Being Girl: A Sociological Memoir
My first memory of kindergarten was this: dozens of tiny, petrified 5-year-olds being dropped off at their first day of school, and dozens of exhausted, overworked mothers consoling their weeping sons and daughters. I remember it vividly because, despite the terror and chaos, a single thought pervaded my mind, the thought that “these moms are not as pretty as my mom.” I wasn’t entirely biased, either. By North American standards of beauty, I was correct. Here was my mother, a rail-thin, blonde-haired, blue-eyed statuesque stunner, among a sea of frumpy women with visible wrinkles and tangles of black hair. And here I was, the daughter of this perfect specimen, the proud owner of a mother who was more “feminine”, more “womanly”, and therefore, I naively deduced, “a better mother”. In fact, although my vocabulary was fairly limited at the time, I believed her to be the epitome of all mothers. She looked, I told her that morning, “like a mom was supposed to look.” In interviewing my mother, she said that this was my “first brush with what it meant to be a girl.”
Throughout kindergarten, I was labeled “weird”. I dug for worms, collected Pokémon cards (which was deemed a “boyish” activity), and none of my friends were girls. My teacher, a young woman who had just recently graduated from university, was often concerned for me, and thought that my lack of female friends would be detrimental to my developing of social skills, so she would often encourage the popular girls in the class to include me in their recess activities. They did as they were told, and despite my hesitation, I jumped rope with them at recess, while still managing to play with the boys for short periods of time. Finally, one day, the girls gave me an ultimatum: “us” or “them”. If I wanted to be an “official” member of their “club” (This was serious business; they had membership cards made out of construction paper), I had to give up the toy trucks and the rambunctious boys. With the encouragement of my teacher, I severed ties with the boys. Although I missed them, I quickly learned that being a girl was “better” anyways. Apparently, girls were allowed to wear makeup and dresses and boys had cooties and never took baths and didn’t I like being clean? I suppose I liked being clean, but what I really liked was being accepted by this particular group of popular girls. I suppressed my love of all things “dirty”, all things that were labeled “boy”, and developed a superficial affinity for all things typically “girly”, in an attempt to fit comfortably into this group. I skipped rope at recess, I choreographed dances, and I received a ballerina outfit from my parents at Christmas that I absolutely adored. Being a girl was not very hard. It came with a list of instructions. Do this, talk like this, wear this, and you are a girl. It was less of an innate instinct than it was a learned act. I wasn’t born with an eyelash curler in hand, rather, it was handed down to me by a girl older than myself. The torch of femininity was passed down from generation to generation until it finally landed in my dirt-stained lap.
In 9th grade, in a fit of rebellion against my mother, who I fought with often around this time, I cut my hair short. Not just “short”, I cut my hair boy short, a look my mother wasn’t too fond of, which, naturally, made me covet and admire it more, because nothing is as satisfying as a mother’s disapproval when you are a rebellious teenager. When I returned to school the Monday following my haircut, however, I didn’t get the positive reaction I had anticipated. No, the minute I walked into my first period class, the official “bully” of the grade, a tall, unattractive fellow, asked me if I had become a “dyke”, and insisted on calling me “dykey” for the remainder of the day. The strange behavior of my classmates didn’t stop there. Girls I only casually talked to began avoiding me, which I...
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