What does it mean to be a girl?
This question seemed to scratch incessantly at the forefront of my mind growing up. I was never sure, never had any definite answers to cling to and the answers I did have were discouraging. I didnt realise that I was merely seeing gender stereotypes writ large, a carefully constructed set of norms that each sex must follow to be accepted into the pack. Instead, I just felt inadequate and confused.
The females in my family had a solid understanding of what it meant to be female, what it meant to be a woman. Although my own mother may have been the matriarch, it became obvious to me that a females worth was comparably less than a males. Women were eye-candy, a pretty flower arrangement on a table to be pawed at when the male had the desired inclination and then left to wilt when their fitful desires were squandered elsewhere. Women, the sum-total of their sexuality, and their worth created by the amount of interest they did or did not receive.
Other than their sexuality, women had three other compact and uncompromising supporting roles. As wife, mother, and housekeeper. Although some of the females worked in low-paid jobs, the idea that a woman needed anything more to make her feel fulfilled was perceived to be a ludicrous suggestion, often accompanied by derisory laughter and gormless banter. To be sexually attractive, a good wife, a doting mother and a passionate enthusiast of housework was fulfilling enough. Their needs were few and easily won.
What happens when one doesnt fit, when one wants more than these disempowering self-limiting roles?
For a while, I tried to fit and although I may be a great actor, when one is not being authentic, one suffers. I wasnt prepared to be judged on my sexuality alone, I wasnt going to be a good wife to a first man who showed leering sexual interest. I wasnt interested in being a dedicated mother and housework, well it is housework. Who would find that interesting?
It was not just the roles. I was a girl. Girls were supposed to be sociable and affectionate. They were weak-minded, which allowed them to be easily led. Their opinions, if they had any, were often ignored and they were taught systematically to not question the status quo. Men saw the women in the family to be emotionally incontinent and hysterical and most of the time the women fulfilled this criteria and of course, women werent intelligent, the men werent intelligent either but women were always less so. I mean, what does a woman know?
I wasnt this type of woman. I was thoughtful, bookish and perturbed by random displays of affection. Strong-minded, stubborn, opinionated, and forthright, I questioned and pushed against the status quo and rather than being meek and mild, I questioned everything (and everybody if I thought it was appropriate). I also had Bipolar Disorder. If being a woman who was different in every respect was problematic, then having Bipolar Disorder pushed everything into the next realm. It was okay to be an unstable woman, in some ways it was almost expected of me but to be unstable due to an actual condition was letting the side down. Having Bipolar meant I sometimes lacked aptitude in the designated roles assigned to me. I wasnt always interested in looking pretty (I often preferred the grunge look). I wasnt always a good partner (if I had a partner to be good to). I wasnt always a good mother and sometimes my home looked like it had been burgled and ransacked during the night.
I had an inferiority complex for years about what it meant to be a girl. It wasnt enough to be questioned by own family, I felt that societal understandings of girls/women were equally divorced from who I was. Even female friends apparently found me strange, especially as I was not a talker but more of a silent, problem solver, preferred Star Wars films to chick flicks, lego instead of teddies and found the colour pink a turn off.
People always question. This questioning can cause inferiority complexes. We perceive the questioning of who we are to be a negative reflection and it induces shame and inadequacy. What if we looked at this a different way though? Rather than seeing the questioning as pejorative, maybe we could use it more positively to reaffirm who we are and the type of person, we want to be removed from gender stereotypes and narrow social constructs.
It doesnt matter what type of girl you are or what type of girl you are living with Bipolar Disorder. All that matters is that you are exactly who you want to be and even if right now, youre arent, keep moving towards the goal.
Be the girl you want to be.
Thats the only type of girl there is after all.