What makes a woman?
Who decides that?
In composing this portfolio, I decided I wanted to branch out beyond articles, blog posts, websites, and talk to people in my own life. I sent out 4 questions, that can be seen in a variety of the other posts below, to family members, friends, acquaintances. The responses I’ve gotten back have commented on everything from society’s sense of entitlement to pregnant women’s bodies, the invisibility of aging for women, the back-handed slap of being a mostly straight and very beautiful woman being eaten alive by men’s desires, the complexity of meaning behind the hijab, to where and why we feel safe or unsafe. They have been honest and beautiful, as are these women. But I made a mistake, I think.
I purposefully sent these questions only to women. I questioned this decision, but ultimately felt that the questions were designed to explore sexism from the perspective of those experiencing it, on a very personal level. I would love to work on a whole new project that explores sexism and rape culture from men’s perspectives, but for the purposes of this assignment, I wanted to hone in on the female experiences of rape culture, safety, the male gaze, beauty, sexuality, etc.
But one friend who I sent it to is a lesbian with a very masculine gender performance. She uses feminine pronouns but over the years of our friendship, I have heard her say things to indicate this is more for logistical than preferential reasons. She has a gender-neutral name and is often mistaken for a man, both in person and on paper. She is often asked if she is trans* or transitioning. She answers no, at least when I’ve heard her, but makes no claims to feel connected to an identity as a woman either. Several days after sending these out and looking over responses, I had the thought that sending it to this friend as part of “my group of women” was incredibly thoughtless. I’m not sure what -ism that falls under, but I’m fairly sure I’ve made a mistake. I can’t decide what to do about it because if I say something and she did not think twice about it, I am singling her out in an uncomfortably way. Or maybe I’m the one it would be uncomfortable for.