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Are You a Grown Woman? An Informal Survey

Here’s the only formal announcement I’ll make: my boyfriend and I are getting a domestic partnership. There’s no milestone we’ve reached, no prying relative we want to spurn by only getting a “sort of” union. There is only the question of his health insurance, which is running out.

I’m still trying to decide whether this is a big deal or not, for our relationship and for myself. He kept stressing that we didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. I was hesitant, but realized: a person I care about has a problem, and I could provide the solution. We were thinking about doing it anyway. I bucked up, kneeled down, and asked, “Will you be my dependent?” The date is TBD.

In 2013, for the first time, I’ve become a published writer, a lipstick wearer, a full time employee with benefits, a cohabiting girlfriend, a lease signer, pap smeared, tattooed, and now, soon, a domestic partner. In 2013, I turned 22. This week, The Cut profiled two photographers who interviewed millennials around the world; I read it and answered for myself the questions that the photographers had asked of all their subjects. Where are you from? New Haven. Who do you live with? My boyfriend and two friends. Do you consider yourself an adult? No, of course not.

“I’m not an adult by any means,” I wrote. The domestic partnership makes me feel like a good girlfriend, like a provider, like a supporter; but I am still sloppy and obnoxious and sometimes late. I very rarely brush my hair. I am intimidated, a lot. I don’t feel very grown up. “But I am definitely a woman.”

So now I’m wondering the difference.

Jen Gann, 28: I feel like an adult, and, yes, I feel like a woman. I’m married, though, which I think contributes to these feelings in a negative way. My marriage itself is a very positive experience, but I DO NOT enjoy the more public and social aspects of my experience as a “married woman” thus far.

Ellen Cushing, 25: I definitely don’t feel like an adult (or a woman—those two terms feel pretty analogous to me). I’m in the process of trying to find a new apartment right now and sometime in my little pitch I describe myself as a “woman,” as opposed to girl, and it feels awkward and unfamiliar every time. Which is crazy, kind of: chronologically, at least, I am an adult. I have a real-person job and a real-person relationship. I support myself. I know how to change the oil in a car and buy shoes that fit and do my taxes. I am pretty empirically an adult, but yet… Maybe I refuse to call myself one because that might somehow preclude me from the (scattered, increasingly uncommon but still totally satisfying) moments when I act very much NOT like an adult? Maybe me refusing to use that language is just self-serving? I think if I were married or my parents weren’t alive and still acting like parents I might feel differently.

Akilah Hughes, 24: Do I consider myself an adult? Yes. But mostly because I have to, because my student loan collectors clearly consider me as such. Can’t really get around that one.

Do I consider myself a woman? Yes. Ever since Doug showed me his wee-wee when we were 5 and I was horrified and told on him, I think that’s when I realized that, yeah, I’m a woman. And no, I don’t have to take your crap, Doug.

Ruth Graham, 33: So, I have kind of strong pro-“woman” feelings. I have thought of myself as a woman pretty much since college. I’ve been financially independent since then and have felt emotionally adult since then. To me, it doesn’t have to do with living a flawlessly organized life. It has to do with a sort of inner security and confidence, an emotional equilibrium, and a willingness to take on responsibilities. I don’t think it’s WRONG to call yourself a girl, but I think you’re selling yourself short! Womanhood is awesome.

Roxane Gay, 39: It is only in the past few years, having finished graduate school (2010) and gotten a career instead of merely a job that I’ve really felt like an adult. Part of it has been that I’m finally in a relatively financially secure place. I have crazy student loans but I can also make the monthly payment and not only being able to do this but recognizing how lucky I am for being able to pay my bills as a writer and writing teacher is when I realized, damn, I AM grown. When it comes to my personal life, I feel like less of an adult, because I’m not “settled” yet. I date inappropriate men and often make not so great choices and I am not so great with things like grocery shopping or taking good care of myself. I want to be, though, so maybe that desire is adult, too. What I do know is that each year I get older, the more comfortable in being an adult and owning adulthood.

Megan Reynolds, 31: Grown, like I said before, is a state of mind only, for me. There are mornings when I wake up and feel grown as shit, like I have my life together, and I’ve had coffee and I’m ready to take the day. Some days are more grown than others. Right now, because I’m not working I feel less grown, but I’m still hustling and paying things on time, so it evens out.

