Not a Woman

I don’t like calling myself a woman. I don’t like being called a woman either. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely satisfied to inhabit my female body. But there’s something about the word “woman” that doesn’t compute with the way I see myself.

Several somethings, actually.

I don’t like the way “woman” is constructed in opposition to man. It’s a binary that is used to alienate and pressure and bully people into acting a certain way or presenting themselves differently. It’s often used stereotypically, and often to the detriment of the person who is a woman. It marginalises anyone who doesn’t fit into the norms and parameters of “woman” and “man,” like transgender and intersex and genderqueer people. I don’t like the expectation that I have to behave a certain way and act out specific patterns of femininity that I don’t agree with and am not interested in.

Mostly I don’t like the rhetoric about “being a woman now” that unfortunately dominates a lot of discussions about things like puberty and sex. I don’t like that girls are seen as women once they get their first periods. I know it’s a significant event, but the underlying message of being able to have children and its accompanying sexuality are based in the historic tradition of marrying women off at a young age to provide children and heirs.

I like the idea of becoming a woman after having sex for the first time even less. How often have you seen those words in fiction or heard them from other people? “You’re a woman now,” “I feel like a woman now, not a girl anymore.” I hear and see them everywhere and it makes me uncomfortable. When I, as a twenty-year-old female, refer to myself as a woman, I don’t like people inferring something about my sexuality from that. I don’t like the idea of people assuming that I am a sexual person because I call myself a woman.

I know that the word woman probably does not have that connotation for everyone – it’s obviously a reflection of my own identity as an asexual person and my own disinclination to see anyone else in a sexual way. When I hear the word woman and think back to all the times I’ve experienced “woman” associated with sex, I feel like I’m not a proper woman (because I haven’t had sex), and that I don’t want to use the title anyway, because the connotations of woman that I’ve picked up on don’t match up with the way I see myself.

I know that there are problematic connotations for “girl” as well – lack of experience (both sexual and non-sexual), lack of understanding, innocence, not-an-adult – but I still prefer that term to woman. I feel more comfortable in it, and I feel like I can identify with it more. And female alone just sounds a bit sterile, doesn’t it?

What are your thoughts?

11 thoughts on “Not a Woman

  1. Wow, I agree with everything you’ve said here. I’ve had this lingering discomfort with calling myself a woman for a while now. Despite being very comfortable with my cisgender femaleness, the word “woman” just feels weird to me. I much prefer calling myself “girl,” and I like the feminist idea of reclaiming that term as empowering rather than degrading. But I could never figure out why the word “woman” in reference to myself made me so uneasy. Reading this, it’s like you took my unconscious ideas and put them into eloquent words. 🙂

  2. Great article! I dislike ‘lady/ies’ more than woman. I’m not sure I like ‘girl’ much better, but it is at least a distinct word from ‘boy’, whereas ‘woman’ has that connotation of being an extension of ‘man’. I hadn’t considered the sexuality angle of the word ‘woman’, although I had considered that the rite of passage from girl to woman is menstruation, the time when she reaches child-bearing capacity and is therefore suitable marriage fodder. What’s the rite of passage from boy to man these days, I wonder? They don’t usually get carted off to prove their manhood by killing a large animal with a blunt spear, so that they have the necessary skills to protect the woman and children that will shortly become their property. Those distinctions have become very blurred, I think (in a good way). Perhaps we need to come up with new terms.

    1. Yes, I’m not sure I really like “lady” either – it is very old-fashioned, isn’t it? And your point about boy’s rites of passages made me laugh, because it’s so accurate.

      The menstruation one is definitely seen as a rite of passage – but I’m not sure that it’d be commonly accepted as a marker of actually being a “woman.” The invention of the teenager kinda put an end to that, I think. What I see more often at present (especially in fiction, for some reason) is sex being seen as the thing that makes you a proper woman. Which is silly and marginalising, like the whole term is. I agree, I think we need a new term as well.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I definitely think of myself as a girl (when I think of myself in gender terms at all, since I’m now starting to understand that I’ve apparently been pretty much agender for quite a while) and not a woman. Somehow woman just doesn’t seem to fit…whether it’s because I’m still pretty young (a teenager, even though I’m legally an adult) or because I’ve been taught to associate “womanhood” and “womanliness” with things like motherhood and traditionally feminine behavior that I’m not comfortable with I’m not sure.
    This was great! I agree with everything you said (though you’re much more articulate than my thoughts 🙂 ).

