If like me you were raised to fit the feminist mold, you may have been discouraged from acting in ways that were too “traditionally feminine.” I know I was, and to this day I still struggle to put back the pieces of that part of my identity.
I was told that it was better to be strong, independent, and “more like a man” than to act like a woman. How ironic that feminism taught females that being a woman was somehow lesser than being a man!
I was taught that if I acted “too much” like a female I would be oppressed, victimized, harassed, and not taken seriously. And of course I didn’t want that to happen!
So I avoided acting or dressing “too feminine,” opting for loose-fitting or androgynous clothing instead. I did wear make up and style my hair modestly, but was careful not to try to look “too pretty” so that it didn’t overshadow or detract from my intelligence or personality. In fact I very much downplayed my looks.
I took shop class instead of home economics. I avoided learning “traditional feminine skills.” I was told by teachers to avoid typing class, for instance, because if I knew how to type, I would always be, “just a secretary.” I did all sorts of things trying to learn how to win in a “man’s world” and shedding my womanly nature somehow seemed to be key in that.
A movie that I remember from childhood that captures the zeitgeist of that time was “Nine to Five.” I forget the entire plot line but in it three female characters struggle to be taken seriously in the work world. All are taken advantage of in one way or another by their male boss, but perhaps most of all was Dolly Parton’s character, the feminine, big busted, big hearted blonde who was regulated to secretarial roles where she was mostly lustfully eyeballed by her male collegues and anything she had to add or contribute was automatically dismissed because of how she looked.
Of course I didn’t want to end up like that!
Fast forward several decades and I have now come to realize that these beliefs, perhaps however well intended, ended up causing me to view the world as a dangerous, sexist place, where I would never truly be taken seriously, would have to fight for everything twice as hard as a man, would likely be taken advantage of, and treated unfairly. And why wouldn’t I believe it? Everyone told me it was so!
What a negative and suspicious lens to view the world through! I imagined boogymen who didn’t exist, barriers that weren’t there, often misread situations. In retrospect, thinking that all men were out to thwart me, or worse harm me, was a really bad space to approach life from.
So I have been working hard since realizing all this to embrace womanhood. To be ok with being born an XX. To not view it as a negative, or some kind of lifelong handicap.
And just when I think I have overcome, made peace with it all, something will happen or a situation will arise and I will realize just how deeply embedded that programming is. It still is lurking there, urging me to not be OK with who I am. Whispering that if I dare, I will pay, and that bad things will happen, opportunities will be missed.
I hope young women today aren’t being raised to reject themselves as I was, a child in the 70s and 80s. Because there’s nothing wrong with being female. With being a woman. With being feminine.
And anyone who is telling girls or women that is the actual sexist, the true woman hater, the real misogynist.
I hope that someday I can truly embrace all this to the core of my soul. In the meantime I do my best to remind myself daily and often that there’s nothing wrong with me just being me, no matter what anyone says. I am equal, and I always have been.
What do you think? Please share in the comments.
(p.s. In a similar way, men of my generation and since were raised that being a male or masculine was somehow “wrong,” too. Ironic, isn’t it? While women were being raised to be “more like boys” boys were being raised to be “more like girls.” How nutty is that?!?!?)