Woman feels like the kind of thing that people say to you after sex-ed class, when you leave the room clutching those bags of deodorant and tampons that they give out. It’s a weird word.

Heather Yamada-Hosley, 23: Adulthood is built upon several experiences, such as being financially independent and taking care of others in a way you didn’t before, being partially responsible for someone else’s well-being. A big part of adulthood is being able to step outside your own point of view and see the needs of others around you and take action.

To me, the most basic definition of being a woman is being over the age of 18 (could be slightly younger) but having accepted adult responsibilities. It also irks me that males above age 18 aren’t usually referred to as “boy” but women are referred to as “girls.” And I think that devalues women in a way, implies they aren’t as adult or as mature.

Michele, 35: I began to feel like an adult when, although I don’t have kids, I started having to take care of people. My brother died at the age of 32, so I was left as an only child. Then, when my dad had a stroke and was rendered speechless and partially paralyzed, I, alone, had to make the decisions regarding his brain surgeries, hospital, condo, and everything else. He and my mom were divorced and his bank account, possessions, and everything else became something I had to start controlling.

Now, right before his stroke, I was very much still his little girl in many ways. I remember I got my MacBook Pro stolen the year before and he said, “I’ll send you the money to replace it.” My firm was going to replace it and I told him so and he said, “I’ll still send you half.” Even though I was grown, we still had this relationship where he expected to take care of me and I, a grown woman trying to become a partner in a law firm, was still letting him.

Lauren, 25: Okay, so a lot of this is tied up in how much I disliked college/academics. I grew up white, suburban, middle class, lots of privilege. Nonetheless, I worked in college because I wanted to stay completely, 100% debt free and took a lot more value in my work than in my grades, despite solid As and Bs. So I have always seen myself as more of an adult and more of a worker. I never wanted to be a student; I even graduated early because I hated writing papers at my small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest.

As for the woman thing, if sorority girls are mandated to call themselves “women” instead of girls, why the fuck am I not a woman? I am proud to be a woman and glad to be among this bombdotcom grown-ass half of the population. I’m a super-feminist too, and lady, it’s not girl’s rights, it’s goddamn WOMEN’S rights. I have long railed against stupid, infantilizing terms like bitch and chick, so I am a woman. Or lady.

Layla, 25: I go back and forth on considering myself an adult. I think I am because I’m out of school and in the “real world,” and because I’m a mature, rational person who can talk about sex, commitment, relationships without shame or fear. At the same time, my idea of being an adult is tied to financial independence. I feel like I’ll be a real adult when I have a full-time job with benefits, pay for my own phone bill, and live in a place with a washer and dryer.

I have a weird relationship with the word “woman.” It conjures up images of Chico’s, Lifetime movies, and Woman’s World magazine to me, so it isnt a word I often use to refer to myself. Strangely, I don’t feel that way about the word “women.”

Kat Ward, 28: I don’t think being an adult necessarily HAS to be tied to financial stability. I think what’s essential, whether you’re an heiress or you’re living in your parents’ spare bedroom, is to take personal responsibility for your choices and their consequences, doing your work (whatever it may be), and engaging with the world—particularly when it challenges you. And if we’re lucky, we always have family and friends who can support us and back us up, so we can engage with the challenges of the world after a three-hour strategizing conversation with your bestie, and still claim adulthood.

I think realized womanhood comes differently for people—but I think the main thing is embracing all the messy, complex elements thrust upon us by our gender. When I was in college, I was still very definitely a girl; I was squeamish about sex and asking for/pursuing what I wanted vs. just pleasing partners. I was pro-choice, but not really engaged with what it meant to be a woman in America (institutional sexism, aggressive sexism, expectations public and private about your choices/plans). My personal womanhood standard is when you’re ready to say, “Well, fuck this, I’m going to make and hold to my own opinions”—and then you roll up your sleeves and figure your shit out, stake out your personal stances (even if they’re Ann Coulter-levels of wrong), and get set to hold them.

