All my life I have felt completely and utterly adrift from all things deemed feminine. I have never felt that they have anything to do with me and that I needed to do anything with them. My babysitter showed concern that I wanted a trainset for Christmas. In my early years I calmly told my mother that I never wanted to wear dresses, just jeans and trainers, and that’s what happened. Except Summer. I dreaded summer because I had to wear a summer dress at school. I remember going to a ‘fairies’ birthday party with a wand and wings on my back and feeling like an absolute freak, while the other girls gleefully ran around with grins on their faces, delighted at the excuse to be princesses. Even at that young age I felt like scratching my skin off. ‘Weddings’ was a popular game and no girl ever wanted to be the groom, but I didn’t mind the role one bit. When we dressed up for world book day, I remember dressing up as Aladdin, and marvelled at how no one could guess who I was. It was just so natural to me I didn’t think about it.
In high school, my self-grooming never took off like it did for other girls. On non-uniform days I turned up in a fleece and jeans and was horrified to see all the other girls in nice cardigans and dresses and really felt like I had missed some memo. Later teens and the thought of wearing make-up is like leaving the house painted like spiderman. It was such an alien concept. I don’t doodle pretty flowers on my notes. I don’t have any cleavage. There is something ever so slightly jarring about people referring to me as a lovely ‘girl’, ‘she’s’ been very good today. I feel like I have a low voice, broad shoulders and a clumsy masculine air to me.
A young woman, and make-up, heels and skirts continue to be alien to me. People ask me why I don’t wear make up, and honestly, as much as I am a little bit proud of my confidence without it and not contributing in any way to the beauty industry, all I can really think is “I guess I missed the boat”. Either prospect of shaving my legs or not shaving my legs make me anxious to the point of slightly nauseous. The hairdressers is scary, because I expect stares of ‘what are you doing here?’. I felt the same about clubs and dancing, that the nightlife world wasn’t for people like me. That was for boys and girls. Even now, in my angry radical feminist skin, hearing ‘they’ when people mean me has an appeal.
Having said all this, I look at the bags under my eyes in the mirror and worry that other girls look at me and think ‘oh gosh, those circles, the poor thing hasn’t mastered foundation’. My self-esteem was so low during puberty that I considered the romantic interest of any boy something I would have no standing to refuse. I still look at stylish girls and ‘how do they do it?’ runs through my mind. I still feel the pressure to be feminine in that dainty, unimposing, perfected way, there’s just this stronger forcefield stopping me, like when you’re willing yourself to put the glass over that big spider.
And this is the thing. The important thing. I still feel the pressures. So I can do one of two things. I can identify as non-binary, or even trans. I can step out of a gender I feel uncomfortable being and the pressures will go. Or, I can face facts. What womanhood is, is the collection of these pressures. The arising tensions are there because these are gender roles imposed on females. When you think about it, thinking that maybe I’m not a woman because I don’t like make-up and skirts is incredibly sexist. There’s no intrinsic link between those two things. There is, however, still a link. Women are female, and females are expected to present themselves a certain way, and that pressure is what makes them a woman. It is not the fault of the ‘false gender binary’ that I felt like this, it’s the fault of the patriarchy. It really is no wonder tossing away the pronoun ‘she’ and requiring the use of the pronoun ‘they’ for me, appeals. It looks like a way of tossing away the expectations that come with it, because I don’t like them. But, facing facts, I am not special. I am not too exceptional or complex for the gender binary, and no one is, because the gender binary is forcefully laid over us and it is certainly beyond our power to shrug off with a change in ‘identity’. Who will check which gender I identify as before asking me to wear high heels at my place of work? Do guys ask my gender identity before they proceed to leer at me? Will politicians make sure that restricted access to abortion and contraception will only affect those who identity as women? Do people cut off people’s clitorises in an attempt to punish and control the innate gender identity of ‘woman’? Those people who feel womanhood is appropriate for them? No. How obscene and offensive.
And I am vehemently a woman because I have put up with shit. Male privilege has swept me away and smashed me into rocks my whole life. Children are highly receptive, and I think a lot of them know pretty early on that women were not treated sincerely in the world. They are mocked. And who the hell identifies with that? We are women because we are intimidated and silenced by men. We are women because men don’t give us any space to be ourselves.
We’ve recently seen a woman come out as ‘non-binary’ to the President of the United States. I had a strong emotional reaction to this. It’s of a certain sort. It’s a less extreme version of how I feel when I think about how Trump has managed to rise to such levels of influence and popularity. Or when I think about how porn culture has penetrated the minds of all men. Or the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In essence, it’s a strong feeling of, this shit needs to be reeled back in.
No other issue has every made me feel so alienated from a group I thought I was a part of, than the issues of ‘gender identity’ and ‘bathroom laws’. I cannot believe that where non-binary people piss and their use of bathrooms to validate their feelings is rising above issues of female safety and male violence. I cringe at a woman coming out to the president as “I am rejecting the application of ‘womanhood’ onto me, and bathrooms are one way I can assure myself I am effectively casting off the social chains of gender”. Sorry, Obama, just… just ignore that. Let me tell you about young girls being pressured to give blowjobs and anal sex to porn addicted 11 year old boys. Let me remind you of girls being sold into sex trafficking wherever they’re choosing to piss. Women citing pay inequality, or feeling unsafe on the streets, or domestic abuse, are being mocked by men. The focus on the literally self-centred notion of gender identity, notably expressed in the language of gender stereotypes, is at the expense of focus on the monumental tides of violence and hatred women are having to square up to every single day. We need to hold onto each other to have any chance. We are not mocking you, not like how men are mocking us. This quick-fix to your internalised self-hatred will not work and it’s a thorn in the side of feminism.
The bathroom bill protects women. To forget that, is to forget that men are violent and women are targeted by them because they see them as women, as female, as weaker, as objects, as sex toys, as servants, as lesser. Not because of their gender identity. Inflating the notion of your gender identity is a delusional and narcissistic warping of the self which manages to take out the entire system of sex-based oppression that is killing women. You’ve got to reel that shit back in.