Fully embracing my cyclical self
As a young college student, a Gender Studies major, I subscribed to the belief that the differences between men and women were negligible. 99.9% of our DNA was the same, we were more similar than we were different. Anything men could do, women could do too.
I spent the next few years trying to prove I could succeed in a male-dominated world. I wanted to have business jobs that were impressive for men to hold, to exercise at a pace that was impressive for a male threshold of fitness, to be equally as driven, dominating in my pursuits. This would serve as an example of the true equality of the sexes. The female brain and body were just as capable. I was living proof.
That is, until my body broke down. After a lifetime full of energy, I was suddenly completely depleted, struggling to simply walk the ten blocks to my office. Pins and needles erupted from my face down to my fingers. I had one mysteriously dilated pupil which made it hard for me to read and focus on things. Flares of pain started popping up in different parts of my body - my jaw, my pelvis. My hair started falling out. I was absolutely terrified.
I approached a medical system in search of answers with full confidence that I would be treated. Not once did I consider my gender. But none of the doctors could make sense of my case. There was no precedent in the books that had been written based on male patients and male research subjects. Instead, the doctors started to question my mind, my competency to report the situation accurately. Perhaps I was anxious, troubled. I started to question my mind, too. There were only two solutions - either I was the problem, or the premises that I built my understanding must be flawed, somewhere.
With nowhere else to turn, I began to question my long-held belief that men and women were fundamentally the same. I did this reluctantly, wanting desperately not to find a unique femaleness. Being female comes with processes that elicit disgust, shame, and inferiority. Those erratic hormones hold us back, cramps keep us down, blood makes us inherently dirty. I had dedicated my life to suppressing and pushing through these parts of myself to prove them trivial and inconsequential. To concede in any way that these mechanisms were actually impacting everything I did was unfeminist, unfathomable.
But when I gave those differences a closer look, my preconceived notion for the meaning of femaleness was turned on its head. These burdensome female processes were actually quite magical. Menstrual blood was full of stem cells. The clitoris was an organ unlike any before it. The entire female reproductive system was an advanced evolutionary process which had no equivalent. Most of all, I began to understand the biochemical shifts of hormones and how they influence the brain and body, creating unique outcomes that differ depending on what hormones you have and how they cycle.
From this new level of understanding, I was able to piece together the causes of my condition, which were quite simple, once female biology was finally taken into consideration. But the true gift was much larger. In increasing my understanding of the science, I began to value these cyclical hormones as a passage to enhancing one’s experience in ways that male hormones could not. Shifts throughout the month were a biological adaptation that primed us to be particularly good at certain behaviours at some moments and uniquely equipped for other behaviours at different times.
These elements, unique to women, could perhaps be seen as an advantage. On the days I had significant focus, I worked twice as fast, exercised twice as hard, and socialized twice as much. On the days I was primed to be more introspective and creative, I could draw conclusions from my work that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I could give my body adequate rest and recovery in order to make it stronger. I could take time to reflect on my individual dreams and aspirations. My work, my relationships and my sense of self all flourished.
It was with these personal triumphs that my paradigm for worth shifted. The issue of equality lies not with whether male and female biology are different, but in how we label those differences as better or worse, valuable or invaluable. Our society commends consistency, sameness - those who spend hours in the same chair, doing the same work, those who can maintain the same, stable, logical perspective, the same emotions, regardless of circumstance. But who decided consistency was the ultimate goal? Should we not also be considering versatility and multi-facitism as not only necessary, but worthy of the utmost respect and admiration?
To fully honor and appreciate these qualities, I labeled this trait as “female dynamism” - an ever-shifting complexity that was innately female, which I viewed as a source of power rather than an erratic burden. When a dynamic being is able to fully embrace and harness her dynamism she is unstoppable. Perhaps the issue was not with this dynamism itself, but with the caging of it.
Now, I approach my life with my hormones on a high pedestal, my superpowers that help me pursue a complex, fulfilling, and integrated life. Tapping into my own self-knowledge widened the spectrum of how I understood my own potential. Where can your quest of self-exploration take you?