by Taylor Jevning
Growing up, gender was never something I thought I would have to consider. As a child, I never questioned gender in relation to myself. Until I went to school, I never even realized there was a difference between boys and girls, and to this day, I still don’t know what the difference is. All I remember in school regarding gender was the separation between boy and girl toys, the separation of the genders in sexual education classes, and the fact that every girl’s favourite colour was pink while the boys liked just about every other colour. I grew up as an only child in a household that never pushed gender norms on me; my parents let me make my choices and do things whether or not they were considered “masculine” or “feminine.” It wasn’t until I got older that I started noticing gender-based trends at home, school, and even within my friendships. This probably contributed to why I never considered my gender until much later in life.
I was pronounced a girl when I was born, though I don’t necessarily think I was raised as a girl. My parents were great in allowing me to choose activities and hobbies that I enjoyed rather than ones specifically related to my gender. I spent most of my elementary and middle school life playing video games, and I remember going over to my friends’ houses and getting excited when they had consoles of their own. I started wondering whether or not playing video games was normal when my female friends had no idea how to play any of the games in their houses and, more often than not, I ended up playing with their brothers. I started realizing my more “masculine” interests early on and thinking about what that meant and how people might have perceived me. On the one hand, I was a gamer, a snowboarder, listened to rock music, and preferred to wear clothing from the boy’s section. On the other hand, I had an interest in makeup, was a figure skater, and was a creative person in my writing and art. This threw me into limbo with my gender and made me question what it meant to be a girl. I may not have been raised as a girl by my family, but society had other plans.
We all know what it means to do something “like a girl.” It generally translates to “worse than a boy.” This made me (and many other girls) struggle to feel powerful when we expressed our feminine qualities. How can I feel accomplished as someone who was a competitive figure skater for ten years when I’m talking to a boy who played hockey his whole life? When I spoke to the boys in my classes about a game I just beat, they always assumed they would’ve beaten it faster or that the games they played were better. I’ve contemplated these gender phenomena since I was first capable of critical thought and I’ve only come to one conclusion:
We’re all terrified of appearing feminine because we’re terrified of looking weak.
I’m sure that of the hundreds of boys and men I’ve met in my life, at least some of them liked pink or wished they could do ballet or felt emotions other than anger. But why would they express these things if they saw the way girls and women were treated for enjoying them? To this day, I have a deep-seated fear that one lazy day, I’ll throw on the pair of Uggs with yoga pants and, by some weird chance, I’ll want to drink a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks. There is literally no reason to be afraid of this, but the automatic stereotype of “basic white girl” that would be thrown at me by just about any passersby makes me feel weak. As soon as someone has the perception that you’re feminine, it comes with the assumption of weakness and inferiority. I, as well as many others, try to avoid anything that will cause others to create this assumption about me. A lot of the choices we make as individuals come from how other people will perceive them, and when everyone is trying to look like they’re strong and powerful, which are “masculine” words, it seems nearly impossible to be strong, powerful, and feminine.
I don’t necessarily have a conclusion to this, but the point I wanted to make is that it’s important to consider who you are as a person, especially in college. Gender is a big part of that. I made a goal for myself to never apologize for what I like, whether it be masculine or feminine, and to consider the choices I’m making. For example, am I avoiding telling people I did ballet because I’m afraid they will think less of me? Am I wearing baggy hoodies because I’m comfortable, or am I afraid of exposing my female body with tight clothing? When I’m snowboarding, I know I’m putting on a baggy hoodie to look like a boy because I know that people are waiting to watch the girl fall down the hill and struggling to keep up, and that’s okay. What I do know is that I’ve concluded that I don’t care if I’m a girl or not. What bothers me is that I feel the need to have to make these decisions about which parts of myself I show to people to be perceived a certain way. My feminine qualities don’t make me weaker any more than my masculine qualities make me stronger. All I’m concerned with is being the best version of myself that I can be regardless of my gender expression.
As individuals, we have fluid gender expressions regardless of what we identify as, whether we be male, female, or something else. Recognizing that these don’t indicate strength and weakness is a step towards achieving acceptance for everyone. I’m comfortable being referred to as a girl because I know this doesn’t reflect too much about my character in the long run, and whatever part of myself I choose to express should be to serve me, and nobody else.