The Taboo of Hysterectomy, Part 2: Definition of a Woman

Since I had my hysterectomy it’s been harder to figure out where I belong, especially where being a woman is concerned. I realize that I haven’t yet figured it all out, but here goes trying.

Think about what makes up a woman, mentally and emotionally.

I’ll share parts of my definition of a woman:

A woman is kind, sincere, strong, passionate, compassionate, a listener. I could go on, but those are the main things that pop into my mind initially. One could certainly argue for more or less attributes.

What about physically?

There are things that don’t necessarily contribute fully like hair length or height, but can certainly be pictured a certain way when envisioning a woman. There are others that can’t necessarily be argued: a woman has breasts, a woman has a reproductive system that includes a uterus and cervix made specifically to house a growing baby, a woman has a period, women have birthed children.

When women get together and discuss being a woman, “girl talk,” it is usually the physical aspects, not the emotional or mental aspects. Women discuss being a woman, without having to directly say, “we’re talking about what it is to be a woman.” Women discuss how their periods make them feel; women discuss what it feels like to give birth and carry a child; women discuss breasts (on themselves or on other women). These are just simply the things that only other women can understand because it is what separates them from being men.

Over the past 3 years I’ve tried to figure out where I fit in this picture. I don’t have a period, and I’m not grateful to not have one (some women are, some aren’t – for me it represents something that I can’t have and have lost so I’m not personally fond of the idea that it’s a good thing that I don’t have one). I don’t have a working or complete reproductive system. I can’t bear children.

I’m left with breasts. I do have those.

I am an incomplete woman. Is there a definition of a woman that goes beyond the physical? Something that is being a woman alone and doesn’t relate to men (men can certainly be compassionate and strong and kind)? A man can not bear a child or have a period or have breasts.

Is it a feeling? Does one only have to feel like a woman and not have to carry the physical aspects? I’m not entirely sure about that. I know that when I sit in a circle of women talking about the experiences of being a woman – I don’t belong. I’m not a part of that world anymore, and I don’t share in their experiences as women. I’ve experienced something that singles me out and casts me out. I’m terribly unsympathetic to periods pains, or birth/pregnancy pains – and I don’t necessarily have things to share that would bond me with other women on a level that could only speak to a woman.

This part of my writing is going to be more open discussion than anything, as I’ve said, I haven’t figured it out yet. I’ve already expressed my feelings, and my conclusion is that I am somehow an incomplete woman, that I am no longer a part of the world of women. What do you feel defines a woman? If a woman does not encompass your definition, can she still be a complete woman? For me, since I do not completely fit into my definition of being a women, I’m not a complete woman. What is it for you? And do you fit into your definition of being a woman? Could you fit your definition of being a woman if you lost an important part of that?


6 responses to “The Taboo of Hysterectomy, Part 2: Definition of a Woman

  1. As much as I do not want a Hysterectomy I have come to terms with the fact that I may need one in the next few years…..

    I know thinking I am okay with it and actually being okay with it are two totally different things.

  2. These are two very powerful posts. I am amazed at the grace you have in regards to what you have gone through! I, personally, do not believe that functioning girl parts need enter into the definition of what makes a woman. I have my own troubles with nonfunctioning girl parts, my own grief with not being able to conceive, but what makes us women, mothers, nurturers is so very much more than uncooperative ovaries – well, that’s the thinking that I try to cling to when the pain of not conceiving a child drags me down. Can I say here how awesome I think you are? Cuz you are.

  3. HERS Foundation

    Beautifully said, Melinda. Indeed, hysterectomy does “Redefine Woman” because surgical removal of the female organs does redefine female anatomy. Women who have undergone hysterectomy are still chromosonally “female”, but the sexual energy and vitality is not the same, and for many women it is lost entirely. Most people don’t realize unless their female organs have been removed how much sexual response has to do with sexuality, personality, and the way we interact and communicate.

    Please go to HERS web site and sign the petition to stop unconsented (hyseterectomy without the information needed to provide informed consent) hysterectomy.


    Nora W. Coffey, President
    HERS Foundation

  4. In addition to anatomically and chromosonally female, there is the spiritual aspect. To me, the anatomy is just an outward manifestation of part of my spiritual identity and, no matter what happens to my body, that identity would not change. So I guess what I’m really saying is that I define myself as a woman because (I believe) God made me a woman. No matter what happens to my body, I will always be a woman. Which is not to say that I think what you have been through is no big deal, because, obviously, it is a huge deal.

  5. These are awesome posts. I can’t believe how ignorant some people are to minimize your grief. Having something that drs. call “incompetent” cervix, I can somewhat identify with your feelings. Will be back when I have more time.

  6. What a huge topic! You have introduced and covered it SO well Melinda.
    I’ve thought of this question in a different context in the past – when I was living in DC and working for an outreach organization. We did overnight shifts in a mobile van/clinic that provided resources to prostitutes, many of whom were transgendered women. That is, people born with XY chromosomes, but who truly identified as women. I have no idea why this happens to people, just that it does and that society’s rigid definitions make their lives so complicated and difficult.
    Yes, there is a physical component to gender. But I believe, as E. so articulately stated, that the physical is a manifestion of the spritual or emotional. There is something inside, a deeper identity, that the outside only supports but doesn’t define. I don’t think it’s the chromosomes, body parts, or physical features that define our gender.
    That said, I can TOTALLY sympathize with where you are coming from and how your identity would be shaken by losing your most cherished female manifestation.
    Thank you again for sharing your story.

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