    1. Yeah, I think there’s that too, the idea that “woman” is something still constrained by these expectations of having children and behaving femininely all the time. I think we need to re-write the whole way that gender works. Or completely eradicate it. But part of me thinks it isn’t actually realistic to ever expect that – if only for the biological/able-to-have-children thing, which is still so big. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  4. I’m not a huge fan of “woman” but then I am much less fond of “man” – I tend to think of myself as some kind of boy-woman hybrid. I like the word “girl” but it’s a site of feminist contention, so perhaps my ambivalence stems from that. I detest “lady”, it’s something I’ve never once identified as. “Gentleman” – now maybe I can aspire to be that!

    In all seriousness, these labels are horribly complicated and I really empathise with your position. The trouble as I see it is that people will insist on having their own definitions for things! Trying to ‘reclaim’ a label for yourself is fraught with difficulty because nobody else can ever see inside your head. I’m intrigued by the ‘sex’ angle of it, and I think “man” has the same issues. How often do we hear male humans dismissed as “little boys” for their supposed sexual inadequacy? It plays into the “real man” trope as well. I don’t seem to have internalised this one quite so much – I’m quite happy to be a very sexual boy, and I don’t find it dismissive in the way that “girl” can be. For me I think it’s very much about defining my own sexuality, and there I am in complete agreement with you, because anyone else attempting to define me on their own terms, whether that’s by using “woman” or “straight” or “prude” or “slut” necessitates pushback.

    Sorry for the rambling – I got carried away! I really liked your post 🙂

  5. Thank you for this post. Even though I am 23 years old, I just feel so awkward about calling myself a woman, because I feel very much like a non-adult. I agree with the feminist distinction that “girl” means a child and therefore using it in reference to a grown person is infantalizing and I also feel like I should force myself to use “woman” were appropriate as a feminist act of.. claiming my adult authority or something. It just feels wrong. I wish there was a feminine version of “guy” which I think satisfies that awkward period between child and serious grown up.

  6. This is complicated for me too. I don’t generally refer to myself as a woman. I am female and something of a rebellious home maker. I have a son, a husband – so I am a wife. Another term I don’t particularly like, although I don’t mind being referred to as ‘my wife, by ‘my husband’. It is infinitely preferable to ‘my missus’.

    But back to your original point…. I prefer girl to woman.

    have a look at this it is wonderfully informative

  7. I hate using the word ‘woman’ to refer to myself; although I’ve struggled with gender issues throughout my adolesence till now (which is obviously the main part of it), another part is just that ‘woman’ sounds too sexualised somehow. I know that’s probably just the media’s influence, yada yada, but… the connotations still won’t go away for me personally. :/

  8. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. I have no problem being described as “female” (although if someone called me androgynous I’d probably be like 😀 ) but I always felt uncomfortable referring to myself as a “woman”. I tried to do it in solidarity with other feminists but it just felt… wrong. I’m a bit ambivalent about being referred to as a “girl”, but if someone does I’m not really going to care too much. What I tend to do is just call myself a person, I also try to call others “people” too, or sometimes even just “human beings” haha.

    For me, there’s just way too much baggage that comes with the “woman” label. I think of all the times it’s been spat out in that contemptuous way in movies, the history of oppression “women are inferior”, “even a woman can do it!”, “women are such bitches”, “women don’t know what they want”, “women should stay in the kitchen”, “women: can’t live with them, can’t ____” and so many more statements like that. I can’t help but associate with negative and degrading things, even though it should just be a descriptor. Really, to me, it just reminds me of sexism and gender roles. It’s a gender, and I don’t like gender. I get people wanting to reclaim it, generally feminists seem to like doing so, but I just… can’t. If I could present myself as some kind of genderless (sexless too!) being which still represented all of my style and personality (i.e. not a floating cloud of light or whatever) then I would.

    Anyway, basically just commented to agree with you and add my two cents.

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