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What it means to be a Real Man

February 17th, 2004 · No Comments

Wink wrote a couple posts yesterday describing how some women and men can use little things to define masculinity.

I don’t want to write a lot in response to these posts of Wink’s. I’d like to encourage others to read what he has shared. And I’ve already written most of my feelings and experience of infertility.

However, reading his posts revived memories of my own insecurities about my identity: If I can’t have children then am I still a woman? Can I still be feminine if I’m not fertile? It sounds strange or even almost silly now to me looking back, or perhaps to someone who has never been in that position – of course you were still a woman – but to infertile me it made perfect sense at the time. It was a fear I felt. A lie I nearly believed.

For if physiology defines me as female but these female parts are not functioning, then logically, does that mean that I am not feminine either? How does infertility impact sexual identity? What does it mean to be a woman with an empty womb?

Looking at society, how many women have chosen this emptiness, how many have chosen not to have children? The majority seem to be mothers. Role models from Hillary Clinton to Madonna have been pregnant and birthed babies. Much of the media, from commercials to celebrity gossip, seems to be centered on pregnancy and maternity. Those who can not or those who choose not to become mothers can feel less than fully female. Conversations about pregnancy, labor, nursing, the constant effortless chatter of many women in their childbearing years, can create exclusive community, cutting out and cutting into those who could not or did not have babies. For me I felt it was an assumption in society that nearly all women, especially married women, became moms. There was a sense of shame and responsibility I felt for the failings of my own body. A loneliness and isolation, a separation, not of my own choosing, from the rest of society.

But I must also confess I experienced intense physical redemption through my children. Feelings and fears I had had about my body and myself, deep inside me since childhood, died with the life that arrived in the labor and delivery room. Parts of me once thought useless and worthless found purpose. I can’t deny that power.

Yet in the days when I thought I would never be a mother, when infertility seemed to be my destiny, the inability of my body only confirmed the emotions and fears in my mind. I had always felt that I was less than a real woman, that’d I didn’t measure up, and now I knew I wasn’t a woman for sure. Infertility certainly doesn’t feel feminine. Being told your body is broken breaks your heart.

But I believe there are ways to be a man and ways to be a woman, ways to give, receive and love that have nothing to do with how sperm swim or eggs cycle: they are beyond biology. Fatherhood and motherhood, what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman, none of these can be defined exclusively by what scientists can tell or what society can say. They are not determined by calculations or conformity.

There’s got to be more to feminity than fertility. And there’s got to be more to masculinity than measurements.

Tags: journal