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Marcia Reynolds

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Who Decides What It Means to Be a Woman?

Posted: 07/08/10 10:00 AM ET

From enraged to sad and everything in between -- that's how I felt when I read an article about Maria New, a New York endocrinologist recommending the steroid dexamethasone to her pregnant clients to ensure their daughters are feminine.

Although she and her colleagues claim they are trying to stop a congenital condition, the papers they write indicate they are also making sure girls are not subject to "behavioral masculinization." As her colleague psychologist Heino F. L. Meyter-Bahlburg said, their treatment will ensure girls have an interest in "getting married and performing the traditional childcare/housewife role."

Whether their quotes are taken out of context or these doctors are actually looking to create Stepford Wives, what gives these people the right to define what it means to be a woman?

And let's put aside that their treatment has not been approved by the FDA and could easily cause other disorders in the babies of mothers who took dexamethasone throughout their pregnancies. Haven't we learned from the DES and Thalidomide tragedies that giving drugs to pregnant women without decades of testing is dangerous?

In another study that came out last week, we see that the rate of women who end their childbearing years without having children is increasing. The study doesn't take into account how many women are choosing to adopt instead, so I question the interpretation of these results. For example, the study reports that more than a third of Americans rate this trend as bad for society.

The fact that women might choose different paths other than having their own babies, and that relationships can be healthy whether or not couples have children, doesn't mean society is crumbling. The study also cites the fact that women with advanced degrees are having more children than they did 10 years ago, so the argument that babies only come from poor, uneducated mothers doesn't hold water.

We are not experiencing an abandonment of female values that must be reversed. On the contrary, we are experiencing a raising of consciousness where all humans, men and women, are free to choose a life based on their passions--whatever that might be.

Will some childless women regret the choices they made when they were younger? Yes, as well will women with children and men who never followed their dreams. Hindsight brings both wisdom and sorrow. Too much time spent wallowing in hindsight keeps us from appreciating the good in the lives we have led.

I wish I could put a stop to the people repressing girls under the guise of returning to traditional values. Why should girls who want to be physically strong, pursue demanding careers or even choose to express her feminine traits of nurturing and compassion in another way than having children be made to feel like misfits? We are not living in a democracy if we cannot freely choose how to live our lives as women.

I am opinionated on this issue due to my own history. When I was told I had to have a hysterectomy at the age of 22, I didn't have a chance to explore the effect this would have on my life before I was hit with the barrage of sympathy for my pitiful fate. Every doctor and nurse I faced told me they were sorry for my horrendous loss. One nurse said, "It is so sad you won't ever be a whole woman."

I did experience a loss of body parts and a possible future, but it wasn't the loss of my life. I still had many wonderful possibilities ahead of me that could include raising a family or not. I have since spent three decades teaching adults how to be good leaders and coaching people to have satisfying as well as successful lives. I never lost my feminine values or my chance to nurture others. I have been accused of having a masculine drive. Maybe we should also be asking the question, "What does it mean to be a man?"

It is a time of transformation. Many women are experiencing the fog of confusion as they seek to discover who they are, what their purpose is and what life decisions they should make. There is always a fog when we walk down the path of change. Do we walk through the uncertainty or revert to the past in fear? I think that both men and women should hold on to each other as we keep moving forward. The voices that stand for freedom need to be heard if we are to stop the acts that confine us.

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD is speaks on leadership and emotional intelligence for audiences around the world. Her book, Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction is for any smart, strong, goal-driven woman walking through the wonderful fog of change in their lives.

 
 
 

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