I was struck by the following observation in Zan's comment below my post on women in combat. She said (in part):
I don't know why some of you can't swallow the fact that women are better at some things than men and men are better at some things than women. To me, it seems like you are ashamed of your sex and trying to change it. I am proud of my sex. I am proud that I have the ability to bear children and exhibit my natural feminine abilities. I am not trying to change who I am but simply embrace my strenghts and limitations.
Where Zan and I clearly have a difference of opinion is that I think the differences between men and women are far fewer than was traditionally believed. Obviously, I can bear children whereas men cannot. And most men my age can lift heavier things than I can. But in term of toughness, courage, ambition, aggressiveness, nurturing abilities, compassion, objectivity, and other such qualities, I don't think men and women really differ that much. It's obviously hard to separate nature and nurture, but I feel that I, as an individual, am not much different than my male friends, colleagues, and relatives with regard to cognitive, psychological, and personality traits. I present myself in a relatively feminine manner (in terms of dress and bearing) but, as I've written before, I think my femininity is simply a style that can be cast off when the situation requires.
And yet-- when I think about it, I have an extremely strong sense of gender identity. If you told me that I would be turned into a man tomorrow, I'd be horrified. I have no desire whatsoever to be a man-- notwithstanding the many advantages of having a man's physical strength and a man's inability to get pregnant. But even though I have that strong subjective feeling of wanting to be a woman, I am not really sure why. I most likely will never experience pregnancy. My job as a litigator, which is an important part of my identity, is a traditionally masculine role requiring traditionally masculine traits and styles of behavior. My lifestyle isn't that different than most of the men I know.
So what does being a woman mean to me? I just don't know except that on an entirely subjective level, I really like being a woman. I suppose my heterosexual orientation has a lot to do with it. My relationship with my husband is a crucial part of my life. Before I met him, I hugely enjoyed being attracted to, dating, and flirting with the opposite sex. And (embarrassing confession forthcoming), in a romantic or physical relationship, I admire and enjoy the fact that the man has greater physical strength -- even though in other contexts I would prefer to have equal physical strength and, to the extent I do have equal physical strength, I get a huge kick out of besting men in athletic events (long distance running was once my forte).
There must surely be more to my gender identity than just my sexual orientation but it's a mystery. I am certainly not ashamed to be a woman. I just don't accept that being a woman means being docile or subservient or timid or overly emotional or weak. As for what being a woman means, I would like to see a society where each individual has the freedom to define that for herself.