Alicia Kennedy, 28: In my early twenties, I went straight from living at home into living with the boyfriend I’d been with since I was 16. Marriage wasn’t on the table for political reasons; kids weren’t on the agenda for personal reasons. Those things were never going to grant me the womanhood I couldn’t quite grasp, but our great home, cat, and the dinner parties we threw for friends were what I thought would. When the strain of ceaseless familiarity eventually broke us up after 11 years together, I moved from Long Island to Brooklyn. There I live with a few roommates, never cook, furniture is sparse, and I’m out almost every night. In my late twenties, I’m living more like one would expect of someone younger, but the independence has given me so much confidence—and the ability to comfortably call myself an adult, a woman. Letting go of some of the trappings of what I was told was the perfect existence has freed me from a lot of anxiety, because I hadn’t been happy, and when I perhaps chance upon them again, I will do so knowing that they aren’t what’s essential to a good, adult life.

Ellie Shechet, 23: I don’t feel like an adult because I don’t work out or eat salads. I don’t feel like an adult because my parents still help with my rent, I don’t know how to file taxes, and I spend 80% of my free time watching Vanderpump Rules. I don’t feel like an adult because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t feel like a woman because I don’t feel like an adult—and because I don’t work out or eat salads. I also don’t feel like a woman because I’m still waiting for my boobs to enter the final stage of boob growth illustrated in this “Learn About Your New Woman-Body” book my mom gave me in middle school. It shows this girl brushing her teeth topless in four or five stages as she grows older and her breasts get bigger—which, first of all, who brushes their teeth topless? Does this teen live in her own apartment? Is her concern for preventing the ruination of her sleep shirt via toothpaste-spatter greater than her fear of flashing an unexpected family member? Anyway, I never really seemed to move out of stage three, boob-wise, and I imagined adult-womanhood to involve clutching lots of people to my gigantic stage-five bosom.

Nina, 31: Adult, because it’s nobody’s responsibility to take care of me. I have prided myself on this since I first moved away from home, and now I live on the other side of the world from my whole family and am estranged from one of my parents, so it’s important to define myself like that. I don’t have the luxury of behaving like a kid anymore.

Woman, because gender is important to me. I work in film, and I often find myself having to remind people I am a woman when asked why I’m not interested in seeing the latest blockbuster, or why classic canon films don’t appeal to me.

These terms aren’t the same. It’s possible to be female but not see yourself as gendered. I used to feel like that, but then I discovered feminism and decided to include womanhood as an important part of my identity.

Angie Hughes, 31: I have never felt like a woman. I feel like something in-between girl and woman (Britney nailed it). Person is the term I guess I’m most comfortable calling myself. Sometimes I use “lady” but slightly in jest. The word woman makes me think of some ultra-feminine force. Or someone very serious or very sexual. I have always been a bit of a goofy tomboy, so I have never identified with the term.

I DO feel like an adult. Because of a few things: I’m financially independent. My decisions are made by me and me only. And I feel responsible for my own actions.

Jia, 25: I actively resist spending any amount of time directly thinking about self-definition, and so although I’d say yes to both calling myself an adult and calling myself a woman, I even now am having a hard time really imputing any personal meaning to either of those words as they relate to me, my behavioral mood swings, the human quest to keep getting better despite our terrible ugly flaws. I do think there’s an important assertion of self-possession that can be pulled out of both “adulthood” and “womanhood,” but to me, the first-run meanings of both “adult” and “woman” have been so heavily shaped by men and advertising that the words have come to seem overly performative (I think the blossoming of Pinterest fervor in the early-twenties female demographic draws on the instinctual desire to perform both adulthood and womanhood “better”) and either negatively referential (“I’ve shed all these bad, young aspects of myself”) or instinctively defensive (“I’m a grown-ass woman and I’m going to switch from coffee to wine at 4 PM if I want to do so”). I generally just squirm when asked to consider myself, perhaps not in an adult or womanly manner, and run away to gain the true psychosexual meaning of all words via the videos of Beyonsay.

Carolyn, 34: I suppose I’m an adult? I’ve passed all the big age milestones: driving, voting, etc. I’m married, I own a house, pay the bills, have an accountant, own a business, and dress like a professional (some days). But, I don’t have kids, and I’m still a big kid myself. I have Care Bears and a squadron of pegacorn on my desk, for chrissakes. So in the sense of checkboxes ticked, I’m an adult; inside, not so much.

