Most of the things I wanted to do – have adventures and be in the band and run things – were coded as male. But despite my failure at being girly and my passion for more “manly” things, I never wanted to be a boy.
I wanted to be a girl who got to do those things.
It was always clear to me that the rules that dictated which activities/clothes/behavior were male and which were female were arbitrary and capricious, and that there was no true reason I couldn’t do the ones I wanted to regardless of how they were defined.
This lies at the heart of my feminism, but I would have felt this way – and acted on that feeling – even if I hadn’t come of age along with second wave feminism. I thought the doors should be opened for all women, but even if they weren’t, I planned to demand that at least some of them be opened for me.
I have this memory from high school of my world history teacher asking several of us girls what we wanted to do when we grew up. I said I wanted to be a lawyer. He said, “You’ll just be a housewife like everyone else.”
Every time I thought about quitting law school (and since I hated law school, that was pretty much every day), I remembered that. I wasn’t going to give that sadistic asshole – or any of the other men who said something similar to me – the satisfaction.
(The idea of law as male is probably a generational thing. These days about half of law students are women. But my class was ten percent women, and that was the largest group of women they’d ever had.)
When I was coming of age, things were shifting due to feminism. But there were still many things that women were not allowed to do, like become an astronaut or be a fighting soldier.
Then there were the things that women could do so long as they promised to do them like men and not rock the boat. Not just law, but marching band when I was in college, not to mention martial arts training.
Most places let in a small number of women even before my time, and for a long time those limits worked to keep women from doing much boat rocking. Even in the Seventies, when women were knocking down walls, we mostly promised we’d follow the manly guidelines.
Except, of course, we were lying. We didn’t know we were lying (or at least, I don’t think I knew I was), but we were. Women in law or engineering or science – and definitely women in the Senate or the State Department or on the Supreme Court – change things a lot.
So, of course, do women in the martial arts. Women martial artists are at the heart of the Empowerment Self Defense teacher training I just took. Many of us who have spent years training are coming to understand that we need to share what we’ve learned with other women instead of simply being satisfied with being on the path.
I like being a woman. I’m happy with the body I was born with. Well, OK, I’d prefer it if it had a little less tendency to arthritis and allergies, but it’s fine with me that it’s a female body. I didn’t want to be a boy and I don’t want to be a man.
I have a lot of respect for trans and nonbinary folk. They’re taking gender issues to a new level, one that I think will benefit us all in the long run. There is much more to humanity than the traditional division into male and female and I hope the future will give us all those ways of being. I appreciate what they do, the risks they take, the dangers they face.
But despite the ways things are changing, there are still a lot of people out there still shouting “no girls allowed” and trying to frighten women back into their places.
I’m a woman, and I’ve got just one word for those people.