Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

@kraken_syllabub has just posted a Twitter essay about gender and the ways in which the notion of masculinity continues to privilege cis-male existence.

A lot of the writing is about the experience of being transgender, and the fact that cis men are allowed to explore and experiment with masculine identities in ways which other people are not. The tweet which stood out to me as summing this up beautifully was this one:

I found the essay fascinating and thought-provoking, and I’m also acutely aware that the experience of being trans is not mine to discuss. It is very much my area to listen and learn and try to understand, and I would recommend that anyone with similar interests follow the link above. In the meantime, one little tangent in the middle did resonate with me, and set my mind a-pondering, and it was this:

We – women, feminists, society – have done a lot of thinking and talking over the last decades about what it means to be a woman. What it means to become a woman is somehow a different question.

When I hear someone say that a girl is ‘becoming a woman’, I hear softness and curves and fertility, permission and access and vulnerability. I hear physicality and sexuality.

When I hear someone say that a boy is ‘becoming a man’, I hear responsibility and resilience, power and choice. I hear a societal role and social expectations.

Toxic masculinity and… visible, invisible femininity? There is a set of social expectations around womanhood (nurture and domesticity, career paths and ‘having it all’, make-up and heels and acceptable presentation and emotional labour and and and….), but when we talk about ‘becoming a woman’, we mean (in general) physical puberty.

This feels wrong, and unbalanced, and I wonder what is being missed – for girls, in rites of passage and role modelling and supportive, empowering guidance, and for boys, in gentleness and understanding and education to support that subtle, terrifying period of physical change.

I don’t know what to do. I do know that with my own children, I have always been careful to talk about ‘when you grow up’, ‘when you’re an adult’ rather than using gendered language, but maybe I need to go further in the other direction. Maybe I need to talk to my children, my friends, my counselling clients about ‘becoming a man’ through physical changes and developing sexuality and burgeoning self-awareness, about ‘becoming a woman’ through taking responsibility and making choices and planning and being a leader.

I wonder where that might lead.

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