There have been many times in my life when a man has expressed relief to me that they aren’t a member of my gender, as well as sympathy for my plight. It’s not a new concept. There is even an ancient Jewish prayer to be recited in the morning that reads, "Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman." (Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, pg. 12***)
I won’t lie, there are many aspects of being female that aren’t always fun. There are increased threat levels, lower pay grades and corporate attempts to destroy our self-esteem for the sole purpose of money making, as well as some physical messiness and pain that must be endured to varying degrees throughout the course of the month. Of course there are also some serious downsides to being born male, though I’m less qualified to expand on them. Being human, for all its gifts and wonders, is occasionally a somewhat messy and painful condition.
However when a man (always jokingly) has expressed sympathy to me for my gender, it’s mostly been with regards to my physical state of being – so I’m going to focus on that. The pay scale and threat of sexual violence issues are ones for a far more serious and in depth post.
When we’re little, both boys (and girls – I did this) will sometimes have the, “EWWWW GROSS!!!” reaction the first time they’re confronted with video, or sometimes just a description, of a child being born. It is messy. It is also, as described by my husband, the single most beautiful thing he has ever witnessed in his life. And yes, this is in fact one of the hundreds of reasons why Ted is completely and totally awesome.
Hopefully as we grow up, we also grow out of that reaction. Or at the very least we learn to keep it to ourselves. I didn’t intentionally seek out more information on childbirth until I was in my 30’s, after wise women had taught me how to embrace the creation gifts that my body possesses.
When adult males express humorous sympathy toward women on account of their gender, it means that male is essentially saying, “I am so, so sorry you were born the way you are completely outside of your choice and ability to control! Poor you!” The underlying theme being, “I am so relieved I’m what I am instead, since it is so, so much better than what you are!” When you boil it down like that, it’s a seriously ass-hat thing to say.
Unless someone is suffering from gender identity disorder, then they were born with mental hard wiring that helps them to identify with and enjoy being in the body they were given. When someone expresses to someone else, “I’m so sorry you got that crappy body! Whew, so glad mine is better!” they are essentially offering sympathy, and simultaneously painful insult, for facts of our existence which are outside of our control.
So as a word of advice: even if you absolutely can’t wrap your head around the horror of being a woman, offering sympathy for it are words better left unsaid.
To those of you willing to entertain the possibility that being female might not be so bad after all, here is just a little of what the wiser women in my life have taught me.
First and foremost, that pregnancy and birth are an invitation to assist God in performing a miracle. I will be turning 40 this year and I have never accepted this invitation (the child my husband saw born that I mentioned earlier was our son from his first marriage). Barring birth control failure I am not going to accept the invitation as I have never felt a strong enough desire for either pregnancy or the day-to-day responsibility of caring for a small child. Although it does occur to me at times that my decision might result in a very lonely old age, I’ve always believed that if avoiding future loneliness was my primary reason to do it – it’s too selfish. Parenting is an inherently selfless act.
Even so, my body is a part of that harmony and cycle which creates the continuation of human life. I wax and wane like the sea and with the moon. I am reminded monthly of my connection to all these things, and though I don’t make use of it, I appreciate that connection. At some point in the next ten years I will exit that cycle, and when that happens part of me will be sad to see it go.
With regards to female beauty products – there are several reasons why I don’t wear makeup to work. One of them is that between a workout and a shower I have neither time nor energy to mess with all that at 6:30AM before an hour long turnpike thrill ride. A far more important reason is that I believe women need to embrace their unadorned faces the way that men do. Makeup is an art that I love, it’s a bonus feature I can exercise at will, but it is not necessary. Since this means that both my acceptable clothing and adornment options are far more varied than those of men, I don’t think I’m the one in need of sympathy here.
With regards to high heeled shoes – I don’t wear them. I think they’re beautiful and would love to wear them and I know women who rock them and enjoy every step they take in them, but my particularly stretchy ankle ligaments prevent them from being a possibility in my life. And surprise, I still manage to attract romantic interest and hold down a job. Like makeup, heeled shoes are just a bonus, not a life requirement.
With regards to my body shape and level of fitness – I do put a lot of effort into this, but so do many men. I think at this point in our society both genders are being assaulted with unattainable ideals of physical perfection. Women get hit harder, but it’s our choice to let that stupid stuff in – we don’t have to. Being a victim with regards to degradation by marketing people is a choice we can opt not to make.
So what else is there? Primary childcare responsibility? Primary housecleaning duties? In our modern day and age there is an increasing awareness that two parents in the workforce means equal work needs to go on at home. We’re not quite there yet, but I fully expect couples to continue to even out as so many I know already have. I think in future years the men unwilling to do their equal share are going to find themselves very lonely. I also continue to hope with each passing year that the masculine habit of insulting one another with female pronouns will go the way of the dodo. You are not the default setting, we are not an aberration – you guys really need to let that one go.
So be assured, being of the female persuasion is certainly different, certainly has challenges, but they’re merely different challenges (neither better nor worse) than those which men are confronted with. Were it possible, my husband and I would gladly swap bodies for a period of time, both of us curious and filled with wonder about the possibilities that our equal and opposite halves possess.
Men are not the end all and be all of creation – and neither are women. But if we could manage to get over ourselves a bit more, maybe we could better see what a unique and wondrously potential filled species we all are.
*** As a side note, here is a link to a very insightful article written by a rabbi who struggles daily with this prayer, and the valid reasons why he continues to recite it anyway.