By Carson Shilts (VI)

Growing up, I never wore dresses. I wouldn’t even wear shorts that went higher than my knees. I shopped in the boys’ section and stayed far away from anything that was remotely considered “girly.” Looking back, I realize now that I did this because I grew up seeing how men were given more opportunities and respect, and I, too, longed for that power. 

It was easy to feel masculine at my all-girls school, where tom-girls were viewed the same way as boys, but when I came to Pingry, I had to change—a lot. I realized that no matter how much I would try to fit in and change myself, I would never be viewed as an equal. I could make the same jokes, and no one would laugh. I could get the same grades but be seen as less intelligent. I remember talking to my brother at the beginning of my freshman year, and I said, “I wish I could be funny, but people don’t think girls are funny.” 

So I stopped talking for fear of being ridiculed, but that wasn’t much better. People assumed I had nothing to say, and soon I began to feel that they were right, as my voice was suffocated in a sea of chatter. I had a friend who was not afraid to speak her mind and use her voice, but she was labeled as bossy. It seemed that there was no right answer. I felt forced into my femininity, and I couldn’t escape it. I started to only spend time with people whom I knew wouldn’t judge me. I enjoyed the things I loved freely until I had to return to reality and hide my passions from everyone. Then, I would hide these things as if they were at risk of being stolen from me by someone who claimed that they “liked” it more. There is an ever-present competitiveness in men and women because when gender roles are assigned to things as simple as liking a particular movie, people flock to protect their femininity or masculinity. The whole idea of categorizing certain hobbies and interests by sex is incredibly restricting on both parties. Still, this constant need to prove ourselves is ingrained within us. It is so much more difficult to be respected by society when you do not fit the ideal form of the gender you were assigned at birth. 

Over the years, this antipathy toward my femininity has slowly left. I have learned to reclaim it and make it something I can embrace. Femininity in general, I believe, is being re-evaluated as more and more people begin to define themselves as how they genuinely wish to be defined and perceived. The decision between what makes something or someone feminine and what doesn’t is being taken out of the hands of the late gender-designated world. It is becoming a decision, not an obligation. It is becoming something people don’t have to be ashamed of, but rather can take pride in. 

Though there has been progress, the road ahead is long, and there are many other factors in this acceptance and liberation of sexuality that need a lot of attention and work. For example, women of color are held to a much higher standard than white women and are often overly fetishized and sexualized. There also lies a hypocrisy among gender-roles for black women as they are expected to be independent and strong, all the while delicate women are idealized. The disparities in how women are viewed versus their expectations from society are abundant. Gender-roles and sexism continue to dominate society and will do so until we first learn to fight for equality among all women.

Art by Monica Chan (VI)