what is a woman

What is a woman?

What is a woman?

I have seen so much in the media/on social media over the last couple of weeks about what it is to be a woman, what a woman can do that a man can’t and simply marginalising and subjugating biological women on the basis that some of those female acts (breastfeeding) can now be performed by a man.

I have looked at and considered my own experiences as a woman, growing up in a matriarchal household and looking at the issues faced by my paternal grandmother who was widowed at age 34 with four young children. 

My education was female led and focused having attended a single sex school from 8-11 and then again from 14. There was never any question of what we couldn’t do, the focus was always on academic excellence, achievement and being the best you could be. I do not recall any conversations or dialogue that sought to undermine the role of a woman or even questioned what it was to be born a woman.  I relish these experiences and the fact that I have grown up to be strong, independent, ambitious and, above all, fully aware of what it is to be a woman.

To be a woman, in my view is to understand the following:

  1. Your first period, the pain, the shame, the embarrassment and the solidarity;
  2. Your first sexual experience, usually unpleasant, painful and a pretty big deal;
  3. Planning your route home in advance so you know the lit path, avoiding alleyways and when journeying home, looking over your shoulder and around you constantly on the lookout for risk;
  4. When out with friends, checking on them, have they drunk too much, are they putting themselves at risk, are they making themselves vulnerable to the unwanted advances of a man;
  5. At some stage in your career having been expected to make the coffee, take the notes or being assumed to be the more junior person in the room;
  6. Comments made about what your husband might do and the expectation that you may not return to work after maternity leave;
  7. Being made to feel foolish or questioning your ambitions and desires to get ahead;
  8. Being labelled ‘feisty’ or ‘angry’ when you object or express an opinion;
  9. If you have managed/wanted to have a baby, this experience in itself is unique and cannot be matched. The same goes for breastfeeding, the hormonal changes and the general sense of both gain and loss that you experience after having had a baby. You are you but different; 
  10. Seeing male colleagues progressing faster than you or not suffering career stagnation for having had a baby.

These are my own personal experiences but I am sure that many women can relate to at least some of them. A woman’s experience is a unique one and cannot be shared or understood unless you are born one. For me it is that simple. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a man and nor can I profess to share that experience. My husband has his male related experiences which I cannot share, this is what makes us man and woman. This is no slight on anyone that seeks to identify as a different gender and wishes to live their lives alternatively to how they may have been born. Do as you wish, whatever makes you happy, but please do not seek to claim womanhood as something you can intrinsically understand. 

Women have struggled and strived for centuries for recognition, for equality and have been considered the ‘weaker sex.’ We are now the sex that everyone seems to want to be but does not always want to respect. This is something I cannot understand. I vehemently believe that women, biological women are entitled to safe spaces, where they can move freely and without the fear of harm. Where the female experience can be discussed, lived and embraced without fear or reprisal or ridicule.  

I chose to be a discrimination lawyer as I believe in fairness, in justice and the right of every individual to be worthy of respect and protection from the law. I maintain that the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are there to protect everyone and no one protected characteristic trumps another save in limited circumstances (access to single sex services where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim being one). It is called a balancing of rights.  

I must be clear that these are simply my personal views and do not seek to undermine or better the views of others. My experiences are lived and from my own perspective. Each to their own based on mutual respect and understanding.

This blog was written by Elizabeth McGlone, Partner at didlaw.