Thursday, February 28, 2008

What makes a woman, a woman?

Now that I am in control over my life in regards to where I will be living and what I want to do, I've been doing some thinking. (Being married to an athlete was a tough lifestyle, we lived in 3 cities in 3 years, and from year to year we were never certain where we'd be next. I never felt like I had much control over my future.) I've begun entertaining the idea of getting my PhD--especially if I find myself living in Italy after I finish up my degrees, internships, and licensure (which is at least a year long process from when I return home in May).

I've been thinking, if I do live in Italy (and this is a HUGE "if"), what would I do? I certainly don't speak the language well enough to be giving advice to strangers. Well, lucky for me the University in Lecce has a "doctoratto" program in "psicologia." Doing something like that would accomplish a few things at once. First, and most obvious, it would further my education. Second, it would be a crash course in Italian. And third, it would give me something that was 'mine' when I got here. I would have my own friends and classmates, my own reserach and work. My life would not be reliant on Paolo--and I need that.

This line of thinking got me kind of excited, and I thought..."hmm, what would my thesis/dissertation be about? What am I interested in? What do I wonder about human nature?"

Something I've been thinking about lately is: In a female's mind, what does she believe makes her "a woman?" Aside from the normal, "I can have a baby" or "I have boobs and long hair and wear dresses and uncomfortable pointy shoes" what else defines her as a woman?

Had this question been asked 50 years ago the answers might have been more simple, "being a mother makes me a woman" or "being a wife" or "taking care of the house." And for some, those things are still true today. But for many others, they aren't. So what is it now that defines us as women? Are there any commonalities anymore?

We are a confused species these days, us women. We are plagued with guilt from every angle. If you chose to be a stay-at-home mom, should you be working? If you are a working mom, should you be at home? If you have no desire to ever be a mom, is something wrong with you? If you have no desire to be a wife, are you a lesbian? If you want time to yourself, are you neglectful? If you have a meltdown, are you crazy? If you have a high-powered career, are you a bitch? If you want a man in your life, are you needy? If you don't, are you frigid? If you expect others to pitch in as much as you do, are your expectations waaay to high???

I came up with those examples in as long as it took me to type them. The list goes on and on. We are all so very different, our desires range from one extreme to the other. But there is one common denominator. We've all experienced the feeling of guilt about what we want, or what we choose to do. As humans, we are defined (and judged) by the choices we make, and women today are all making very different choices. So, in regards to my (imaginary) thesis, I started to wonder if there were any underlying themes about what we believe defines us as women.

I thought about myself--how do I define a woman? It me took a lot longer to come up with these answers than it did to come up with the "guilt list." Here are my top three defining qualities: 1) Her complexity 2) Her intuition 3) Her ability to comfort.

Her complexity--I'll use myself as an example. I want to be a wife and a mother. I also want to be a therapist and a world-traveler. I want to be a woman with hobbies, friends and time to herself. I want to write, to learn. I want to be independant, yet I want a partner to take care of me. I want to be able to cry one minute and laugh the next. I don't want to have to sacrifice any of those things while at the same time have the time to enjoy all of them. Is that possible?

Her intution--I believe that many women turn off the little voice inside their heads because what it's telling them is true. They don't want to believe it, so instead they go with what is at face value only to find out later (often the hard way) that their gut/voice/heart was correct. I've learned to trust that voice. It's there for a reason.

Her ability to comfort--This one is kind of more by default. Women inherently know the right thing to say in a difficult situation over a man any day. We are more comfortable dealing with other's pain (according to my studies, both men and women prefer working with female therapists, and this is one of the various reasons why). Whether we are the nurturing type, the tell-it-like-it-is type, or the sympathetic, "let's go shopping and get a drink" type we often know just the right thing to do to help a family member or friend feel better.

I could ask 100 women this same question, and get 100 different answers. Or, quite possibly, I could see some themes emerging. And, if this were a real thesis then I would have to hypothesize about those potential themes and do real research and stuff (blech). I would also have to take cultural differences into consideration (it would be really interesting to see if Italian women would answer differently than American women--my guess, YES.) But since this is just one of the many things that swirls around in my brain as I put off studying Italian a little bit longer, I'm not going to do any of that for the sake of a blog. If this actually comes to fruition, I'll let ya know the findings. In the meantime...

Ladies, what makes you a woman?


bleeding espresso said...

Wow, what a great question. Of course I have to off-the-cuff answer, but I'd definitely say this is worth exploring. And that I want all those things that you want too (simultaneously to boot!) ;)

alittlegirlslargelife said...

