Posted by Tanya Malik
I am the only child of a rather unconventional couple. To begin with, my father not only consciously decided not to have another child but insisted on his daughter being the only offspring he wanted. Three decades ago, having an only child who isn’t a ‘boy’ wasn’t only unheard of but was considered ludicrous.
On one hand, there was a paternal uncle who was chasing a son for nine years after having given birth to a healthy girl, even resorting to feticide as a part of the process. Then there was another paternal uncle who had four beautiful daughters, all produced with the hope in vain of giving birth to his rightful heir. Inevitably I grew up hearing people advice my parents, some even criticised them, some called them foolish, but my father always responded in simple words “For me there is no difference between a daughter and son.”
Those weren’t just words, since my father saw no difference, he forgot to teach me that, the world perceived boys and girls differently. More so that, we were to conform to these definitions if we wanted to be accepted. I was brought up to value perseverance, endurance along with individual expression rather than being taught traditional values that a girl child is usually taught. More important was the fact that I wasn’t made aware of the perceived shortcomings of a girl. I had no idea that a girl is supposed to be weaker, hence I learned to push my physical limits. I compete with people irrespective of their gender. I wasn’t made aware of the fact that toys and games had gender. So, I ended up choosing toys or games that usually involved boys (something my parents never discouraged). My parents forgot to explain how clothes had gender too, therefore I for the longest time thought twinning with my father was my style statement.
My individuality needed to be defined. Since it did not fit into the traditional perception of a girl, I was termed a tomboy.
My parents didn’t tell me what it meant to be the perfect wife/girlfriend. So instead of learning how to cook a great meal, I learnt how to fix a broken stereo, how to change a tyre, or how to protect myself and my loved ones, even if it meant beating up the boy next door. In that process I didn’t end up learning that I was the one who is ‘supposed’ to need protection. My parents forgot to teach me how to follow, how to conform instead taught me how to lead and most dangerously, they taught me how to make my own decisions.
As brilliantly stated by Simone De Beauvoir, “Social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature.” Commonly observed behavioural traits associated with women and men, then, are not caused by anatomy or chromosomes. Rather, they are culturally learned or acquired.
Simply put, we aren’t born man or woman, we are brought up to become them. Since my parents forgot to/decided not to nurture me into a woman, I grew up as an individual. I was encouraged to do things I liked rather than what I was supposed to do! Sounds great doesn’t it, well unfortunately that didn’t work very well for me growing up. The moment I came into secondary school, I was an outcast, a misfit (I still am in most cases but now I’ve understood why).
As per Status Quo Bias, people prefer things just as they are, even if the alternative is better. In addition, we feel safe and comfortable only when we can understand something. Meaning when something seems out of the ordinary, or if something threatens the status quo, it makes us uncomfortable. We must either fight it or simply find a way to fit it in to our existing, comprehendible definitions, I think of it as a part of the ostrich syndrome. Therefore, I believe the term tomboy came into existence. The term Tomboy, though seemingly harmless, is the epitome of gender bias. My individuality needed to be defined. Since it did not fit into the traditional perception of a girl, I was termed a tomboy.
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Not fitting in makes a child think of themselves as inadequate and abnormal. I inevitably tried to curb my enthusiasm and be more ‘lady like’. I tried to find ways to enjoy the things I was supposed to rather than those I did. I realised being outspoken and blunt is reserved for boys, if I were to be like them, it was considered rebellious. I learnt that cooking was a skill I was expected to know in-order to be desirable and not a skill for survival. I realised being bold or being the protector was not my prerogative, I was supposed to be timid, in need of help. Being the leader was reserved for the men, if I were to follow my natural instincts I’d be perceived as bossy, dominating and even uncultured.
the term tomboy forces one to perceive a girl as someone who conforms to everything blue, just as the term sissy, emasculate or effeminate pushes a man into everything pink.
This left me confused for years, until I decided to shed the façade and embrace who I am. Even if it meant I came across as a bundle of contradictions and apparently that I do. It was yesterday, after an eight day long, adventurous trip on bikes through the peaks of Ladakh with my partner and four other boys. When returning via Srinagar airport, I as usual was lost in conversation while we walked towards the security gates, it was then that my friend reminded me that I had to go through the lady’s section. He said (with no offence obviously) “no matter how much you think of yourself as a boy, you will still have to go through the lady’s section.” This however got me thinking.
Well, just because I don’t fit into the conventional definition of a woman doesn’t mean that, I think of myself as a boy! I am an individual who likes a bunch of things, some fall into the perceived category of a boy and some in that of a girl, however for me there are simply things I like doing. I don’t see things as blue or pink, it’s all shades of purple and not conforming to pink doesn’t make my sex any less female.
Therefore, the term tomboy forces one to perceive a girl as someone who conforms to everything blue, just as the term sissy, emasculate or effeminate pushes a man into everything pink. Why are all things creative pink? While all things physical and adventurous blue? We all know men who are great cooks (and no I don’t mean chefs), singers, dancers, painters, writers et al. Or women who are wrestlers, boxers, excellent sportspeople in every sport, women who are warriors and great leaders.
The only unfortunate fact we need to be aware of is that women are required to be nonconformists to achieve excellence. They are first misfits, tomboys, outcasts, rebels before they can excel at a thing which is in fact meant to be purple!
Tanya is a writer and director with a focus on feminism through the lens of social anthropology. You can follow her on Instagram.
Photo credits: Via Tanya Malik