what is a woman?
WHAT IS A WOMAN? by kayla goggin
Be 12 years old. Be fat. Force your fat legs into the new khaki trousers your grandma gave you for Christmas. When your mom sees you she tells you you look like a stuffed sausage. Last week she told you you’re as big as a house. One day you cry and tell her you’re afraid no boys will ever like you. She says it’s okay because men like curvy women.
A boy at school asks you: “Does between your legs smell like fish?”
Be 13. Be on a diet until you’re 17. Mom says she was able to convince dad not to send you to fat camp. After she says this she stares at you, patiently waiting for you to express your gratitude.
Be 14. Win academic awards at school, get high grades, be in the “gifted” classes. Pray every night that you’ll wake up skinny. Only consume media featuring beautiful, young, white, straight, thin women. This is not by choice – you’re just a kid: the target demographic of an immortal machine tasked with feeding you homogeneity in exchange for money.
Be 16. Lose sixty pounds; go on a cruise for Christmas. Your father berates your mother the whole time and you discover the midnight chocolate buffet. Gain all the weight back. Your brother has forgotten your name, he only calls you “fatso”; a boy on the bus you thought was your friend calls you “tubby”; seeing your best friend in a bathing suit makes you cry.
Be 19 and still a virgin. Fuck a guy you don’t like and cry about it to your best friend in a parking lot two nights later. “At least someone wanted to use your body,” she says. You stare at the foggy windshield and hold your breath. “I guess,” you say.
Be 20. Win more academic awards, go to the school of your dreams, get a scholarship. Fuck more guys you don’t like. Meet a 911 operator at a Kwanzaa party in your friend’s shitty apartment and exchange text messages for a few days. You have nothing in common but he wants you so you go along with it. You fuck in his car in the woods and he is annoyed that you make him use a condom. He tells you to put your bra back on because he doesn’t like your breasts. A few days later he calls you to tell you someone died while he was on the phone with them and he was fired. You never speak again.
Be 21 and realize you’ve never turned a man down for a date. Maybe it’s because you’re afraid he might be the last one who will ask – I mean, you should take what you can get, right?
Be 22. Sleep with a woman you’ve had a crush on for a while. The first time you’re naked together, you’re shocked by her respect for your body. It doesn’t work out with her but that’s okay. You are just relieved to know that your body is acceptable.
Be 25. We need you to be an adult now. Do what a woman does. Forget, forgive, forgive, forget.
Be a confident, self-assured, self-reliant woman who pays her bills and never disappoints in bed. Be in a stable, healthy, long-term relationship with a beautiful, extroverted, intelligent, ambitious person. Be stylish, funny, not too loud, not too cynical. Be thinking about babies, your career, making a home, opening a 401k, becoming a role model. Have your shit together, have it all figured out, rise above cultural expectations, make your family proud.
You will have rage and sadness and bitterness and pain, but we will remind you: a woman is a container. A woman makes compromises. A woman’s body belongs to her some of the time. A woman should always smile. Are you a “strong woman” or not?
When we ask you to rate your pain on a scale from zero to ten, remember that zero is your baseline. Zero is understood as the everyday experience of womanhood. Your pain may only increase from there. And when we ask about your pain, remember that we are only considering the intensity of it, not its duration.
When we ask about your pain, we aren’t asking about your suffering. So, anyway, what we want to know is: why are you still so angry?