has done us huge disservice and is, at least superficially, one of the main culprits for our gender insecurities. If a young girl prefers stereotypical male activities, such as mechanics or building, and parents and peers try to steer her away from those interests, or worse, belittle her for having them, it is natural for the child to assume one or both of two propositions. One, it is wrong for me as a girl to be interested in boy activities. Two, if I am drawn to so-called boy activities and feel more comfortable with the boys, maybe I’m not truly a girl. The feminist movement, on the one hand, has focused its efforts on debunking the lie of the former. There is nothing a girl cannot do! The transgender movement on the other hand is rooted in the subjective truth of the latter. A girl is not necessarily a girl. Since the perception of gender is shifting from objective to subjective, the transgender movement capitalizes on that fluidity to promise that such a self-transformation is not only possible, it is in fact desirable. But neither the “you can do it all” slogan nor the “you can challenge your biology” mantra is helping young adults wrestle with their gendered identity in a constructive way. Both lead to much disappointment, frustration and pain.
As you can probably deduce for yourself, another layer of confusion is introduced as the transgender movement collides head-on with feminism. Classical feminism is the championing of women based on the notions of objective equality and self-determination. But this kind of feminism is being stretched to include as a part of self-determination anyone who feels she or he is a woman. In the last few years, an intense debate raged at my Alma Mater, a women’s college, as to whom would be granted admission. Is a male applicant who claims to be a woman considered a woman just because he says so? The college ended up changing their admission policy in spite of much opposition. “I think it’s a step forward, one that’s long overdue,” said Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “If they say they’re women, then saying that they can’t attend is denying their identities and marginalizing them.” Transgenderism and feminism have also come to loggerheads in the world of sports in which biological women are crying foul.The only place the feminist and the transgender thought intersect is in the notion of an inalienable subjective man- or woman-made identity. Take it away, and their common ground crumbles. The question of “what is a woman?” is therefore first and foremost a question of human identity before it is one of sexuality. Before we can answer the question about womanhood, we need to ask the question about human identity and who gets to define it. Is it determined by each individual’s authoritative self-perception or by something greater and outside of the self? C.S. Lewis once said: “The question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.”