I am often tempted to say that I wasn't a girly girl when I was a kid. But as Pea (my niece) climbs ever further into the ages that I can actually remember fairly clearly, I begin to recall details that belie my supposed tomboyishness.
Pink, for instance. For a long period in my teenage and early adult years, I refused to have anything to do with pink. It was too girly, too often assigned to my gender, and I was all about rebellion. (I have since been convinced to like some pinks, though not pastel or Barbie.) Pea had an obsession with purple for awhile that forced me to remember how I used to fight with my step-sister over the twin objects that our parents often bought us because of our close ages. They would get one in pink and one in purple, and I screeched and fought and pouted over the pink, which my very young self would melodramatically tell you went to my step-sister all the time. I found a picture of myself recently where I'm wearing a cotton candy pink shirt, seersucker vest, and matching seersucker skirt. That outfit was my favorite for a long time.
Pea loves skirts and dresses. She coyly asks, "Do you like my dress?" every time she gets a new one. I used to hate skirts and dresses... but before I hated them, I loved them. Just not the modern kind. Many happy moments in my childhood were spent searching thrift stores for long '70s-style Gunne Sax like this that would fit me so that I could wear them camping (why I wore them camping is a long story for another day). Ankle-length calico-and-lace accoutrements became synonymous with freedom and dirt for me.
When Pea put her small feet into my high-heeled shoes and started to walk around yesterday, it reminded me too of how much I loved playing dress-up. That's why I put my great grandma's necklace on her, because I remember how I adopted my older female relatives' attitudes when they let me wear their old cast-offs. These clothes signified a different time, a different life, and maturity - all things that I was very impressed with, even as a child. I felt wrapped in love and feminine nurturing in their clothes.
Like Pea, I loved clothes when I was a child. A few years ago, if you had asked me, I would have told you that dismissively that the only thing I did with my Barbies was change their clothes, but today I am willing to admit that I loved changing their clothes. I loved to mix and match the pieces. I even filled sketchbooks with crude drawings of women in crude dresses of my own design.
When I rejected my love of these things, when I wrote them out of my own history, I was rejecting femininity.
Because as I grew older, I began to absorb two ideas: that the love of things deemed feminine was mutually exclusive from the love of things deemed masculine, and that feminine=not-as-good. The natural alternative, the choice that took no thought whatsoever, was to emphasize my 'masculine' side and pretend like I had no part in 'feminine' things. In dresses, I was supposed to keep both feet on the ground, my legs crossed, my skirt down, so I stopped wearing dresses. Pink was for girls and girls were dumb. I forgot about my female relatives, emulating the male ones instead. My efforts to eradicate my own love of adornment were far less successful, but they pushed me away from most female friends, whose long conversations about wardrobe blinded me to the girls themselves.
In the pursuit of some acceptance and power in my little world, I surgically purged myself of as many vestiges of my femaleness as I could. I am remembering the simple joy I once had, the genderless divisions of my likes and dislikes, but I am still trying to recapture the ability to enjoy what I enjoy without hesitation or self-condemnation.
(Also posted earlier in the week on my blog, What If)
Feminisms is a series of weekly feminist diaries. My fellow feminists and I decided to start our own for several purposes: we wanted a place to chat with each other, we felt it was important to both share our own stories and learn from others’, and we hoped to introduce to the community a better understanding of what feminism is about.
Needless to say, we expect disagreements to arise. We have all had different experiences in life, so while we share the same labels, we don’t necessarily share the same definitions. Hopefully, we can all be patient and civil with each other, and remember that, ultimately, we’re all on the same side.