Living with the chains of my gender

Olivia Perkins, Opinions Editor

Seventeen years ago, my mother received the news that her firstborn child was going to be a girl. The doctor looked at the ultrasound images, determined my sex by my genitals, and concluded that my mom would need pink cupcakes for her baby shower instead of blue. Those pink cupcakes would go on to catalyze the expectations and stereotypes I struggle to accept today. 

Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women, men, girls, and boys, according to the World Health Organization. This may include social norms, behaviors, and roles associated with being a woman or a man, as well as our relationships with each other. Gender roles are an achieved status in any social environment that implicitly or explicitly categorize people, therefore motivating their social behaviors. It’s a cycle society perpetuates. In other words, gender is a completely made up concept, and so are gender norms. 

I am a woman. I am deemed the “weaker vessel” and have been told by men and older women to have a less noticeable presence when in a room full of men for the sake of adhering to gender norms. This is the life that was chosen for me by society. As I enter adulthood and have been enduring the rougher stages of beginning womanhood, I cannot help but feel that my life’s trajectory is determined entirely by my gender, a concept I am having a hard time grasping. Why should I have to behave a certain way just because of my sex assigned at birth? 

I was born with female sex organs, meaning that society has taught me the ways I should talk, dress, and sit, and determined who I should love. This set of sex organs also means that I am considered a weaker individual who deserves fewer opportunities than one who was born with male sex organs. This is a ridiculous concept that we as a society have agreed to follow subconsciously. 

In early adolescence, I enjoyed wearing skirts and dresses and sprawling out across my leather couch. It was the perfect couch to sprawl out on. One night, a few family members were in town and I was having the time of my life until four words echoed through the living room, suffocating me. “Sit like a lady.” I immediately got up to leave — mortified, full of shame and embarrassment. 

This phrase amongst others taught me before the age of 15 that femininity meant I needed to cover up, have little to no presence, and hide what I took pride in. “It’s a girl” were the three words that got me here, 17 years later.

Today, I can recognize the certain expectations that I am expected to follow as a woman and simultaneously choose to ignore them. Being a woman to me doesn’t mean sitting with my legs crossed or feeling guilt when I choose to talk about my opinions. It does not mean I’m going above and beyond to behave more “masculine” to combat society’s expectations. It just means that I’m being me and doing so comfortably.

Making the active choice to ignore the way society tells me I should behave is a liberating experience. One in which any individual of any gender should experience if they feel suffocated by their designated set of expected social norms. 

Womanhood is an experience that I am enjoying, but more so now than ever as I have learned to disregard the “pink cupcake” expectations. 

Womanhood is so much more than clinging to the image of the woman I was told to be. Embracing my identity through a multitude of creative outlets has helped me understand that my identity is far more complex and important than what I’ve been told to be by society.