WHAT IT IS TO BE A WOMAN

My path as a woman has been far from cookie-cutter. Years as an active alcoholic barfly left wounds that, decades later, I’m still working through. A marriage ended in divorce and annulment. I am childless and unmarried.

And I celebrate, exult in, embrace, and increasingly marvel at my womanhood.

Though I’m way past childbearing age, in Christ my life bears ever richer fruit.

The culture, by contrast, has now succeeded in almost completely pathologizing womanhood. Puberty, menstruation, our attractiveness to men, our capacity to bear children, our longing and fitness for marriage and motherhood, menopause: every facet of our lives, we are told, consists of unremitting pain, shame, and oppression.

Can I be the only woman on earth who has found womanhood to be a beautiful, mysterious, a cross-and-crown joy? Who looks back with tenderness at the shy delight at being noticed by the opposite sex, the bewildered wonder of puberty, the explosive first kiss, the experience of falling in love with its sense of being simultaneously flayed and brought fully, electrically alive? Who has embraced the seasons of womanhood: ever changing, ever more profound? Who in maturity has the sense of being supernaturally wedded to the Source of All Love?

A WOMAN IS ORGANIZED AROUND HER WOMB

In 2022, conservative commentator Matt Walsh went around posing the question “What is a woman?” to various people—friends out for a stroll, a small-town shop owner, villagers in Africa—then filmed their predictably uncertain, if not nonsensical, replies.

Although the resulting documentary—“What Is a Woman?” exposed, with Walsh’s signature snark, the flailing groundlessness of gender ideologues, the film struck me as gimmicky and mean-spirited. Many people were no doubt, flummoxed, as I would have been, by the vastness of the question.

Do you want the poetic answer, the metaphysical answer, the personal answer? Are you asking what it is to be a woman emotionally, physically, psychically, intellectually, socially, spiritually? Do you want to know what it is to be this woman: to be me? If so, does your camera crew have a few weeks, if not months?

The correct answer by Walsh’s lights—“A woman is an adult human female”—is one answer. It’s a political answer, a biological answer, a textbook answer. But it’s far from the only answer or the fullest answer.

Because the operative fact of being a woman is that we have wombs, and every single facet of our being, our essence, our psyches, is organized around that fact. It’s no accident that the Hail Mary runs, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

Of course we’re not just wombs. Of course we’re very much more than our wombs. But everything in us constellates around that fact, and to deny it, as the gender extremists do, is to maintain that form and function are unrelated and that the organizing principle of the world is chaos.

Walsh wouldn’t disagree with that (I hope), but to smugly report that a woman is an adult human female is to miss what a woman really is by a million miles.

Any child can see, feel, understand, and feel secure in the difference between a man and a woman. Our very genitals shout the distinction: Men thrust outward: they tend to fix, forge, and do. Women are oriented inward, we’re built to receive, invite, nurture, foster. We have hidden depths. We’re sensitive to relationship. We nest.

Above all, we women are mothers. Archetypically, and whether or not we ever biologically bear children, a woman is a mother.

Because of all that, we suffer in a different way than men. To men who think they can become women, I want to say, You’re not strong enough to be a woman.

Men are strong, beautifully strong in their way. But women are strong in different ways: in our capacity to foster, support, and nurture; in our ability to patiently endure sorrow, anxiety, and loneliness.

The difference doesn’t arise because men are vile oppressors, nor because the best of them don’t try to understand us, nor because “the system” is skewed: all worldly systems are skewed. It comes about because the way men and women are made, particularly around reproduction, a tragic split exists, better known by many of us as The Fall.

No political change or civil right can ameliorate that split. Because of it, women suffer—again, our cross and our crown–in a way that no man can possibly imagine. We feel the wound of relationship, the loss inherent in bringing life into the world and then letting it go, the vulnerability of longing for the men whose motives, desires, and emotions we can never quite fathom. 

To want to be a real woman is to want the psyche, the ability to endure, the capacity to stand at the foot of the Cross as your beloved Son is tortured to death, as Mary did. It is to long to give all of yourself—body, mind, soul—in such a way that your womb embraces the suffering of the whole world.

To want anything other or less is to want to be a woman as cartoon character, caricature. It is to want to be a woman without the terrible, life-shattering perils and risks. It is to want to be a woman without a womb.

8 Replies to “WHAT IT IS TO BE A WOMAN”

  1. Heather E. Crotty says: Reply

    Hoping Ireland has brought a little more child likeness to your life! I was just wondering, if you don’t mind sharing, where did you stay in San Miguel de Allende. Thinking of taking a break down in the area sometime.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      HI Heather, I stayed at a place called Casa Mision de San Miguel–a kind of once-in-a-lifetime splurge. Just lovely with a rooftop garden and they make you breakfast each morning. No room service, ice or fridge in room so you have to go out for everything which for me was not a hardship…gorgeous walking up and down the hills, winding around the streets…Cathedral 10 or 15 minute walk and many other churches all around…I would go for longer next time and try to get a housesit or long-term airbnb. But Casa Mision was dreamy.

  2. Loved this column! My niece recently expressed bewilderment at her daughter, only 11 years old, who is wondering what her sexual identity should be. I suggested that my niece talk about the joys and blessings, and, yes, the challenges, of being a woman, the identity that her daughter’s body was born to be.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha ha, don’t get me going, Mary! It bewilders me that AS WOMEN, we have made womanhood so deeply unattractive, such a hideous, lifelong burden that young girls are now horrified at the thought of growing into women…why on God’s green earth are we not encouraging ourselves to grow into what we ARE, into the glory–with as you say the attendant challenges and struggles–of how we were made? This is our birthright…and trying to be someone or something else can’t possibly fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts…

  3. Susan Manus says: Reply

    Beautifully written. I too am unmarried and childness, definitely not by choice. But I am grateful that I am the gender that was capable of bearing children, even if I didn’t have any myself. There is suffering in being a woman, but there is such joy and honor too.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Susan!! We bear the cross and crown of our vulnerability, heartaches, and joys HUMBLY and gratefully…and as you say, therefore with honor…

  4. Monique Rivett-Carnac says: Reply

    What a beautifully written ” Song of Song ” I would say

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks so much, Monique–there’s a reason Mary was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth!

I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS!

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