As a five-year old in the 1970s, people considered me shy. And for good reason, I was, terribly shy. I grew up on a farm with one older sibling. A sister whose goal in life, as far as I could tell, was to ignore me until I ventured physically too close and then I received a punch for the infraction. I was the kind of kid, when forced inside the house on stormy days, played board games or with Hot Wheel cars by myself. Otherwise, the majority of my youth was spent outside where I enjoyed a modified version of touch football with our German Shepard or performed a solo act of the Bank and Robbers routine. I played countless games of one-on-one basketball and H-O-R-S-E against Magic Johnson in our driveway. I climbed just about every tree on our property without ever falling. I took up these activities of my own volition. No one coached me on what I should or should not be playing because I was a girl. All of these activities I did alone. When I found myself out in public, I was fine until someone paid attention to me, especially if they made a remark about me being a cute little girl. At that, I tried to hide myself behind the closest thing within reach, my father’s leg worked surprisingly well, or I just covered my face with my hands.
Then, came that fateful day in which my Mom took me to kindergarten. Since becoming an adult, I realize this first day of school/pre-school seems to be more traumatic for the parent/guardian than the child. But I’m unique, aren’t I? The trauma I experienced that day stayed with me for many years as well as the other kids in the classroom. I never knew how much my behavior affected the other students until my class graduated from high school and the salutatorian took the entire audience on a trip down memory lane in his speech in which he reminisced about how he did not like school due to my meltdowns during the first full week of his educational career. I couldn’t very well stand up in the auditorium, interrupting his speech to point out the fact that it looked like everything worked out just fine for him so I kept quiet but I could feel my face getting warm.
On that first day of school, my Mom could not talk me into going into the classroom. I chose to stand in the hallway and cry. Finally, the teacher came out to where I was, picked me up, told my Mom everything would be okay and for her to leave. This teacher, Mrs. G., carried me into the room, walked to the front of the class, sat down on a chair and placed me on her lap so I was facing all the other children. Mrs. G. asked me if I knew any one of the many faces staring back at us. My crying did not waver until I spotted my cousin, Tony. For the first few days I stuck to him as close as he would allow. To his credit, he was very patient and always kind to me. He didn’t push my chair away from him nor did he complain that I was a girl. And then I met my best friend, S, a boy about my size. My first best friend with less than four legs. I quickly released my cousin from my vice-like grip to explore this new relationship.
S and I were inseparable. We ate our snacks, played and enjoyed our naps together every afternoon. The teacher never said our actions were inappropriate due to our different sexes. This bliss lasted for a week or two. I don’t remember the exact timeline but what I do remember is when our friendship ended. Our kindergarten room included a unisex bathroom off in the corner for us students so we wouldn’t have to use the “Boys” or “Girls” bathrooms of the big kids. I went into our private bathroom having a best friend, I emerged without one. It turned out while I was taking care of business one of the other students informed S that I was a girl, up until that point he believed me to be a boy. I felt crushed. I couldn’t understand why this fact made a difference. To him though it made all the difference in the world. He did not want a girl to be his friend. At that time in his life, girls were still yucky and he probably thought we all had cooties. I didn’t because I checked but I did think there was something wrong with me.
This newly acquired idea that I was less than another person based on the sole fact I was indeed a female did nothing to strengthen my self-confidence or overcome my shyness. Little did I know that this was not the first time in my life that my sex was a disappointment. I didn’t get the full story until several years later but eventually the truth came out.
People familiar with my mother assured her that the baby she carried would be a boy, all the signs were present: she carried the baby low, the baby was very active and whatever else the older women “knew” to be telling signs. My parents picked out a name well before the birth of their son, Matthew. That special day arrived when they would welcome their baby boy. The doctor was in place, my mother was doing her part and there was a nurse standing by with a blue blanket. Then I popped out. The doctor announced my sex, the nurse said something about needing a different blanket and my mother asked if I had hair. An aide escorted my father in to meet his new child. Not known for his genetic know-how, he asked my mother how she could have allowed their new baby to be a girl when she knew he expected, in fact, needed the baby to be a male. He left the room, his wife in tears holding their little girl wrapped in a pink blanket, to calm down and collect himself.
As much as I admired and loved my father growing up, I sensed a barrier between us. I remember so badly wanting to be like him. I followed him wherever he allowed me and I was so proud to look like him. I fantasized about and hoped to become a boy. I became the only thing I knew how to be and that was a tomboy. Then, a day came when I realized that no matter how much I looked like him, no matter how well I excelled in my (his) favorite sport or how smart I became in order to attend my (his) favorite university I was not his favorite daughter. He already had one, my older sister. Me. . .I was, still am, his disappointment.
Several months ago, I read the first few lines of an article or a blog and it got me to thinking. . . a dangerous past time, I know. The author questioned why being compared to a girl was a bad thing in our society today. Good question, I thought to myself. So why is being a female viewed as being less than? Why in the year 2013, is there such a bad connotation at being called a girl? So bad indeed that a boy might commit suicide because he is bullied at school for acting like a girl or being “girly.” What does this say about a society and how it views women? Does it correspond with recent politics? Last year and again this past month, the House of Representatives in the US held discussion panels to debate women’s health issues. Does it surprise anyone that these panels were all-male and the topics discussed were birth control and abortions? Is anyone shocked that a wage gap still exists between the sexes?
I see women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, abilities, social and economic statuses demonstrating and calling for equality. How many times do we see men standing with those women, demanding that their daughters, sisters, wives, etc. be treated fairly? Not too many I’m afraid. President Obama, in the past, referenced the women in his family for his views and stance on women issues. We need more men to behave in that fashion. I don’t pretend to know what the solution is or what steps we as a society need to follow to create equality of the sexes. I do know that no child should ever be made to feel as if they are a disappointment, or a mistake, based on their sex. I also know we fail as human beings when our children decide they are better off dead than alive simply because of their intrinsic behavior.
To this day, I do not like attention. I blush when sk encourages me to be proud of my body and its feminine curves. Sometimes I feel as if I’m disrespecting womankind because I do not like women’s clothes on me and I’m ashamed of those curves that sk likes so much. It also burns me to my core when people make assumptions about me, especially if they are men who make it clear they believe I’m a cute little girl. At that cue, my cells memories take over and I become that shy five-year-old again, although this time I don’t have my father’s legs to hide behind.