Wow! great post maggie! And thanks for the thought prompt (much better than the things that usually fill my mind :)

I'm going to have to think on that for a little bit. ....but, man, the idea of spending a few years studying things like that, doing research, writing, makes me want to join you!!

LvL said...

I think for me it is the way I feel. My feelings are so deep and overwhelming and intense, whether they are for a man or my job or about my favorite baseball team. I can't hide them, and I usually don't want to. And I think the depth of my feelings is what makes me good at the things I do in life or valuable in relationships. I might be "emotional," but I love that emotion drives me and that I am intelligent enough that mot of the time i can harness that emotion to be productive.

Of course, I used to only feel like a woman because I had long hair, but then I cut it now I get manicures.

Maggie said...

Thanks Michelle! If this is something I decide to do, I think I'll add the "Italian v American" dimension. I think a road trip from the South to the North stopping along the way to do interviews would be right up my alley. You game? :)

Jenn, JOIN ME!! Who cares about justice? Italy needs it more than the US. In fact, they are trying to get a candidate for the "dick in my hand" party on the ballot. No Joke. So come help a sister out.

LvL--PERFECT. I feel the same way. It can be my biggest strength and biggest weakness at the same time. But like you said, learning to harness it and use it appropriately definily makes it more often a strenght.

coritaly23 said...

i think a woman is being compassionate, passionate, emotional, and nurturing. after watching my 2 year old daughter grow up next to my 6 year old son, it is undeniable that these traits are innate in women.

but i do agree that you need to check out northern vs southern italy. they are two different worlds (in both men and women). the south is considered by the north to be lazy, and the north is considered by the south to be workaholics. kind of like the US. i always wonder if it's a weather thing. since the south of both countries tends to be warmer, there is more time to relax and enjoy yourself. in the north it's colder and you are always moving to keep yourself warm.

so the northern women tend to be more independent, career-oriented, and less traditional than the southern woman who is very traditional, more likely to stay at home, and make taking care of her philanderous husband and their children her goal in life.

it's a fascinating culture and i wish i could be there with you.

i hope you get this!

Texas Espresso said...

Wow, that is a question worth some thought. Being a woman is very complex isn't it? I think it would be very interesting to compare the answers of American vs. Italian women. I see both American and Italian women struggle with the career/family balance and guilt but Americans seem a little more "settled" in that tug of war. Maybe because our feminist movement came earlier than in Italy so we've been dealing with it longer? or maybe just the culture of the Italian mother's role makes it more difficult for them? maybe it is more out of necessity for American women as the divorce rate/single mother scenario is higher? I am intrigued... and therefore will try to be more perceptive.

Great post!

Tiffany said...

I am studying exactly this at Tantra school in Thailand. We have Sakti group every Sunday...sakti means energy, life force, everything manifested...this group is just for women. Last night we had a presentation from one of the most divine, sexy, powerful, intelligent, humble, beautiful women I have ever met. She makes a study of walking in a crowded room and watching the play between the masculine and feminine. In a way, it has helped her gain qualities of femininity by learning to love and connect with all aspects of sakti. It is said that this energy has 1008 faces. So theoretically, as women, we can manifest in this many ways.
David Deida an author that is most studied and adored by men and women alike in my community, talks about feminine essence (which manifests in men and women). He simplifies it quite a bit and says that a woman, in her feminine is Love. From a spiritual standpoint, he says that we spend most of our lives looking to be filled by the very thing, that once surrendered to, inhabits every ounce of our being. Try it. Try going around one day and just being open in love. It is the most worthwhile 'practice' I have tried so far!

Maggie said...

Corina, I wish you could be here too! And I agree, the south is definitely a little slower on the uptake here. But, I'm kinda liking the change of pace. What's the rush, right? (This attitude changes daily, depending on if the pace is working in my advantage or not). As for the women...basically I look at them and make snap judgements based on their clothes, hair, etc. Ha! Terrible. But I can't talk to anyone (like a normal conversation) yet, so I make up stories about them in my least until I can learn the real ones. :)

Texas Espresso, I definitely think the role of the mother here plays a huge part. It's a fascinating dynamic. In America, as a mother, one tends to feel good when her adult child is independant and can fend for herself. Whereas here, a mother feels good as long as a child relies on her to take care of her. Very different...and has certainly taken some getting used to.

Buddha (aka Stiff), Maybe you ought to write a blog to explain walking around in love. You do have a blog, right? infatti.

Just joshing...ha!! Send some of that open love my way sista. And I'll do the same. Un grandissimo bacio.