Today, the 8th of March, is the International Women’s Day, and so I thought I would say something about my experience of womanhood. It isn’t an easy task by any means, and the more I think about my gender, the less I can separate that experience from the rest of my identity. I was born a girl and I have always seen myself as a girl. Before I became aware of feminism as a concept I never noticed sexism in my life. In Finland, and other Nordic countries, children tend to be raised in a very no-nonsense manner where gender stereotypes aren’t enforced particularly forcefully. I danced ballet and played princess, but I also roamed around the woods and played basketball. All kids participate in same activities at school; boys do sewing and girls woodworking. Stereotypically, I have never been into ball games, maths or hammering things; but instead I loved figure skating, literature and designing clothes. So in many ways, I’m a textbook example of a girl.
Except that I was never really interested in boys.
At school, it was sort of necessary to have crushes on boys to be seen as normal, so I went along with it. My old diary entries are filled with childish pining for this or that boy or celebrity, and it was thrilling to slow-dance at parties or be kissed on the lips. But all of my friends were always girls. My home or school environment wasn’t overtly homophobic but you could still sense that most people found it kind of weird or gross. I remember when in secondary school, one of the girls in my class was openly bisexual. I felt wordless admiration at her courage but as I’ve always been a perfectionist people-pleaser, I didn’t allow myself to relate to her. None of this was conscious by the way. It’s only years later that I’ve pieced it together.
I don’t know what age I became aware of at least being more into girls than guys, but even that knowledge I only relayed to a few selected friends. Even though I never consciously kept my sexual orientation a secret, I think the biggest fear holding me back was that if I was to accept being gay, then that’s what I would only be known as: that lesbian. For a teenager with body image issues, anxiety and frail sense of self-worth, being labelled distinctly different from everybody else would have been a nightmare. In reality, it probably wouldn’t have been that that big of a deal at all, but when you’re 16 it’s all about life and death. When I came out at 18 most of my friends just shrugged or said something like “oh finally”.
So what is it like being a woman now?
Funnily enough, since I came out I’ve had more everyday challenges when it comes to being a woman. I’ve had to face the suffocating heteronormativity of our society where if I am nice to a male person, it is more often than not taken as a sign of attraction on my part when in truth I’m just naturally a caring person. Like any other girl wearing a skirt, high heels and lipstick, I have to suffer through catcalling and comments from random strangers. When I’m out alone in the dark, I’m always ready to kick, scream or run. I constantly blurt out the line “I’m gay by the way” because that works better than “I’m not interested”.
To me, the differences between sexes or genders are pretty insignificant, and I don’t identify as a woman as an opposition to men. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man any more than I know what it’s like to be a straight woman. Perhaps my entire experience as a woman is simply my experience as myself, as the person that I, and only I am.
I’m an outspoken feminist and openly gay, but if there wasn’t discrimination and prejudice against women and sexual minorities in the world, I don’t think these parts of my identity would be as important as they are. I shout equality for women and gays from the rooftops because so many cannot. I get irritated when I’m made to feel like I should apologise for either not being a man or being romantically or sexually interested in men.
It’s only really adversity that makes me think about my gender and how it is entangled with my sexuality, which is somewhat depressing I suppose.
Shouldn’t I find my womanhood empowering?
I don’t know. But regardless, I do know that I like being a girl. A girl like me.