Growing up a girl 

I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and post something for International Women’s Day. I was a bit reluctant as I didn’t want to seem like I was writing something just because that’s what everyone else is doing. Then I remembered something I wrote to a friend of mine and decided to share that. I wrote it a few months ago in response to some advice he’d asked and around about that same time I was having a debate with some female trade unionists on why I wasn’t more active on women’s issues. 

I’m a feminist. Obviously. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m enough of a feminist for some. I’m sure other women don’t deliberately make me feel that way, but that’s how I feel. Sometimes. Like, I enjoy baking cakes, but put me in a kitchen with Mary Berry or Rachel Allen, I’m going to feel like the odd one out. Anyway, I won’t go into detail, but the advice my male friend asked me started something like this, ‘why do girls…….why can’t they just tell you what they want?’ 

This is (a tweaked version of) what I answered:

This is only my own opinion based on things I’ve seen and experienced growing up a girl. You have to go back, way back and start at the beginning, before the beginning. Before you’re even born, your parents are asked if they want a boy or a girl. Everyone already has an idea of what they’re getting depending on the sex of this baby. You’re the baby and you’re born a girl. They give you a pretty name, dress you in pink, in frilly dresses and call you a princess. You’re labelled from the offset. You start walking and talking and running around. You’re bought a dolly and it’s your job to look after her. A tea set. It’s your job to host a tea party with plastic cake. A dolls house, a Wendy house. Barbie gets a new dress and Action Man gets to kick arse.

You get a bit bigger. You play with the boys. You splash in puddles or try to climb trees. Oh but not today, your granny just bought you a beautiful new frock, you don’t want to ruin it. The boys? They can get muddy, cos, you know, boys will be boys. Girls are better behaved. Come sit with the adults. We’ll teach you how to make a sandwich or a cup of tea. You can do some colouring or something. In the Brownies you learnt how to arrange flowers. In Cubs they played football.

You go out to play with the boys and you have a laugh, but then someone decides you can’t play cos boys are better than girls. You cry to your mum. Boys don’t cry. Boys will be boys she tells you. Eventually you’re allowed to play with the boys again, but if you see anyone they know, you’ll have to walk behind them like you’re not together. After all they let you join in. Later you can play Nintendo, but of course you can’t be Mario!

I was lucky. I had a brother and I got to play with all his toys. Most of my friends were boys. I got to wear dungarees most of the time. I got to cut all my hair off when I was ten, but the hairdresser refused to shave it because I’d look like a boy. I even got mistaken for a boy once. Yay! I was a ‘tom boy’ and that made my dad proud. It was like having two boys. But I wasn’t a boy. I couldn’t be, no matter how much I tried. And you know what, I liked dresses and dolls and lipstick. I liked being a girl. But without all the bloody rules! 

I remember getting to about nine or ten and not feeling comfortable naked anymore. I couldn’t be topless in the summer anymore like the boys. We didn’t play kiss chase again. Suddenly people were kissing for real. Boys kissing. Cool. Girls kissing. Slutty. Anyway, back to growing up and it’s just about to get a whole lot more interesting.

You get a bit older and you start your period. Can’t go swimming. Can’t wear white. Sports? Better not. You sit and watch the others and you can’t join in. And you’re not allowed to tell them why. No one is allowed to talk about periods. You’re in this secret club now that only women are allowed into, but you’re ten-years-old – you don’t want to be a woman! And you are never wearing a bra! But you do. And everyone sees it through your school top and teases.

You’re walking to school at 12 years and a white van men tells you how sexy your legs are. You don’t know what to say. You don’t say anything because you’ve always been taught not to say anything because you don’t get a say on you’re body. It’s not your property. Don’t you remember? Give your uncle a kiss. Sit on granddad’s knee. Wear that pretty dress. You don’t want to? Go on, don’t hurt his feelings. I’ll buy you a lolly if you’re good. Girls are good. They’re better behaved. They do as they’re told – don’t cause a scene. 

So those lessons you’ve learnt you can bring them with you into womanhood. How many times has someone bumped into you and you said sorry? Have you ever said something like, ‘Sorry, could you keep the noise down’ ‘sorry is that seat taken?’ What have you got to be sorry for?! Imagine putting those lesson into practice in a more sinister situation. Your boss asking you to do something you know is against procedure, your partner telling you they don’t want you seeing your friends, that creep who’s hitting on you refusing to take no for an answer.

What do you do? What you’ve always been taught of course

I loved dollies too

Me throwing a strop cos I had to wear a frock for Nanny & my brother got to wear Turtles

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