When you’re not a “real” woman

I remember in my college Psychology classes, discussing the nature vs. nurture debate. Are we born blank slates waiting to be filled or are there inborn things that we will become no matter what?

I think it’s both. There are natural, genetic and God-given parts of us and then there’s input from our environments that impacts the expression of those things.

That’s why I think it’s a bad idea to hold too tightly to stereotypes – especially related to gender. Part of what feeds the current gender debate, in my view, is the hard and fast expectations we have of men and women.

When a man or woman doesn’t seem to live up to the standard, or exhibit the “right” characteristics, we think they are broken.

A boy who is emotional, sensitive, soft spoken, has his masculinity questioned, and today it might be suggested that perhaps he’s not a boy at all.

A girl who’s a tomboy, hates dresses, and likes to climb trees, is seen as exhibiting male behavior.

In both of these cases it could be nature or it could be nurture. It’s hard to parse out what things that are innate and what we’ve learned from our environments, or what we’ve just adapted to.

Why do I care about this? Because I’ve always been a girl who didn’t live up to the stereotype and it’s been hard.

Look at those curls! This is me and my dad, 1977-ish

I was a tomboy as a child, not into dolls at all (except for one that I named after a favorite babysitter), didn’t get into Barbies, preferred G.I. Joe and Transformers. 

I wore jeans and t-shirts and played tackle football with the boys. I was faster and had bigger muscles than some of them, at the time. I loved stupid physical comedy.

I didn’t dream of wedding dresses and plan how that day would play out, as a little girl. Doesn’t mean I didn’t want to get married, I just wasn’t one to daydream about it.

I was messy, disorganized, hated baths and bows in my hair. The messy traveled with me into adulthood. Becoming a homemaker exposed my extreme weakness in that department.

As a mom I had no idea what to do with babies. I’m nurturing in my own way, but in the ways I’m expected to be, not so much. I had no clue how to play with babies and toddlers, but didn’t want to ask because I felt stupid.

I’m a highly emotional person, but very uncomfortable sharing emotional space with people. Especially just one person.

I laugh too loud and still love physical comedy [and, hello, my last post was related to Napoleon Dynamite – who does that?]. I’m not a hugger or squealer, when I see my friends. I do hug but it’s because I’ve learned to, not because it’s my nature.

Isn’t all of that supposed to be programmed onto the X chromosome? If I were a man, those things would be expected and forgiven. It would make me the source of sitcom humor.

But as a woman it leaves me feeling exposed and broken, and a large part of that is the loud expectations of society and the church and books and movies. A woman should be…fill in the blank.

We need to make space for exceptions and redefine what it means to be a woman. And bring back the role of the older woman, who teaches the younger woman how to be a wife and mother.  I think nurture plays a bigger part than we think. I wasn’t raised around babies or young kids, had an older brother and boy neighbors. That probably made a difference for me.

I do think there are some general differences between males and females and the current attempt to erase gender distinctions is asinine, to say the least.

Having said that I think we can broaden our thinking on the spectrum of male and female behavior. And drop the word “should” from the conversation because telling someone they should be something they clearly aren’t is harmful.

I think doing this would cause people to feel safe enough to ask questions, ask for help and look for healing for brokenness – because sometimes we are broken. I know I am, but I’m also wired a certain way. It’s both.

Can we set people free to be themselves?

My counselor has me working on changing the negative narrative I constantly tell myself, replacing it with truth, with what God says.

I’ve decided that part of that will be to stop operating according to shoulds, because who defines that? In matters of morality, we can use should: you should not murder. But in matters of personality and behavior, it doesn’t work so well.

This is me processing out loud. I know I’m not alone in this. God has made each of us and we each reflect him in different ways. I hope we can all learn to relax in that, as we learn to follow Him and become what He wants us to be. Not what the world tells us we should be. 

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