Bodies, Autonomy, and Feeling Like a Woman

CW: non-graphic discussion of periods

For a year or so when I was a kid, this was one of my favorite songs. My dance teacher loved this album, and when my mom bought me my own copy, I soon fell in love with it too. For me, the whole album felt like a proud declaration of womanhood. Shania Twain was sassy, sexy, independent, and full of love and I wanted to be like that someday. I wanted to understand experientially what feeling like a woman meant. I couldn’t wait until I reached that point.

But then I turned nine. And a few months later, my period started which I was told marked my entry into womanhood. Somehow, the fact that my body could now prepare to have children made me more of a woman than I had been the day before regardless of the fact that I still didn’t feel like a woman at all.

This kind of womanhood didn’t seem accurate or fair. Why was my body the final authority on my womanhood especially when it was doing things I had never asked it to do? Why was this child-bearing focused womanhood being forced on me when I didn’t want children now or possibly ever? And why wasn’t it okay to not feel proud or happy that my body was trying to coerce me into a womanhood I’d never agreed to?

I hated this womanhood and I hated my body for pushing me into it, but as resentful as I felt, I couldn’t let go of my yearning to feel like a woman someday. I struggled with the idea that maybe conceding to what my body seemed to expect from me was the only way to truly feel like a woman and, as I increasingly cared about, to be seen by others as one. As much as it didn’t seem right, I considered that maybe the peremptory messages I began noticing after my period started, messages asserting that my menstruating body would produce an unavoidable desire to have somebody’s baby someday, were true. Maybe, I was just too young for those feelings to have kicked in yet. Eventually, when my mind was more mature, I would enter into the next stage of womanhood, the complete stage.

As I got older and started seeing pieces of the womanhood I’d yearned for as a kid forming in me, I didn’t feel any closer to the womanhood my body was endorsing. Many of my girl friends showed signs of that womanhood – cooing over any baby that came into school and daydreaming out loud about having a baby of their own someday – but I could never get myself to feel those things. I still felt trapped by my body and the messages equating true womanhood with mothering and child bearing which only seemed to get stronger as I aged, but as I heard more of the messages, I also began to feel a little broken.

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