What Makes A Woman A ‘Real’ Woman?

What Makes A Woman A 'Real' Woman?

What Makes A Woman A ‘Real’ Woman?

When Serena Williams spoke with Stellar Magazine about awaiting the birth of her first child, things took an interesting turn. Williams explained to Stellar, “I am about to be a real woman now, you know? It’s going to be something incredibly impressive to go through.” Her tactless remarks offended many — primarily childless and childfree women — and with good reason. If only women who bear children are “real” women, what are we to consider the rest of the female population of childbearing age — a whopping 47.6 percent — in U.S.? Just what makes a woman a real woman?

When I first read her comments, I immediately understood how women could feel slighted or even outraged. However, I didn’t have the same reaction. I don’t actually blame Williams although I’m by no means denying her social snafu. I actually kind of feel sad for her. If she — a world-renowned tennis player, four-time Olympic gold medalist, philanthropist, sister, daughter, and partner — really believes she was not a woman up until getting pregnant, that is devastating. Devastating and, as it turns out, not all that unusual. A recent study shows that most people view motherhood, and even fatherhood, as a moral imperative.

Perhaps Williams thinks so too. Could that be why she decided to have a baby in the first place? Pronatalism is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it wouldn’t much surprise me if that were the case.

From Woman to Real Woman

Now that some time has passed since Serena Williams’ interview, I’ve been giving thought to what it is that makes a woman real. I can’t help but think back to being eleven years when I got my period for the very time. I nervously told my mom and she let me stay home from school. I called my best friend, who hadn’t yet gotten hers, to brag, “I’m a woman now.”

I said phrases like these because they’re what my mom said to me, and no doubt what her mom said to her. However, I didn’t feel like a woman. I felt like I had the weirdest and worst stomach ache in my life. I cried in the bathroom just thinking about how terrible one week out of every month for the next fifty years of my life would be. Was pregnancy regarded in this same fashion in Serena’s upbringing? It makes me wonder.

Having your period, much like having a baby, may be intrinsically feminine. Regardless, I think you’d agree that an eleven-year-old is still a child, despite what her uterus is up to. And I know we’d all agree that women are women irrespective of their baby-making abilities. So then, when does a woman become a real woman?

To be completely honest, I don’t know. At least, I don’t know when it happened in my own life. But at some point, I became a woman. And yes, even a real woman. Was it simply because I grew older? Was it because I had certain life experiences? Was it because there’s no such thing a fake woman? I’m not sure. But, at some indiscernible point in time, I went from being a little girl to a young woman and from a young woman to the woman I am now. All the while, never questioning the realness of my womanhood. And it really wasn’t until this offhanded comment in an interview that I realized I might be the anomaly in a predominantly pronatalist society. So, ladies, I want to ask you.

Did you ever feel, or did anyone ever try to make you feel, that you weren’t a real woman? And when do you think you became a real woman? Comment below!

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Comments

    • Dorrie
    • August 28, 2017
    Reply

    I didn’t feel like a “woman” until I turned 30. Until then I still felt like a “girl” immature and unsure what she wanted. Something about 30 seems to me to be a marker of true adulthood. Now I’m done drinking too much in bars and going home with handsome strangers. Done getting frivolous tattoos and spending the rent money on a pizza party. Being a woman means being mature and learning how to control your youthful impulses. I’m sure that happens at different ages for all women. There are plenty of very grown up 19 year olds but for me personally my 20s was my last crazy time and the last time I called myself “girl.”

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dorrie! I can definitely understand where you’re coming from. I appreciate you sharing your perspective!

    • Abigail
    • August 29, 2017
    Reply

    People have different opinions on what “a real woman” means. I think for most it means your age and whether or not you are age appropriate to have a child. Something interesting happened to me last weekend, I went to a cousin’s baby shower and I sat down in a table full of people I didn’t know and one of them (after a long conversation) asked me how old I was, really surprised because I was talking about “adult things” with everybody and she thought I was underage. I told her I am 29 and suddendly she started asking me when I was planning on having babies because at 30 -according to her- “real woman have babies(or have already gave birth to at least one)” Needless to say I was both shocked and confused because two minutes ago she thought I was maybe 20 years old and it was OK for me be there without a child or without talking about kids and husband or supermarket adventures with crying toddlers….at 29 I need to have a plan for my future because “the train is approaching” (we say that in spanish as a metaphor)
    I thought to myself: Girl, I am not waiting for that train.
    I thank her for her unwanted opinion about my age, my womanhood and her thoughts about my life and clothes from the young section and told her : who wants to be a real woman if that means getting on that train full of woman with kids and unfullfilled dreams. I travel by air. Those train destinations are boring.
    I think we all are real woman. From the moment we open our eyes for the very first time 🙂

    1. Abigail, thanks so much for commenting! Wow, what a frustrating (to say the least) experience. “I travel by air” — I love this!!

  1. Reply

    I totally relate to your post. I’m 33 years old and am child free. I don’t feel a maternal urge to have a child. Does that make me less of a women? Hell no! I am a woman and just because I’m not rushing to the nearest baby store to coo over the tiny booties (though I do at times if I’m passing!) shouldn’t mean all women who face children have one up on me. I’ll have a child if and when. Thanks for sharing this post 😊

    1. Abbie, thanks for your comment! You’re absolutely correct. We’re all real women!

  2. Reply

    Hi Brittany! Sorry I’ve been so busy with school back in session.

    For me, it was when I got accepted into grad school. It was definitely the paradigm shift I needed to feel like a grown up. What I will do for the next five years or more is all my choice, and I will do it in my style. As an undergrad you still have to follow the plan the professors create for you and it can still feel like high school sometimes. But when you’re in a Master’s or Ph. D program it’s all about your own research and performance. You are left alone for a lot of it and it’s up to you to make it worth the time and money. Nobody is there unless they love what they are studying and genuinely your advising professor wants you to do well. When I walk around the campus of USF I feel like I’m meant to be there, and I can’t ever remember feeling like that about motherhood.

    1. Hey! No worries! What you said makes so much sense. Feeling like you’re supposed to be exactly where you are is an amazing feeling. And I agree with you — I didn’t feel that way about motherhood and I can’t imagine I ever would.

  3. At first I was outraged by Serena’s comments, but when I give it a second thought I come to the same conclusion as you, Brittany. It’s a sad reflection of what our society thinks a woman’s role should be. The really sad thing is she probably didn’t even think about what she was saying. It probably just came out that way, because in her mind (and most people’s minds), that’s just the way things are and always will be. I think being a woman is something you feel you are rather than a set of boxes you have to tick, although society would prefer for us to think the latter so we don’t stray from our true purpose in life: motherhood (apparently). Thanks for providing a very refreshing perspective on this topic!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Lisa. I too feel that she said what came naturally to her — which is, just as you said, really sad. Thanks again!

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