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What does it mean to be a woman?


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There is a book that has been sitting on one of my shelves collecting dust for about a year now called A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimer Mcbride. I have no idea what it is about yet the second I saw it I knew I needed it. Perhaps, I thought, it might help clarify all the things I didn’t understand about what it meant to be a woman. Yet it has still just sat there untouched. In a way, I think it’s because I’m afraid of the book, or maybe insulted by its title alone. Such a title was made to poke at the audience it aimed to satisfy. The title is frustrating not for its bold claim that a woman is nothing more than a ‘thing’ and half-formed at that, but it is frustrating because despite all the ways I wish I could object to that description I can’t say that any woman I know is anything more than half-formed. 

There is a time in between childhood and adulthood known as adolescents in which we are only a quarter formed yet this time is so fundamental in our development that we leave home and start our own lives, still with so many unknown aspects of life trailing in front of us. It’s a daunting time yet we run into it with wide open arms ready to start the walk of independence. I’ve learned now that the feeling of running into things without abandonment is still the last taste of childhood leaving us. There is a conviction in childhood that everything will work out and you will grow up to be beautiful and your prince will just drop into your lap when you turn 21. You lose that feeling and blind faith that things will work out somewhere around nineteen or twenty, right around the time you find yourself very alone crying mascara running down your face and you realize for the first time that you are no longer beautiful. What is more tragic than a beautiful girl who lost her beauty as a woman? Nothing. 

If we aren’t beautiful what are we? This isn’t some commentary on society but rather the female psyche that is so wrapped up within itself that it cannot see its beauty isn’t lost when it gains five pounds but rather enhanced. But when we are told we should go on diets from nine years old and onward how could we think of anything else? Maybe this is a commentary on society. 

But as Eimer McBride so rightly pointed out we are things, things to be beautified into perfection, and if that doesn’t work then there is nothing more that can be done with us. We are lost causes, broken parts that would be lucky if they ever got put together again. Is this what it means to be a woman? 

Or is being a woman more divine than that? It may be true that if we cannot fit into the narrow world of beauty standards that have been put in place for us we try to break apart, losing arms, teeth, and ribs just to squeeze ourselves into that world. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Breaking down and breaking apart is the essence of nature, when a rabbit dies in the forest it fertilizes the earth it lands on and feeds the animals around it, and becomes something so much more than itself. When we can kill this idea of beauty and let it die where it stands we can break it apart to become a different, more elaborate, and wholly beautiful thing. Perhaps being a half-formed thing is something to be proud of, it indicates that there is something more to come.

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