From the Rooftop: What defines a “Woman”?
by Zinhle Manzini
“What defines one to be a woman?
Is it perhaps the role I play on this patriarchal stage?
Is it perhaps my make-up? Or my age…”
Just last week Thursday we were celebrating Women’s day and I saw that as an opportunity to ask people what does it mean to be a woman in South Africa, moreover what it is that defines one to be a woman. I got all sorts of answers from “it’s the role that you play” to “it’s how you dress”, and with that I realized that the term “woman” is one that is socially constructed by the patriarchal society that we live in. People use descriptive things to define a woman and that never really gives us the answer of what a woman is or rather what defines one to be a woman.
Often people mix up sexuality and gender. Sexuality can be defined as how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings, therefore it is your sexual preference (from heterosexual, bisexual to homosexual). Whereas gender can be defined as the relations between men and women, from perceptual to material; furthermore gender is not determined biologically as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men. Therefore your sexuality does not define your gender but rather society is what defines gender as a whole. With that in mind, it means that “what defines one to be a woman” is strictly based on the society that you reside from (yes, its culturally relative).
However that does not mean that we as the greater society should accept that definition, in fact we should oppose it because such definitions are the ones that bring about gender discrimination and they also hinder the liberation of many women. The term woman should not be based on what society thinks but what the individual feels about their gender. We need to acknowledge that it’s not all females who consider themselves to be women but rather it is a choice.
Therefore, my age should not determine if I am a woman or not, my life time experiences also shouldn’t be used as a scale to determine ones “womanness”. Nor should my physique, breast size, or even the number of breasts I have be used as a scale. Let us stop using descriptive things to define someone’s gender as a whole. The make-up that you wear, the role that you play are some of the things that build you to be the type of women that you are today, however they do not determine your worthiness to be a woman.
So, let us stop putting each other in a box and embrace who we want to be not what society wants you to be!! Let’s stop conforming to societies norms and rather start understanding that people will be different! As a lesbian friend of mine said “My sexuality does not does not define my gender”.
I urge you all to decide on your own what gender is; by putting people in a box we are hindering gender socialization holistically and at the end of the day it affects us as a society.