“On ne nait pas femme: on le devient.” Oui? Peut etre. And what a wonderful process it is. Not the being, but the actual process of becoming, which is a metamorphosis ripe with birth, death, and the not so subtle hint of regeneration.
Men and women are different. To argue otherwise would be to ignore anatomy, biology, and one may argue even psychology. From birth genetics separate the sexes, dictating which path each will choose. Many have asserted that anatomical differences do not constitute gender, and that gender is chosen independently from biological factors. Yes, this is true. But one’s anatomy, for most, is a determining component of their identity. If we read Simone de Beauvoir, then we are to understand that these determinations are made not by the individuals, but by those care takers who are the individual’s first contact with society and their surroundings. From the ways in which little boys and girls are treated as soon as they exit the womb. From those first breaths of life where one will be left to cry in order to learn patience, a most notable virtue, and the other will be immediately pampered to gain self assurance and the notion of control. I am sure you can surmise which is which.
In those early moments the baby, soon little girl, and then woman, will enter a world of process. Always process.
If we read Judith Butler, then we understand that the world of becoming is a role that is played out over and over again, enacted to resemble that which is expected, but always with a difference. While biology, anatomy, and several other disciplines ending in -ology will dictate what is what, the role playing is outside of all of them, and a conscious decision each actor makes.
Then, if we read Germaine Greer we are taught that it is not one or the other, but both of these things. Greer didn’t believe in performing gender outside of biological sex. Yes, gender is performed, and what it means to be a woman is simply a spindle indicating some variation on the spectrum of the larger concept of “womanhood,” but if you weren’t born with the right anatomical structures, then these roles could not be properly played. One does not choose their anatomy, but rather to what degree they want to play it out.
I don’t believe one becomes a woman. One is born a woman, and one can either choose to play it out, or not. Hence my skeptic remark following the initial quote at the beginning. It is entirely a choice, in that a particular life style, along with the implications of living it, should not be forced on anyone. However, if that is one’s predilection, then the process is not so much one of becoming, but rather a constant reenactment. One cannot “become” that which one already is.
To reenact implies an original act that must be repeated, and thus the process is a loop. The original, in regards to femininity, or womanhood, is an ideal, or concept, of how it should appear. Each actor plays it out according to their own interpretation, giving birth to myriad manifestations of the perceived true form.
But to act implies a beginning and end. The act has a beginning and an end. Some believe the act begins at dawn, when rising, and with one choosing to play out the role throughout the day, until dusk. Others believe it is a life-long commitment to the self, taken on at the youngest possible age, even as early as six months, as soon as one conceptualizes themselves as an individual of sorts. And I say “of sorts” because what it means to be an individual is an entire discussion onto itself. Regardless of when this process begins and ends, the fact that it does is of importance.
To act is to embody the persona one wishes to portray, and each time one does so, the persona, or in this case gender, is brought to life. Of course there are two genders. Actually, there are many genders with two predominant ones. I will focus on one – the feminine – and its process, with the idea that the process is not much different for the other genders and thus can be extrapolated to describe them as well. However I will not, and cannot, pretend to have any idea. I was born a woman, have maintained the facade my entire life, and thus am completely unequipped and unsuitable to theorize on the process of becoming a man, or any other of the multiple genders in current use.
When going to a play one sees the show, and consequently the actors. However, what they are watching is the end product. Acting is a “project.” Gender is not improvised (at least not on a regular basis, even though there is occasionally room for it). To perform a gender one must know it, what it is supposed to look like, and how one wants to portray it. Gender is a character with motives, often unclear. Woman is convoluted. Who is she? What does she want? Would she say this or that? How does she behave? What does she look like? How does she speak? All of these things and more must be answered before one can step on stage and pretend to be a woman.
That is childhood and early adolescence. It is the script reading, the rehearsal, the character analysis of femininity. Once one accepts the role, she must learn everything about her part, and the learning process is a beautiful thing that manifests itself through rigorous trial and error. Hence the prototype of woman can be seen in the little girl, playing at acting, and rereading her lines. She will fail at first. She always does. One is born a woman, but must perfect the process. Always the process.
And that is when the reenactment comes in. This is when the play within the play becomes evident. She is enacting womanhood, while we watch her enact womanhood. She has chosen her path, at whatever early stages of life, and now we watch her on stage as she plays it out, each day tweaking her character a little more. Once she moves through the baby stages, into the little girl phase, and then into womanhood, she has not become anything, but continues the process each day until death. Let’s say she lives 80 years. She will rewrite her own character roughly 30,000 times.
Everyone has an idea of the ideal female, whether she was created by society or not, and for everyone it is different. Once one takes the path towards womanhood, she takes the path towards her perceived ideal. Somewhere for every woman there is a root of consciousness that she is acting out what she believes to be this ideal, and must change herself accordingly. However, the ideal changes with time. What may have been the embodiment of perfection at sixteen will not suit a thirty year old, much like it won’t work for a forty five year old, and it will do even less for a sixty year old. There is no set ideal – not even for a single person. So the acting process continues, because as the ideal changes so must the actor continuously alter their part to properly play out what they believe the audience wants to see.
Whether a persona works or not can only be evaluated on stage. Once the character is tweaked, she must perform before being evaluated. So the woman gives birth to herself each day as she presents to the world a new version of herself, even if only a micrometer different from the character she played yesterday.
The character may pass or fail the test. If she passes, then she will be called on each day until she lives out her purpose. It may be days, weeks, or even years before the woman decides there is another facet of femininity she wants to explore. Maybe she is done being autonomous and wants to become a wife. Maybe she wants a different career. Maybe she simply wants a new look. Maybe she wants to become maternal (another discussion onto itself). Does she want multiple things? Regardless a change is underway and the character needs to have her motives reevaluated. The woman, who behaves as a woman, will now behave as a woman with a difference. And we get to watch that as well. Her mind is spinning with possibility, and she investigates her potential roles. As she pulls the curtain on her current one, her character dies. She will be reincarnated as another facet of woman. The process lends itself well to regeneration.
She gives birth to her new character or level- her new self- which entails a certain death of the old, and as each progression takes place so does a new regeneration.
A never ending project of woman unfolds. And the actress dies on stage each night.
Chaque fois on est toujours ne une femme.