Thou Art Woman

OpEdI was reading something the other day; don’t ask me what, please. My mind has been shattered by a plethora of recent events and thus my memory is entirely gone. Anyway, I was reading something written by a man, it was quite profound and moved me. The gist of it was the trajectory of this man’s life, from childhood through misspent youth, through early adulthood in and out of the justice system, to redemption. I wish I had saved this article, I wish I had bookmarked and could find it again. The one thing that stood out for me though was his final thought, when asked what he wanted to achieve:

I want to be a man”.

This stood out to me, men can say this and everyone nods their heads and understands exactly what it means. Maybe there are small differences based on culture, nationality but everyone understands and applauds. We all get the gist of this statement, we all know what it means and nod our head in agreement, this is a worthwhile goal.

I want to be a man”.

I want to be a provider, I want to be a protector, I want to care for those who depend on me, I want to stand tall in my community, I want to be a father and husband. Certainly, I have missed things in this, I am sure there are those who are of the other gender (men) who could add to the list. The point is most of us understand the statement, ‘I want to be a man’.


Do you wonder where I am going with this? The point is women do not have a similar all-encompassing gender specific ‘thing’ that defines us. Women cannot say, ‘I want to be a woman’, with equal authority and have this statement be universally understood and applauded. Truthfully, were we to make this statement most would stare at us as if we had just lost our minds, or they would check under our clothing to determine what chromosome set we were born with.

Since I read that story I have found myself with women I know well, women of different backgrounds, generations, political persuasions and faiths and I have asked the question, ‘what is the one word to define us as women, that equals the statement I want to be a man’.

Sometimes this question has been met with stares before a list of different roles women might play in their lives, roles that do not encompass our entirety, our completeness. Other times the question engendered a lively debate with some of my more feminist friends landing on the side that women are multi-dimensional and thus cannot be put in a box.

I called bullshit on that one.

Listening to all the debates, I was struck by how we view ourselves as women and how we are viewed. There truly isn’t a single definitive word in the English language that defines us, that allows us to define ourselves. We are so many things, often we are the things that being a man means, we are protectors and providers, left on our own to fill voids. We are also other things, in the process we fight to retain our individual identity, as well as, who we are as women.

So I ask what do you want to be. Who do you want to be? What is the one word that you want to define you?

While you consider your answer, this is what I want to define me. Listen to Ruthie Foster as she puts Maya Angelou’s poem to music.


  1. I never wanted to be a man, but as a single mother, I had to assume a man’s duties: provider, disciplinarian, mover of large objects, etc. etc. etc. Any woman on her own with children to raise knows the many hats she has to wear.

  2. You know Val.. reading through this I too have heard many a woman say ‘I want to be a Man’ or ‘ oh to be a Man’ etc.. Yet funnily I have never wished or wanted to be anything else other than a woman.. at least not within this body within this life time.. LOL.. 🙂

    Have there been times when I would have wished it.. I thought back.. and no, quiet honestly there haven’t.. Even when I was in my day suit and climbing the ladder of success up the tree within the Textile world.. I held myself as equal to any of the executives because I knew my subject.. I knew my job better than they did..

    It took me far, to Srl Lanka.. I met their then Prime Minister, she was lovely.. and was on their national TV with the London Chamber of Commerce.. And being a woman I got lots of attention LOL…

    Yes I am woman.. and Proud of it.. as I know you are .. The one word is WOMAN.. 🙂 We who Birth Nations.. 🙂

  3. Strange really that when they are young and innocent you never hear young boys say they want to be a man they usually want to be a train driver, it is only age and society that force a gender role upon people, surely we should teach our children to simply be the best version of themselves they can possibly be maybe then the world would be a much better place even if it meant we had a surplus of train drivers, ballerinas and unicorns 😀

  4. Is it wrong just to want to be a hu-man?

  5. Frankly a question I have never considered!! Caring comes to mind. Supportive. Mostly second fiddle to the ‘Man’. Especially in countries like mine. I am thankful for the privilege of being considered equal by my husband and male friends. But am I really? Hard one Valentine. Even phenomenal doesn’t cut it, however much I love that poem and Ms. Angelou 🙂

    • That Madhu, I think is the question. We all understand the first statement, but when we try to find that single definition for ourselves, that would encompass us as a gender, be universal it is impossible to do.