Woman or girl is a question I’ve been trying to figure out for years. I don’t think of myself as a “woman” unless we’re talking sexy times, and then only conceptually. But I don’t really fit the “girl” category. I am always shocked at how old I am, and always think when they’re talking about women on tv they’re really talking about someone 10 years older than I am. I thought this in my 20s, too. I guess it’s an ever-moving target.

Jennifer, 25: I do consider myself an adult, but it’s far removed from the type of “adulthood” I imagined when I was younger. It’s strange because being in my mid-twenties, I “should” be an adult, and I guess I “am” an adult. I pay for my own rent, and I’ve been financially independent for years. I’ve held several jobs, and I can take care of myself. I suppose I will feel like an adult when I feel like it—it will be something I have to own and really feel/come to a conclusion to, on my own, it seems.

It’s a struggle to see myself as a woman, when I a) do look young for my age and b) the term “woman” seems old or matronly, for some reason, and c) I rarely hear people refer to me as a woman.

But they aren’t one and the same, adult and woman. There seems to be some type of divide between the two.

Basically, I’m waiting for “adulthood” to hit me. Adulthood means being able to own a dog. That kind of stability. As for “womanhood,” I think I’m still waiting for that to hit me too in some ways. I’m waiting for all the signifiers to make me feel like a “woman”—major curves (which I don’t naturally have), the ability to do “domestic” or “womanly” things (although I don’t at all think that makes someone more womanly)—being able to do hair and makeup flawlessly, blahblahblah. I guess being a woman to me is being a unicorn.

Corey, 30: I definitely consider myself an adult, even if I don’t feel like one sometimes. I have a job, live independently, and have tons of bills that I have to pay every month. Responsibility makes adults of us all, I guess. I also definitely consider myself a woman. I don’t really understand when women shy away from calling themselves as such! Why would I want to make myself anything less than I am?

Meagan Hatcher-Mays, 31: I do consider myself a woman, I guess, in the biological and societal sense. I present as a woman. People see me as a woman. But I don’t ever use that word, “woman.” “Woman” just feels like a milestone or something other people have achieved but I have not and I don’t personally know anyone who has. A “woman” is like someone you cast for your commercial, not a real thing that exists. To that end, I feel like I’ve achieved some “womanly” feats. I’m married, to a dude, I own a car, I have a couple of degrees, I have good friends, and a pair of tiny dogs. I have a job. Those seem like the things a woman in a commercial would have, so I guess I’m a woman?

But as I get older I care less and less about labeling myself, especially when it comes to gender labeling. Milestones that used to seem culturally important to me now feel more like personal choices rather than goals, you know what I mean? Pigeonholing what it means to be a woman feels awfully exclusive and unfair to those who don’t stack up to those traditional definitions.

As for being an adult… fuck! No! I do not think of myself as an adult! I remember being a kid and thinking to myself (FOR REAL), “I will be an adult when I’m 27.” When I was 27 I was like, “Maybe I’ll be an adult when I’m 60?” I keep waiting for this moment where I wake up and I’m like, “Ah, here it is. Here is this feeling of authority and power that denotes adulthood.” It hasn’t happened yet. Being an adult seems so wrapped up in responsibility and control and life never feels like that for me. This is why I still don’t have kids. Ideally, when you have kids, you need to be the most responsible person in the room. I am not that person. My room is messy and I have dishes in the sink from last week and I feel like I’m 9 years old every single day.

Plus I have a bunch of debt from law school now so the concept of “financial stability” feels like a hilarious joke. Like, that will literally never happen. It seems like adults are financially stable, so therefore I will never be an adult. Also I haven’t been to the dentist since 2008.

My mom, 48: Yes, both, of course. I’m an adult because I suffer the consequences when I don’t follow the rules. I’m a woman because I get my period, because I have a gynecologist, because I stink sometimes. I stink like a woman. But I didn’t feel like a woman until my late 30s—I felt like an extended teen. A young adult, I guess. I had you at 25, but I still didn’t feel like an adult—I felt like a mom. Being a mom overrides a lot of things: adult, woman, everything. It doesn’t leave room for much else.

Oh, I saw you liked my bitstrips thing on Facebook! I love bitstrips, they’re so fun! Do you have bitstrips? (“No, that’s lame.”) Oh, that’s right, I forgot—you’re an adult.

Jazmine Hughes is the kind of woman the baker will let near the bread.


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