I don’t remember exactly when did I start seeing my identity as a girl being a constructed one, but I always had a cognizance of it being perpetuated and enforced socially. I would struggle to comprehend the restrictive gender roles, while simultaneously upholding them because ‘this is what girls do’.
It was all an individual turmoil, where I thought it was just me who had troubles accepting what were the established norms. And as the elder family members saw it, why was I questioning them? Was I being a troublemaker and rebel just for the sake of it? Weren’t the other girls behaving the way they were supposed to? Where did this urge to upturn the norms come from? Is this what they teach kids at school? All this and more, stifling me everyday, with me thinking what’s wrong with me?! Why can’t I accept it just as other girls in my family and neighborhood and school and the entire world(?) do it?
My family tells me how I should behave like a girl.
My teachers tell me how I should behave like a girl.
The textbooks tell me how I should behave like a girl.
TV serials tell me how I should behave like a girl.
Magazines & ads tell me how I should behave like a girl.
If all these experienced and mature people are telling me, a puny kid, how I should behave, why can’t I accept it? There must be something horribly wrong with me.
Years passed, and I kept suppressing the inner turmoil, trying my best (against my will) to behave like a girl.
And then one day, a thought struck me like a flash of lightning (it’s always like that, isn’t it?).
If it is how I’m ‘supposed’ to behave like a girl, why would the idea need an enforcement? If it’s a natural order, why would everybody go out of their way to make me believe so? Maybe, it is not how it’s supposed to be. Maybe, it is how they want it to be.
I might not remember when was it that this clarity came to me, but I clearly remember what led me to it. It was a text (we debated for an entire hour later in the class about whether its form was poetry or prose) by Jamaica Kincaid, titled ‘Girl’. It is not an extraordinary story. If anything, it is a story that I grew up hearing in my house, every waking hour of every day of my life. (Perhaps that’s what characterizes ‘great’ literature – resonance.) Reading the narrative brought home the realization: I AM BEING TOLD TO BEHAVE LIKE A GIRL! IT IS PART OF AN AGENDA! MY IDENTITY AS A GIRL IS A CONSTRUCT! And the biggest of all: IT’S NOT JUST ME, THERE ARE OTHER GIRLS WHO THINK LIKE THIS. OTHER GIRLS WHO FEEL OPPRESSED, STIFLED AND CAUGHT IN THE WEB!
It was an epiphany. I had found a goldmine. An answer to everything that I was struggling with. A clue to work with. A hypothesis to seek validation on. An explanation for my unrest. A balm to my agony. A question for my question.
I was unstoppable in my quest. I scoured libraries, seeking comfort in other women’s words. Another essay in another class gave me words for my realization. It was the opening sentence of the first chapter of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, that validated my hypothesis for me.
One is not born, but rather becomes, [a] woman.
While the professor went on to explain the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, and how the former was a biological construct and the latter a social, I retreated to my corner. I had found my bible. I was in another world, delirious beyond measure, to have found it all to be a mere ‘construct’.
That one sentence validated my existence, my questions, my discomfort. I wanted to go back to my younger self and shout – NO, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU, YOU FOOL! YOU WERE RIGHT. YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG. YOU WERE RIGHT TO QUESTION. AND YOU WERE RIGHT TO NOT ACCEPT IT AS THE NATURAL ORDER!
Since that day, I have been living my life a little more freely. Being acutely aware of my gender identity.
I may walk like a girl, talk like a girl, dress up (or down) like a girl — not because I have to, but because I choose to. My behavior and actions aren’t so because of my gender identity, they are so in spite of my gender identity.
This Women’s Day, I wish for nothing but for more women (and men) to see their identities for what they are, devoid of the gender constructs. Maybe we wouldn’t need a special day, if we were to break away from the constructs. Maybe.
(This post was originally posted on medium.com. You can see it here.)