Learning womanhood

It wasn’t until I had sex that I truly saw myself as a woman.

Gender and gender issues simply did not matter to me in the way that they seemed to matter to others. When I took a gender studies class, I nearly went out of my mind. These students, mostly women, saw gender as the defining quality in their lives. Anything that anyone else—especially men—did emanated from the essential fact of their gender.

Though I acknowledged that prejudice existed against women and patriarchy played a major role in our society, I could not wrap my head around the idea that gender could play such a crucial role in our society.

Perhaps if I hadn’t held onto my firm conviction to wait until marriage to have sex, I would have understood the importance of “women’s issues” sooner.

Without sex, pregnancy was impossible. Being an average, white, middle-class girl, the most significant type of discrimination I ran across was people assuming I was weak and timid. This was not always a disadvantage.

I had blinders on to any experience that wasn’t my own. When listing the top three roles and/or identities I would associate with myself, “woman” never came close. I was a student, a friend, and an idealist; my gender simply did not affect how I saw myself or my place in the world.

Even in my relationship with my boyfriend and, later, fiancé, my gender rarely mattered. Yes, he was a man and I was a woman, but we shared roles and responsibilities equally. He never expected me to fulfill “womanly” duties (though I did so without realizing it, especially when it came to cleaning). I never viewed him as the “decision-maker” or the “bread-winner.” We were partners. I didn’t define myself as a woman in contrast to his being a man; we just were who we were.

We got married this past March and the wedding night became a watershed date for me. Suddenly, the fact that I was a woman mattered to my life in a way it never had during academia, friendships or my other interactions in the world.

This realization had everything to do with the possible outcome of sex: a child.

For the first time, I understood that because I am a woman, this possibility has profound implications for where I go and what I do with my life. I finally grasped the fact that, having had sex, my uterus is now a political battleground and a potential curveball for any plans I make for my life.

This is not to say that I now rank “woman” as my number one identity or that I resent biology for giving me a uterus. I do, however, stand up and cheer loudly at an Obama rally when he says that he supports women’s access to contraception. As little as six months ago, I would have let his comment float by without a thought.

I’m still learning about the myriad issues that impact women, but I have finally realized their importance. Having sex made me realize that gender matters, and I cannot continue to ignore how being a woman impacts my life, or how being a woman impacts another person’s life.

Katharine Locke is a Masters student at the University of Denver working towards a degree in International Human Rights.