I recently explained to someone why and how I struggled with being a female growing up. I didn’t want to be female for a long time. I watched my father dote more attention on my younger brother and grew up seeing how my mother treated my sister and I, and I didn’t want it. I grew up being treated like a thing. A common object. Only as good as my looks and abilities. My mother pushed this ultra tomboy to be girlier, wear makeup, dresses. And I rebelled until puberty and my hormones raged. I was never given any “talk”. My mother never warned me about relationships or expectations, safety or respect. I avoided contact like the plague for so long because I didn’t understand anything about it.
I’ve allowed myself to be disrespected for a long time. In relationships and life in general. While working in a coffee shop in my home town, a regular customer who was friends with the owners was fond of me. I was 18 and allowed men to say and do many things to me that even at the time I didn’t like but allowed to happen. This regular would sneak up behind me and say dirty things in my ear while I was working. Once he picked me up during a hug, took me to the back and dry humped me because of an outfit I was wearing that apparently he liked.
I allowed actions like that to happen for many years because I didn’t understand the power behind them. Even until recently. When my ex husband would come home from work, first thing he would do is approach me and grab my boobs. Even my last ex would frequently do it just to satisfy himself, but in a joking manner to make it seem okay to do. I tried having conversations with both about how I didn’t like it and I felt extremely objectified when they did it. Both of their responses was either they couldn’t help themselves or they didn’t do it that often. Sometimes my ex would even remind me how long ago it was that he’d done it as if it was some achievement. It’s taken me until now to realize that’s not okay for me to just put up with.
Why would I want to feel like an object instead of a human? If men are people and not objects, and I don’t want to be an object, then I guess I want to be male. This was something I struggled vehemently with as a child/teenager. When I saw the difference in treatment even my parents made and I was finally able to recognize the difference in society I received, it was hard to allow myself to just be treated that way. But I never learned that I didn’t have to be treated that way. I was just taught that I am what I am and I will be treated as such regardless. To this day I’m furious my mother wasn’t more of a feminist. That my teachers didn’t go out of their way to support student identities. Once in high school, when I started experimenting with makeup and my femininity, I was held after class. My teacher, who was a late 50 year old Baptist man, told me that he knew why I wore what I wore. He told me that I didn’t need to wear the strange cloths and makeup to get attention from boys, that I was pretty enough naturally and that I should stop flaunting myself or I’d get myself into trouble.
To this day that still angers me. I in no way wear what I want to get attention. I have never worn makeup to ask for anything. I didn’t explore myself to figure out who I wanted to be to get noticed more. I tried makeup to feel secure with myself under the standards of life I’d learned growing up. I changed my cloths to feel comfortable finally accepting I was a woman. I expressed myself through my wear and attitude to be more comfortable in my own skin and mind. Everything I ever did was to test my inner thoughts and feelings on my outer shell and finally be comfortable with myself. It’s taken me until within the last few years to realize that I didn’t need to fit myself into anything to be comfortable. That I didn’t need to fear letting my thoughts and feelings, likes and dislikes be known or otherwise be an outcast, slut, ugly or otherwise unwanted. I don’t need to be attractive to be comfortable. I don’t need to be more feminine or masculine, I don’t need to fit into anything or change anything about myself, and I don’t need to earn approval from anyone in order to just be comfortable with who I am.
I don’t need to be okay with societies standards just because its whats common. I do not have to allow myself to be disrespected because I wasn’t taught anything else. I do not have to allow anything I don’t like to happen just because others think its ok. I’m on my own journey of self respect. I’m teaching myself, because no one else will.