Sunday, July 1, 2007

Blog Assignment: Gendered Memoir

I sat in the outfield of the tee-ball field, hat askew as my small fingers tore apart a dandelion quickly, knotting them into chains and crowns. In my mind, in this daydream, I had just became the first ballerina-princess-writer-president and won an Academy Award. I was making my acceptance speech.

Suddenly one of the coach's voices dragged me back to reality. "Everybody move in closer" he said in a slightly cranky tone. I looked up, befuddled, wondering what warranted the need to disrupt my daydreaming in the outfield. There was nothing unusual going on, in my opinion. I squinted and looked closer at home plate. Again, nothing unusual in my opinion, looked like someone was coming up to bat. Although this was my first tee-ball game, I caught on to the rules pretty quickly.

Then it hit me. The only difference between the batters that had been up for the past fifteen minutes and this one was one simple thing.

She was a girl.

"Every day after school, Alan and I would call to each other from
our adjacent houses and meet at the hibiscus hedge...Silently we
would stalk thieves, snakes, Indians. Sometimes we were on the
same side...Sometimes one was the sheriff, the other the outlaw...
Then we would go to Alan's house, and the maid
would serve us tea and biscuits that his mother
had baked."
Sharon Lim-Hing "Alan and Me"

I had an Alan. His name was Brian, and he had blue eyes close to mine, a light clear blue close to a summer sky. His blonde hair was almost the same colour as mine as well, a light golden blonde with lighter blonde highlights dappled throughout. Our skin was almost the same colour too, a light roses and cream complexion betraying our mostly Western Europe ancestry (mine English and Irish, his Scandinavian).

We would play whatever games popped into our heads. Godzilla and the townspeople, house, cooking school, President, GI Joes, just to name a few. We would pool our toys together and play all sorts of games. When we were done playing, we'd go to either my house or his for our favourites: grilled cheese, tomato soup, pickles, or macaroni and cheese. If we were lucky, one of our mothers would have baked us some cookies and we'd have cookies and milk and get to watch the Smurfs or my favourite: Jem! She was truly outrageous, after all.

I grew up until around the age of six knowing that there were two different biological genders: boys and girls. But I wasn't aware of the social construction of gender, I just thought that it was a physical difference. I had a baseball hat, he would play with my barbies, and I saw nothing wrong with it at all. I didn't know that there was something "wrong" with boys playing with barbies, or girls playing baseball. So when they deemed that the rules were different for boys and girls while playing tee-ball, I was confused and angry.

"But then it was time for X to start school...The teacher would tell boys to form
one line, and girls to form another line...The school library would have a list of
recommended books for girls, and a different list of recommended books for
boys. There would even be a bathroom marked BOYS, and another marked
GIRLS. Pretty soon boys and girls would hardly talk to
each other. What would happen to poor little X?"

Lois Gould, "X: A Fabulous Child's Story"

My whole world changed when I started playing tee-ball. Here was an arena in which the gender expectations were clearly outlined by the coaches. Everyone moved in close when girls were up to bat, the boys were supposed to play less hard when girls were involved and the girls were allowed to play less positions so they didn't get "hurt". I was aghast. Why should the girls have different rules? I was sort of like X, in a way. I couldn't fathom how girls were so different from boys that we needed a whole different set of rules. Like X, I played with whatever toys I wanted. My mom and dad didn't treat me differently than any of the boy visitors we had.

Up to that point, gender was only differences in appearances, and my mom having smaller hands than my dad wasn't any reason for boys and girls to have different rules. Both of my parents could do the same things: they could run and play with me, they could watch Jem! with me, they could read me stories, they could play Barbies. Why should the rest of the world be any different, I reasoned?

After the aforementioned game, I had a "talk" with my mother. These different rules made no sense, I tried to reason with her. Why should boys and girls have different rules when they weren't that different in my eyes? How fair was the boys "playing less hard" when a girl was up to bat? I was indignant, and I demanded that my mother spoke to the coaches, because this wasn't was an outrage, in fact! My mother attempted to soothe my wounded pride by telling me that it wasn't anything I did that caused them to want to have different rules, but the damage was done.

My world was different: I realized that some people saw boys and girls as being different, and even worse, that some people saw the girls as being weaker and not as smart or strong as boys. It changed my outlook for good.

Later on, while discussing this incident with my mother, I figured out one of the reasons that they let girls play less, and placed them in different positions than the boys, and urged the boys to play "less hard" on the girls, was frankly, because they had no idea how to handle having girls on the team. This was about their sons playing tee-ball to them, and it was considered somewhat shocking even to them that many girls would want to do something like that when there were girls' only teams. It was 1988, so it was almost twenty years ago, but attitudes like this can be found even to this day. My friend has a daughter, and certain sports teams look at her as a liability instead of an asset.

Looking back, almost twenty years for the incident, it still has an impact on my life, although it takes me awhile to figure out exactly how it impacts me to this day. But looking at how I live my life everyday, it brings into focus exactly how it effects me. I became aware of the expectations of me as a gendered being that day, and I still live (somewhat) in accordance to these gender expectations and ideals. I get up everyday and put clothing on selected from my wardrobe bought mostly from the women's department, put my makeup on, use shampoo, conditioner and other toiletries marketed to my gender, with all feminine scents (no masculine fresh or clean ones, of course) and face the day all kitted out in gender appropriate accoutrements.

Most of this I do unconsciously, my preferences having been influenced over the years and myself being shaped by society over the years. However, due to the readings and discussion that take place in this class (IDIS 280), I feel that I am becoming more conscious of how society HAS shaped these preferences, and I am examining them in a closer fashion. The way I behave is less of a "natural" thing, and more of a "social construct" than I ever would have realized. Everything from the choice of food I eat to the colour of car I was considering buying is somehow connected to society's expectations of gender. Realizing this has helped me to become a more responsible and aware person. I try to base my decisions more on what I like, instead of what society tells me I should like.

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