It's Pat! It's Adam Levine! No, it's Melissa!
When I was a little kid I was very girly, stereotypically speaking. I had long hair and wore pink ballerina dresses. I liked princesses and playing with Barbie and baby dolls. As a child, I don't think I ever questioned or doubted that I was a "girl." Yet, as a teen and self-identified feminist, I started realizing that gender stereotypes and gender boxes suck. The more I read about the past, and the more I looked around at the present, the more frustrated I became about how society assumes girls are girls because of x, y, and z, and boys will be boys because of a, b, and c. I decided, then and there, that I was not going to do what girls do because that's what girls do.
Hold up. I'm not going to get all raging angry feminist on my soap box with you. I'm not going to give you an academic paper stating the injustices around gender. If you are reading this and you didn't know that there are injustices, go to the library and start reading, or open your eyes. If you disagree with me, feel free to, but you likely don't care about what I am writing so go back to facebook and don't read on.
I am who I am. I suppose it was a combination of things that made me find my personal definition of femininity. I am a firm believer that gender identification is a continuum. You can identify very strongly with definitions of female or male, you can identify with both, at varying levels, or you can not identify with either. Again, I strongly stress you read up on gender theory if this is new to you, or chime in and share information with me, as this is a topic I am very interested in but am by no means an expert. Back to me, because after all, this is my blog. When other girls were becoming budding women, I sorta stayed looking like a pre-teen. I suppose my slight frame and lack of development of those 2 noticeable physical attributes (in our house they are called boobies)moved me toward the middle of the appearance continuum. But it was more than that. I just never really looked like the pretty girls. I sang loudly and proudly with Ani DiFranco (required listening if you were training to be a feminist in the late '90's), "I am not a pretty girl. That is not what I do." I couldn't even try and I learned quickly that it wasn't worth it. I may have wanted to be that pretty girl for a while but, by the time I got to college, I didn't want to be. I kinda liked being me. I was still trying to figure out who me was (more on that later) but at least I'd figured out the outside stuff.
It was the summer before I entered college that I got a pixie cut. I remember my mom saying, "Don't do it. It's going to make your nose look bigger!" No, she didn't say, "People will confuse you for a boy." Was I worried that people would confuse me for a boy? No. Was I worried that my nose would look bigger. No- my nose is big! Whether I have dreads or am bald, it's always going to be there. Did I want people to confuse me for a boy? Maybe. I should mention that I attended an all-women's college, a great place (and I felt, at the time, safe, as well) to explore lots of things about yourself. I felt trying short hair was almost a right of passage. Physically speaking, I like the idea of subtly playing with gender stereotypes, and my pixie cut, which has come and gone over the last decade and a half, is just one very easy way to do so. However, writing this almost makes me feel silly because, come on, having short hair is a way to gender bend? Not wearing makeup means you're not feminine? De-emphasizing (or not emphasizing) your breasts expresses lack of womanhood? Some of you savvy gender folks may be thinking this is ridiculous. Remember, oh wise, one, I live in a rural upstate in a rather conservation county. It is the north but it's not always the most progressive.
My gender non-specific or sometimes more masculine than feminine ways get me a bunch of weird comments. I've been called Pat from Saturday Night Live and Joan of Arc and, if I have expressed frustration about these comments, it has been suggested to me to try to be more feminine by wearing makeup, growing my hair longer, or wearing padded bras. I sometimes get compliments, like I look like Adam Levine (total hotty) or that I am gamine. I have been confused for a guy many, many times. People have stopped me on the street to tell me that I look like their brother or ex-boyfriend. I've been called sir and a gentleman. So, if I play around with the external concept of gender, why may these incidents upset me? Oddly enough, they often occur when I am feeling at my most feminine. Take last night, for example. Andy and I went to a nice restaurant to celebrate my birthday. I wore makeup, some beautiful earrings he gave me, a dress with a plunging neckline, heels, and a cute jacket with puffy sleeves. My pixie was perfectly spiked. After a long day with the girls, a night out on the town, all dolled up, was just what I needed. I felt sexy. I disagreed with Ani. I was a pretty girl. At 35, I'd mastered my version of pretty. I rocked it. We sat down, me facing the waterfront. The server came up behind me to greet us, water glasses in hand, "Good evening, gentlemen!" I turned to look at her and I could see her face drop. "Uh, uh, I'm so sorry!" She walked away and Andy, being Andy, could tell I was embarrassed and wanted to help solve the problem for me, "You should probably grow your hair long."
Oh, Andy. Andy, Andy, Andy. I had a response for him. I had no choice but to swear at him under my breath and then break out into a 5 minute speech about how I love my hair and don't feel the need to grow it to avoid these situations. Yeah, I was embarrassed because I was actually trying to be girly. I was choosing femininity, and once again, realized that my definition and expression of it, will always put me in muddy waters. I was also frustrated because I wholeheartedly identify (remember, me finding me) as a woman. Personality-wise, I so often fall into gender stereotypes. I'm the Mom. I'm the housewife. I'm emotional, tenderhearted, blah, blah, blah. I associate with many characteristics that are typically reserved for women even though we all know that not all women identify with these, nor should they. I joke that Andy and I are the 50's couple, except I can't cook or clean very well. He pays the bills and mows the lawn. If we are going somewhere, he drives. I look after the children. I send cards on birthdays. You read this blog- how many men do you think read it and say, "Right on! I'm so there!"?
I don't mean to make this into more than what it is. I've never been hurt or treated cruelly because of my pixie cut. I've never been (outwardly) discriminated against because of the way I look, my expression of self, or who I was born to be. It just continues to catch me off guard. At 35, I think I feel pretty confident about who I am and owning up to that but it's funny how others' opinions of us can bring us right back to 13 again, even if it was not intentional. It reminds me to think before I make an assumption about someone else.