Wednesday, June 17, 2009

'Cause I'm a Woman...

By Amy Phillips-Gary

I can bring home the bacon
Fry it up in a pan
And never let you forget you're a man
'Cause I'm a woman...”

I clearly remember strutting around and belting out this perfume ad jingle as a teen.

Not only was Enjoli selling perfume, they were also contributing to the creation of a gender role in the U.S. in the 80s.

Of course, this image of white, heterosexual, middle class women who could hold down a career, care for home and children AND be sexually satisfying wasn't only being promoted in advertisements.

This was a time when more women in this demographic were participating in the paid job market. There were struggles and shifts that needed to be made.

Expectations about what women could do were being challenged. In similar and different ways, those assumptions persist today.

Identifying Assumptions

Gender, of course, is one of many identity markers used in our culture.

We all walk around sorted into a sex, a gender (sometimes these are different), a race, a socio-economic status, an ethnic or geographical marker, and the list can go on and on.

And accompanying each of these identifications is a whole heap of expectations and assumptions.

Many of us try to resist some of these stereotypes while we embrace and celebrate others. We might choose to play up particular identities that we hold and try to hide or diminish others.

For years I took it as my challenge to dispel gender stereotypes and demonstrate once and for all that women are strong and can't be boxed in by that “weaker sex” label.

I have moved into a different place in recent years. The choices I've made as a mother and a woman-- who is also white, heterosexual, middle class, and so on-- have shifted. I actively resist the stereotypes less than I did before. I no longer see it as “my job” to prove anything about women as a gender.

I've come to this place, in part, because I've begun to realize how fluid, multi-dimensional and layered I am. And I know this has to be the case for women and men everywhere.

Don't get me wrong, I still fume when my male neighbor informs me that I cannot operate a roto-tiller simply because I'm a woman-- more often than not, I try to prove him wrong.

Open the door to all that you are.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are all unfinished creations. The beauty of it all is that we get to do the creating and there really is no “end” point to the process.

Each and every one of us walks around carrying particular identity markers that were given to us culturally and some self-adopted as we've moved through our lives.

Some might argue that being a man or a woman biologically means that you will have particular propensities and tendencies.

I want to shift the discussion away from whether it is nature or nurture that “causes” girls to play with Barbies and boys to turn sticks into pretend guns. Instead, I'm intrigued by how we can all expand beyond these imposed boundaries, if and when we choose to.

How many times-- and this might be tricky to guess because it can be automatic and unconscious-- do you take a particular path in life or respond in a certain way because that's what's expected of you?

I encourage all of us to become more aware so that we know when we're shoving down a desire simply because it's “against” some cultural, familial or personal rule about what's appropriate for someone of “your” identity demarcation.

Practice opening the door to all that you are-- and allow space for you to expand and grow in whatever direction you truly want to go.

Create space for others.

As you begin to give yourself permission to be or not be some particular aspect of your assumed identity, you can grant the same space to others in your life.

Be sure to allow your partner, your children, your neighbors, co-workers and clients to discover their own capacities for expansion.

Don't assume that an opportunity, task, experience, gift, or anything will automatically appeal or not appeal to those close to you simply based on their identities.

Don't lock anyone into a role or a set of tendencies simply because it is his or her identity or even was a preference in the past.

Conversely, grant others the gift of embracing an action or way of being even if it is in alignment with a stereotype. It might not feel limiting to them as it does to you.

Embrace all of who you are-- including those identity markers if you choose them-- and be what you want to be.


  1. Thank you for such an inspiring and thought provoking post. Every time I come here I read something wonderful and learn something necessary. Thanks!


  2. Excellent! wonderful reading this morning.