Woman is a debate, a discussion about what makes woman a person. Woman can only ever be what men have made her. She cannot make herself, learn by herself, create herself. She is object not subject. She is categorised, labelled and cut away into smaller and smaller margins. This is woman. That is not. Woman is flat, one-dimensional and always too large. Woman is defined. Men just are, as they have always been.
Woman is less than the sum of her parts. Breasts and bones and halos and holes. Soft flesh paper-mâchéd over an ice queen. Are your parts correct? Change them. Reduce them. Expand them. Fix them. Otherwise you are not woman because woman is only the surface men can see and label. Fit tag A into slot B. Woman is only her tags and slots.
Woman is named into namelessness. Whore, Madonna, Jezebel, angel, Delilah, gold-digger, crone, ingenue, hag and fury. Foundation and nothing. She is creator and destroyer. Woman is irrelevant to her own creation and responsible for her own destruction.
Woman is the sisterhood. Adamant bonds forged in laughter and pain. Loving, supporting, judging, accepting, rejecting, ejecting, reflecting. The sisterhood aspires to kindness and falls short, because womanhood always fails. Men are not required to be kind and so their unkindness is not failure. It just is.
Woman is less than human. She is a harpy, a vixen, fox, a cougar. She is a sex kitten, a queen bee, a tiger mom, a dragon. Woman is a bitch, a doll, a dyke, a thing. She is the greatest threat men can envisage and an irrelevance that can only nag itself into becoming visible.
Woman is accepted and rejected in her body and her blood. Woman’s blood is proscribed and invisible unless it is definitive, causative or self-inflicted. Woman never sheds blood, save only for when she is unwomanly, grotesque, unmentionable. Woman’s body is the space where too much and not enough coexist. She is empty space created to absorb violence and love, always wrong in her shape and design. She is judged by her conformity to a non-existent form. Subsume who you are into what you are told to be, or you are not woman.
Woman is only one thing, one feeling, one moment in time. She has no complexity or changeability. She has no conflict that belongs to her alone because her conflicts are always inflicted on others. She is never kind to herself because woman is selfless not self. Erase all that is displeasing because woman proves her allegiance to womanhood by her endeavours to please.
Are you not what I was told woman should be? Die! Burn! Woman is protected and imperilled by womanhood. Conform before your variation makes my definition more dangerous. Men will hurt us both, but I will be safer if they hurt you first. Womanhood is waiting in the queue of threat. Will you give up your place in the line for me? What about her? Is she even allowed to stand with us? Is woman defined by her trauma or her love? By what she is or what she is not? She is all those things and none of them.
Woman is a past with no future. She is surface with no depth. She is the price men pay and the cost of her own choices. Woman is sugary and spicy, niceties that never intrude or inflame. Woman cannot define herself, that is not her role. Woman is the receptacle of womanhood not its creator.
Woman fights, screams, emotes and shares. She discusses and debates and disagrees and thereby proves her lack of womanliness. Men look on, pleased by their own sagacity. ‘See?’ they say as they march to war. ‘Women are always their own worst enemies.’
What is a woman? A woman is what she is told she cannot be, she is never what she is. •
Jane Gilmore is a journalist and author. She has a Master of Journalism from University of Melbourne. Her book Fixed It: Violence and the Representation of Women in the Media was published in 2019.