The way you perceive me changes upon your knowledge of my gender. You’ll make certain assumptions, and judge my words differently according to your preconceptions of my gender.
The Oxford dictionary defines gender as:
gender — Noun. 1[MASS NOUN] the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones): ‘traditional concepts of gender’
I’ve had a complicated relationship with gender. When I was a little kid, I remember, I loved to wear dresses and skirts. Then one day, I abruptly stopped wearing them because the boys in pre-school would constantly harass any girl wearing a skirt. I guess they were curious about what color our panties were. Every time! It kinda got in the way of having fun. Which, of course, bothered me! When I complained to adults about this, I was told what every other little girl was told: that’s just the way boys are; if you don’t like it, don’t let them do it to you. So I informed my mom I would no longer wear skirts to school, ever again. At this time I could still see myself as female, although I hated when boys didn’t let me play with their “boy toys”; my favourites: Transformers and later, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Then I hit puberty. That’s when it all went sour. My body started to develop and I didn’t like the attention it would get me. I started hiding behind super baggy clothes. Eventually I’d be getting all my clothes from the boys’ section, and I preferred surf brands to ensure extra bagginess. At fifteen I shaved my hair and was quite pleased when people mistaken me for a boy. I can’t really pinpoint an event or something else that triggered this, but I just could not identify with any female image the world showed me. So I just simply denied belonging to the female gender altogether.
At this point, a friend even asked if I was transexual. Which I’ll admit, I gave it some thought myself. But no, I knew I was not transexual. I didn’t have a problem with my physical body. What I did have a huge problem with was, the way I was perceived based on the body I owned, or shall I say the gender assigned to me based on my physical sex. My problem was purely social.
We, people, judge with base on what we see. And I simply didn’t want people to see me as female, label me with what came attached to it and treat me different than they would a male. When someone thought I was male they would talk about different things than when they knew I was female. And I simply hated it.
In the media I could only related to males. Any strong female had to always be sexy, and I just couldn’t relate to that. Seemingly strong female characters were simply a “male’s mind” in a female hyper-sexualised body. I couldn’t identify with this and I just rejected it. I rejected to assimilate that into my identity as female. It wasn’t me. So I ended up rejecting the whole female gender. Looking back now, I needed my surroundings to show me that women didn’t need to be a copy of a man in order to be strong and respectable. I needed the media to show me that women and girls don’t deserve to be abused. I needed to understand that I shouldn’t have to give up wearing skirts to protect myself. Society sexualises girls and women, only to blame them for the attention they get when they conform to the image it holds of femininity.
I grew up mainly in front of the television, the media had a huge influence on how I perceived girls and women. These days everyone is constantly affected by the media, one way or another. Looking back, I think I ended up being exposed to a male idea of what feminine was. And it wasn’t a pretty picture. That’s why it’s so important how females are portrayed, we need to broaden the spectrum. That’s why it’s important to have all kinds of women represented throughout our cultures. That’s why more women need to be in charge.
Either females or males, both are widely diverse when it comes to gender. We shouldn’t catalog ourselves so narrowly. Gender should be more of a spectrum, not a box to be checked on applications and surveys. We are only restricting ourselves by applying such labels. It discredits women, when they’re good at their jobs because they’re “like a man”. It undermines men, when certain emotions are denied to them because “men don’t cry”. This hurts all of us, male and female.
What we get exposed to as kids is crucial in shaping who we become. We are responsible for created a good environment for the kids of today and of tomorrow. It’s important that we step out of our comfort zones and talk about the uncomfortable truth: our current concept of gender needs to be radically updated. We need change.
I usually say, I’m not very feminine. But let me correct that: I don’t really show much of my feminine side to the world around me. It makes me feel vulnerable to show it. It makes me uncomfortable. And the labels that come with it, just drive me insane.