My name is Olivia and I have trouble ascribing feminine labels to myself.
This is notable for three reasons:
1) I am a cis woman.
For those of you who don’t hang out around gendertalks as much as I do, this means that in utero and at birth, doctors looked at me and said “this is a female child.” My genitals are typical of other people who were assigned female at birth, as distinct from whose who are assigned male. As my life has continued, I have remained comfortable with this assignment. I do wake up every morning feeling as though I am female, though I cannot tell you what this means. My pronouns are “she” and “her” and I’m happy with them.
In case you’re wondering, a cis male is the same, only replace “female” in the above paragraph with “male.”
2) In addition to being cis, I’m also fairly femme. Now, I’m no Cosmo girl. I don’t wear makeup, or apply moisturizer, and I take less time to to get dressed than Rake does. I don’t habitually wear heels, tights, or skirts but it happens sometimes. I have long hair. You’d never misgender me on the street because of how I present.
3) In under two months, I’ll be 22 and a college graduate. By legal standards, I’ll have been an adult for four years on my next birthday. I don’t know of any social standards that imagine a person who entered college at eighteen and graduated in four years is not an adult. So, in less than a month, I will by most social standards and all legal standards that are relevant to me, be an adult.
A female human adult is commonly called a “woman” in the same way that an adult female sheep is called an ewe.
So, as a cis female, a femme (sorta), and an adult, it seems like, by most definitions, I’m a woman and should be comfortable claiming that identity, right?
But I’m not and have yet to be.
I once learned that ancient Greek distinctions between woman and girl were extremely clear. A girl remains a girl until she gives birth to her first child. (Note: I don’t know how this worked for women who were unable to conceive children.) The ancient Greeks were horrifyingly sexist, but this way of defining the differences between “girl” and “woman” make a certain sense to me.
To me “woman” represents a mature, decidedly and irrefutably adult form of femininity. My mother is a woman, my professors are women, judges, doctors, bank employees, Nobel prize winners, and mothers are women. Women are everywhere and I generally imagine them to be accomplished people who know a thing or two about what they do.
I am no woman. I just don’t have that mature femininity. I’m young, I’m learning. I’m technically still in college for fuck’s sake. I just can’t claim to be any of the things (besides female) that “woman” represents to me.
I have trouble with other labels, too.
I’m not a girl. I’m a grown-ass adult. I don’t think “girl” is appropriate for me. You might even go so far as to say, using the immortal words of Britney Spears, that I am “not a girl, not yet a woman.” (I’ll get back to that more later, actually) For now, though, let’s also mention that “girl,” when applied to adults is often pretty infantilizing and I reject that.
Now, don’t get me wrong, if you tell me that you know a 22-year-old girl, especially if you’re older than about fifty, I’ll probably believe you. Either that 22-year-old is pretty immature, or you’re old enough that you just think that people of her age group are kids. I’m okay with that. I also believe that there exist 15-year-old women. But I don’t believe in 10-year-old women or 30-year-old girls. Being a girl vs. a woman is, for me, about maturity and adulthood, and I do think that sometimes age is just a part of that.
Still, for me, “girl” is out. I have no wish to embrace a label that reflects a lower level of maturity than I think I have, nor do I wish to be interpreted as embracing a label that in any way supports the infantilizing of women.
My default term for women in general is “ladies,” I’d hardly identify myself as a “lady,” though. “Lady” is a term that carries a lot of baggage to do with how ankles are crossed, make-up is applied, and when white is worn in relation to Labor Day. Ladies are sophisticated. I pride myself on my ability to use the words “Aristotle” and “bitchtits” in the same sentence. “Lady” is out.
I think that “female” has taken on a weird and dismissive quality in a lot of discussions. And additionally, I am not a female. I am female, or I am a female person. Female is an adjective. “Female” as adjective may come closest to what I’m looking for, though I don’t think it manages to shed the baggage I see as coming with the noun version of the word, and it’s a slight bit clunky, so we’ll move past it.
“Gal” and “lass” are old-fashioned, uninspiring, and too much like girl, to boot), “skirt,” “dame,” and “chick” I find edging around sexist and infantalizing pits, trying desperately not to fall in (too late). I don’t even want to talk about “doll” and “babe.” Fuck those guys. (Unless you’re Rake. Rake can call me “doll.”)
So, here we are. I am neither girl nor woman, nor do I like other terms for people of my sex and gender. I exist in a liminal state, between labels I was or expect to be comfortable with. I’ve heard other ladies my age express this same feeling, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest a solution. I am not sure when I will feel like a woman, if ever I do. I’m not sure I have a label and I’m equally unsure of what this means.
If you have any suggestions, though, please tell me. I feel awkward and unwieldy.
P.S. Trans women and butch women are unequivocally women, if that’s how they identify. I don’t mean to say that my being cis and femme gives me any greater claim on “woman” than they have. I merely mean to say that those things about me would seem to make it extremely easy to apply feminine labels to me and, despite them, I find it difficult.