      That is what I find fascinating even while I find it disheartening.

  6. Some men actually say “I want to be a woman,” but that’s usually between them and their surgeons.

    In all seriousness, you bring up a good point here. I don’t know that I personally would say “I want to be a man.” I’d probably go with “valued member of society” or something along those lines instead.

    • Ah, but if you said ‘I want to be a man’, it would encompass that as well as the rest.

      It was a conundrum for me. One I thought I would throw out there to see how others responded.

  7. Hey Kiddo. Don’t know how I missed this post of yours. Love, love, love Maya’s Phenomenal Woman and had no idea it had been put to music. This was a real treat. Thanks so much. It made my day.

  8. Maybe it’s the fact that English isn’t my first language, but to me, “a man” just means an adult male – what you once defined as “Grown Assed Man”.

  9. women are treated poorly. Who would want to be a woman – less power, less advantage, less opportunity? I can indeed say “I want to be a woman” and that would include a full range of positives and negatives (just like being a man), but it also carries so much second-class history, that most people would wonder “Why would you want to?”

    nice one Val! ❤

    • Yes, and yet we could say something and change history.

      “I want to be a woman”

      Does it have to carry anything with a question. I am victorious. I am a warrior. I am a queen. I am, simply I am.

  10. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    At my wedding reception, the grandmas placed “worksheets” for people to complete. One question asked folks to use three words to describw the bride. I was pretty surprised by a couple words that people chose, but one in particular really resonated with me: stalwart. I loved that. That is what I want to be.

    • When I do victim impact I always start off with, ‘when you look at me what do you see’. Depending on if I am working with juveniles or adults, men, women or a co-ed group, inside or outside the walls of prison the responses are very different.

      It is hard to see ‘me’, but more than this it is hard to define who I am to a larger audience with one word and retain my gender within that definition. I think my gender is important, I want to be my gender even while I want to be freed of the social constraints imposed by my gender.

      Sometime during VI panels I always say, ‘I am not a Victim, I am not Survivor; I do not define myself as these instead I define myself as Victorious’.

      Even when this is not how I feel inside it is what I reach for.

  11. Caesar had his legions, Napoleon his continent and Alexander his lasting military fame. But being a responsible and nurturing Father(or mother) is a far greater accomplishment.

  12. Val,
    this post reminds me of Plath.
    In one of her journals, she says, ” “From the moment I was born—I was doomed to sprout breasts and ovaries rather than penis and scrotum. …””
    And that was the 50s!!

    xxx LUV U.

    • I don’t know that I consider it a curse to be a woman, only that I notice the challenge more now, recently. Even our language challenges us in our differences.

      I don’t think I would want to be a man, though sometimes I would wish not to be quite so challenged. 😉

  13. My Dad used to have a saying (well several hundred sayings, actually, but …) “You do what you have to do.” I think that defines women, except that for the most part, when we’re doing things that we have to do, we make the most of it.

  14. All I’ve ever wanted to be is ME but that is not gender specific, yet, it tells me I want to live my life my way and not have to conform to another’s rules. Maybe too simple but it works for me.
    This is a curious conversation and I’m interested to hear different opinions. ❤

    • It has been a curious conversation since I started having it a couple of weeks ago Tess. I agree with you, I want to be me also. That defines us as individuals but what does it mean?

      • To my mind wanting to be me means not to be under someone’s thumb. Don’t improve me to your liking. Don’t steal my essence or bury it. ❤
        Marriages, for example, start off all roses and chocolate and then the female tends to 'adjust', at first in small ways and she loses herself. When she tries to fight her way back, she's told she's 'changed'. Another gender thing. I don't know that will change. The male wants to be a man but this seems to overshadow his chosen mate. Where is the answer?

