Performing gender is a way of expression, which can be anything from how you dress, your mannerisms, and even how you treat others. Although it isn’t something I have consciously thought about, society teaches us from a very young age how one should behave. Below I describe how my childhood transformed me into how I express myself and perform my gender today and how my femininity is defined and influenced by the culture.
I went to school and played on the playground just like any kid, but I would say this environment had one of the greatest impacts on how I express my gender. Uniforms were required, and girls had to wear skirts, cardigans, and Mary Jane dress shoes, while the boys wore pants, plain white dress shirts, and plain black shoes. Our attire aided what was reinforced to female students. When sitting, we had to cross our legs, and it was expected that we adhered to the rules or there would have been consequences like being reprimanded. The boys had more freedom to do as they please. Girls were told to play with each other and stay away from the boys. The types of games and activities we took part in strengthened the division that was in place to enforce the behaviors of our gender. Girls interacted by playing double-dutch or jumping rope. Some played with dolls by brushing the hair and applying accessories. These acts informally taught us that image and presentation was an imperative characteristic of being female. Miniature kitchen sets taught us that cooking was a feminine duty, whereas the boys would play with sports equipment and get involved with other activities that focus on improving physical abilities and competitive drive.
My family has always expected me to perform my gender. If I strayed away from what was stereotypically feminine, then I was told that what I was doing wasn’t “ladylike.” If I was rambunctious, I was told to sit still. I was taught to have manners and that as a young lady, it is respectful and polite to say please and thank you. For holidays, my grandmother gifts me with frilly dresses and purses. My mother buys me aromatic lotions and perfumes because, as a girl, it is seemingly important to smell pleasant and to have soft skin, while my brothers receive items such as bicycles and footballs. In contrast, my father has leveled out the expectations of gender roles. He cooks, cleans, and takes care of his children. He is involved in domestic duties in ways the “typical” man isn’t. He asserts that women should not be limited to what they can and can’t do. He teaches me to be assertive, confident and reiterates that my mind should be my strongest weapon, not my body. He has taught me to take pride in myself while remaining humble and to get my education to rely on myself rather than other people.
For a while, I believed that women and men had to perform their gender accordingly. After I became aware of the social dynamics, I realized that gender roles are a scam to make men dominate and women submissive. These inequalities, for a long while, made me feel inferior. But times have changed, and so have I. I have made education a crucial part of my development and personal growth. Years ago, women weren’t even allowed to go to school. But here I am writing this post for a college course. We have come a long way. The progress makes me happy about the changes to come in the near future.