I’ve sat down to try and answer this question on multiple occasions, come up with different answers, a poem, a mind-map, some anecdotes from my puberty years, but the fact is that I can’t come up with an answer because I simply don’t know. I’ve written about awkward teenage encounters as I tried to navigate girlhood, trapped between an armpit-haired, force for change of a mother, and the Charlie-sprayed, push-up bra’d girl clique in school. While this time was crucial in the formation of my identity, it was the first time I began to associate womanhood with restriction. For me, the fact that I am a woman feels completely arbitrary, it is not who I am, it just happens to be how I have been positioned in this world. So, to try and explain how it feels has inevitably led me down multiple paths that’s seem to be circling nothing, because there is no feeling for me.
One of my favourite moments of any poem are the lines spoken by the unnamed (surprise surprise) woman in Eliot’s ‘The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock’:
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
Those simple lines hold so much for me because it is as if she speaks back to the portraits, the poems, the books, the definitions of woman and the definitions of man and dismisses them with those words. And this is precisely what I am trying to express, because any sense of how it feels to be a woman that I have tried to come up with always falls short of exactly what I mean. And so I have come to the conclusion that I quite simply don’t know because, while I am happy to be gendered as such, I am not a woman, I am far more than that could ever possibly encapsulate. To be posited as a woman in my miniscule space in this world feels like a constant expression of ‘that is not what I meant at all, that is not it at all.’ I am not shrinkable to any definition of gender that has been placed on me. I simply am.
Corrine is a lover, writer and organiser of all things poetry. Follow her on instagram @corrinelook to stay up to date or if you want to get involved.