  15. singleworkingmomswm says:

    Val, seeeeeee! This is why I LOVE you! This is a crazy concept I would have never pondered had you not first posed the question. To answer my immediate gut response, I thought of this, “I am woman, hear me roar!” When I think of what it is to be a woman, I think of the word “everything”. In contrast to the vast majority of men, women, like others have said, tend to be more universally inclined, capable, and under-appreciated for it all-if I may say so. Of course there are exceptions to this statement on both sides-men who are the be-all for some and women who stink and don’t hold their own. BUT, you are spot on about what we “think” when a guy says, “I want to be a man.” Along those lines the same applies to the phrases, “Be a man!” or “Man up!” We intuitively know what that means. We certainly do not say, “Be a woman!” or “Woman up!” However, we do have a derogatory connotation from the phrase, “You’re such a girl!” or “Put on your ‘big girl panties’!” or “Act like a lady.” So, I say now to the question, “What do I want to achieve?” I want to be a woman. I want to be all that I am already and so much more. Everything and anything possible. Wow. I think I just took the grandstand. Not like me! XOXOXO-Kasey

    • Kasey, I love your take on this! I knew as I thought about this there was more to this then there was more than just what do you want to be.

      Your thoughts are dead on, fabulous.

  16. Val, I think that this image of a man “I want to be a provider, I want to be a protector, I want to care for those who depend on me, I want to stand tall in my community, I want to be a father and husband” is a 20th century outlook, particularly post-war into the 1950s-60s. I also think that the image of woman prior to the woman’s movement was to conform to the role of wife, mother, caregiver, nurturer, helpmate. In the 21st century, I think things are far more diverse for both genders (you can even change your gender which is becoming increasingly accepted in urban enclaves). It seems to me that most people just want to be themselves. If a guy said to me, “I want to be a man,” I would ask, “What do you mean by that?” It might not be your definition of what he should be. My brother and none of my close male friends are husbands or fathers. Only one has told me that he plans to marry and be a dad. But even though 80% of the men who are closest to me have no interest in conforming they are all admirable members of their gender. I think what it means to be a man is as varied as what it means to be a woman.

    • This may all be true my friend, yet when a man says ‘I want to be a man’, we still know what he means. That meaning has not changed significantly. Our perception of what it is to be ‘a man’ has not changed significantly. These definitions seem to cross boundaries, whether gay or straight, whether black or white, whether American or otherwise; this definition seems to still resonate and have meaning.

      There is not though a one word definition for women that crosses those same lines and allows us to define ourselves first as ‘that’. We may define ourselves as many other things as well, but I want to be ‘X’ first.

  17. Authentic. I think the one thing all women want to be is true to their personal calling. While phenomenal is a wonderful place I find myself often, truly I prefer authentic so the world knows I am to the bone at every moment.

    • I hear you, but that is not gender specific and cannot define you in the same way a man is defined if he says, “I want to be a man”.

      This is what was so interesting in having this discussion. All of us could define ourselves in these terms, but not with a gender specific word. Interesting, isn’t it?

      • I find it more disheartening. Whatever we are, we are still merely defined by the roles we take rather than who we truly are.

  18. I never considered this before, but you’re right–there really isn’t a quick definition for a woman. She does indeed do the things a man does, especially if she is a single mother. But she does more as well–nurture, guide, support. Of course, men often do these things too. Perhaps we need a more universal definition of what it means to be a person.

    Thought-provoking and wonderful post, as always, Valentine.

  19. If that response made sense? sorry, Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet 😀

  20. What I want to be? everything that encompasses what man should be, A father strong enough to provide for my daughter and provide for the one that I will meet some day.

  21. Two things … 1) I want to be a woman so I can play golf from the short tees. 2) What was the name of that article? (I couldn’t resist asking because of my gender.) 😉

  22. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on MrMilitantNegro™.

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