How much do I hate the phrase “real women”? Ugh. UGH. Real women have curves? Ohrly? So I am not a real woman? Am I a man then? No? SO WHAT AM I? FUCK YOUR GENDER ESSENTIALISM, IT MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE, BECAUSE YOU DENY ANYTHING EXISTS OTHER THAN MALE AND FEMALE. Ok. Sorry. Had to get that particular piece of anger out of the way before I started for real, because there is some self-defeating logic in the gender essentialism of “real woman”.
Warning: if the first paragraph didn’t give it away, this post was written in a haze of post-Nyquil delirium. Is it coherent? No one knows.
So. The concept of a real woman. First of all, I don’t like it when we create false dichotomies. We have enough dichotomies that just naturally crop up in the world and it’s hard enough to keep our lives integrated and whole, so the idea that we need to introduce categories like real and fake just rubs me the wrong way. Very rarely is anything actually fake. More often than not, it’s not trying to be whatever you want it to be. This is particularly true when you’re talking about a construct that you’ve made up out of thin air (I might be willing to concede for example that there’s such a thing as fake meat because we all know what meat is and we all know that veggie alternatives are trying and failing to be meat).
So first and foremost the concept of a real woman is horrifically offensive because it tries to assert that someone else can tell you who and what you are, and that if your experiences don’t match their rules, you are not who or what you think you are and you can’t be part of the woman party. That’s bullshit. No one can tell you what your experience should be. If you identify as a woman then you are a real woman. You don’t need to pass any tests. You don’t need to follow any rules. You just need to exist. If someone else could come up to me and tell me that I’m not a real woman, they erase me and they erase my experiences. No one else knows me better than myself. No one can tell me who or what I am better than I can (unless we’re talking like a very specialized field and an expert…like an awesome baseball player could probably tell you better than I could how good I am at baseball. Answer: very bad). But woman is a very loosely defined concept.
No one agrees on what a woman is. Some people say it’s a vagina having person. Well that’s stupid because trans people and I don’t want to be reduced to my anatomy. Some people say it’s everyone who conforms to a certain set of standards, but those standards are usually arbitrary and different people have conflicting sets of standards. Uh oh. So there really is no objective measure of womanhood. None. Nada. Zippo. So how can anyone else tell me if I’m living up to the grand standard of womanhood? They cannot. If nobody can agree on what a woman is, then why is anyone more of an authority on womanhood than anyone else? Answer: they’re not. Because woman is an identity. We get to build it by being woman rather than trying to live up to some mythic archetype of woman.
If there is no objective, naturally occurring standard of womanhood, then the only reason certain people get to define it in certain ways is because they have power, either social or financial or political. That’s not a very good reason for some people to get the ability to deny your existence and your experiences. And defining certain things as “real” womanhood is extremely damaging to feminism and the idea that we should listen to women and their experiences. It denies us the ability to have choices, to be able to express ourselves in different ways, to have people accept us on our own terms or to hear what we have done and seen. It is gender essentialism at its worst, because not only does it tell you what you should be, it tells you that you are false or fake if you don’t do that: it tries to strip you of reality and existence if you don’t follow what it says. All in all, real women are people who say they are women.