It’s only fair, right? Isn’t it time to examine my own side of the gender gap?
So what makes a woman tick?
Now why is it that when I set myself the task of elaborating on what makes a woman a woman, the first word that popped into my mind was biology. And the second? Chemistry.
Why is it that the phrase “nature versus nurture” popped into my mind next?
Aren’t the facts of our anatomical, biological, chemical (and yes, psychological) selves – our physical selves – as valid for men as for women? And yet while musing on men, I went straight to behavioral differences, to communication issues, to social conundrums in relationship, rather than recognizing what only one reader had the… dare I say it… balls to state.
We are defined, at least in part, by biology.
When I gave birth to sons I immediately realized how different they were from the little girls my friends were raising. All my preconceived notions of nurture outweighing nature went right out the window with… the bath water! Did I suddenly embrace the concept that nurture was irrelevant?
No indeed, but nature is not to be denied.
Women and cycles
When I think of my own womanliness, it is inseparable from a life of monthly cycles, a life determined in some way by childbearing – working to prevent it, then longing for it, then cherishing it, then mourning its passing. And what woman doesn’t recognize her moods and mannerisms that she owes to nature first – and nurture or learned behavior second?
What makes this woman tick?
When I am honest – biology, and chemistry. And then – a passion for language, for learning, for art, for travel, for questioning, for discovery; a profound pleasure in what is carnal and sensual; a ferocity when it comes to protecting my children that seems like, well… the most natural thing in the world.
And maybe it is. Natural, as in nature – not nurture.
My body, myself
Does anyone else remember the groundbreaking “Our Bodies Ourselves” when it first appeared? Best I recall that was the 70s, and at the time, it was remarkable to read the text, see the pictures, learn about our own bodies in ways that our mothers did not discuss and that we, ourselves, were ignorant of.
35 years later, I still define my femininity at least in part by my physical attributes – those I pride myself on, and those which are beginning to fade a bit, as I age. I love the silkiness of my hair, the softness of my womanly body, the way I react – naturally – when an attractive man touches my hand or looks at me in a certain way.
I also define myself by my mothering, and find it sad and ironic that the traces of childbirth on my body are disparaged by both men and women in our culture.
In my woman’s body, in my diminutive stature, in my genetic contours that run in the family, I always knew I would never be a basketball player – which does not mean that women cannot and are not basketball players.
Had I been tall and lean and swift and loved to shoot hoops, we might have a different story.
We are all constrained by the realities of our physical selves – biology, chemistry, genetics. And I know myself to be bounded by biology in the way that all women are – the drive to bear children that is stronger for some of us than others. The biological clock. And there is nothing quite like pregnancy to teach us how fragile we are – and how powerful.
Yet my truest boundaries as a woman remain cultural and societal, even as I maneuver around some and scale others. Even as they go hand in hand with my physical realities. And isn’t that the same for both men and women?
Relationships, cultural factors
I ask myself what makes a man tick for two reasons: to better understand my sons, and more so – as I visualize relationship possibilities. What makes me tick – or any woman – will be general and specific, simple and complex.
As for men, women, and sexuality – I will not grant the blanket statement that men are more sexual than women (not my experience). I will say they are sexual differently. And isn’t that also nature + nurture? I will not grant that men feel things less profoundly then women; I believe they are socialized to express less, and be quicker to anger. Isn’t this also part of our physical make-up?
Being quicker to anger remains a personal trait; I have known men who are slow to express anger, and women who flare up with little instigation. Again – nature, nurture, and whatever pushes our buttons come into play.
Our “whole” selves?
What makes a woman tick?
The answers are as varied as there are women, and yet aren’t we all bound to our rhythms and to whatever and whomever attracts us? Is that nature, nurture, a bit of both?
Even in the light (and shadow) of yesterday’s insightful exploration of masculinity and femininity, wouldn’t the woman taking the spotlight be equally diverse? Both imposing and inviting? Madonna? Whore? Angel? Avenging angel?
I am my biology. I am my chemistry. That often translates into mood and personality. It certainly transforms into desire to love, and sexuality.
I am my learned behaviors, my preferences, my skills and talents which have nothing to do with gender. Yet I recognize that my ability and freedom to express emotions and affection rise out of both biology and social acceptance.
I am the roles I have tried on and not shed, the trappings I have chosen to retain, the troupe of players in all of us to which Bruce alludes in his essay. I am my vision, my voice, my empathy, my dreaming, my tenderness, my capacity, my endurance, my curiosity, my strength. I am my values, my sense of honor, my need for clarity, my comfort with mystery. And more. As are we all.
What makes you tick? How much “you” feels gender-defined?