Becoming A Woman: When Does That Happen, Anyway?


A meditation on becoming a man got us thinking about the girl/woman divide — and how we know when we’ve crossed it.

Over at the Good Men Project, Drew Chambers writes of a summer camp coming-of-age ritual in which he dove into a deep river, picked up a rock from the bottom, and then remained (mostly) silent for twenty-four hours. Sounds like as good an initiation into adulthood as any, but it didn’t really take. Writes Chambers, “I was still that goofy, insecure, and occasionally picked on late adolescent who’d jumped into that pool.” Which pretty much sounds like what happened after any milestone in my life that was supposed to make me into a Woman. First period? Yeah, right — my mom was still packing my lunch. Losing my virginity? This one did make me feel different, but not necessarily more mature. And I’m not sure I like the idea of marking anyone’s entry into womanhood by the entry of a penis. Living alone for the first time? That did force me to grow up a lot, but now I have a roommate again — does that mean I’m back to girlhood?

Of course, maybe we’re not the best judges of our own maturity. In grad school, a friend of mine divided our friends (we were all about the same age) into “girls” and “women.” I got put in the woman camp, which made me a little sad — mostly because her definition of “woman” was “someone whose identity is more or less fixed and cannot change very much anymore.” My identity has changed a fair amount since then (and that was only two years ago), but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not a woman, or that I wasn’t one then. Why should girls have all the fun?

Emily Gould once wrote about feeling old when she saw an early-twenties couple “acting like going to the grocery store was fun, the way people do before they realize they’ll be doing it for the rest of their lives.” At 27, I definitely don’t think the grocery store is fun anymore, but I did catch myself the other day feeling really proud that I’d managed to go to the dentist. At some point in my life, I’ll probably stop patting myself on the back for quotidian “adult” things like that, and then maybe I’ll really be a woman.

Really, though, it’s possible to be an irresponsible woman, or one who loves grocery shopping, or one who forgets to go to the dentist. And adulthood, regardless of gender, may be one of those things that not only sneaks up on you, but comes in fits and starts — one day you feel exactly like the 13-year-old with a palate expander in her mouth, and the next you can’t believe how far you’ve come since then. One thing I know is that I’m more comfortable with the word “woman” than I was two years ago, mostly because it eliminates the time limit and guesswork that “girl” involves. Being a girl is a sisterhood you inevitably have to leave at some point, and it’s not clear exactly when — but you get to be a woman til you die.

Am I A Man Yet? [The Good Men Project]

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