If I had a dollar for the innumerable times I’ve been called or refer to as he, him, or sir, I would be a millionaire. Seriously, it happens so often to me that I’ve actually become accustom to the shaming, offensive, and masculine pronouns. It’s been happening to me since I was a kid. I grew pretty much a tomboy playing basketball, football, soccer and many other sports. Most of my friends were guys and the role models I related to the most, were the men in my family. Now, I’m not trying to infer that I didn’t have women role models. I’ve just always been an adventurous and active kind of person.
The men in my life afforded me the opportunity to live that lifestyle. I’ve never wanted to be anything other than myself. I never thought that people would challenge my gender simply because I wear men’s clothing. My choice of clothing has always ventured toward an androgynous or tomboyish style. Yes, I am very aware of my both my masculine figures and my masculine personality. However, regardless, of my attire I’ve always indentified as woman. I just happen to shop in both the men’s and women’s department, but does that make me any less than a woman. It completely baffles me that some people can be so narrow- minded and not realizing the diversity in womanhood.
As I got older I began to realize that I was fighting for my right to be called a woman simply because of the clothing I choose to wear, my hair and my masculine facial figures. Clothing, hair, and physical figures shouldn’t be the only thing included when determining whether someone is a woman. We women are phenomenal in every aspect because we have the power to be anything we want to be, there’s no one type of woman. We’re not all straight haired, makeup wearing, dress shopping and heel wearing types of women. Some of us like to switch it up. For example, my attire depends on my mood or comfortably. One day I may be in a dress with heels, and the next day I maybe in a Polo shirt with men’s jeans and sneakers. Regardless, I still proudly profess and embrace my womanhood.
About three years ago, I began working as a cashier at a local gas station where I live. I had just cut off my hair so that I could embark on a healthier and more natural look. The goal was to start growing dreadlocks. Now, from the first day that I began working there I would get mistaken for a man. I would get called sir, man, and dude. At first it didn’t bother me because I thought maybe people aren’t use to seeing a woman with natural hair. However, it began to bother me after I would correct customers and they would continue to refer to as man. For example, I was assisting a regular customer one day with lottery tickets and he insisted on calling me sir after I had corrected him. Now keep in mind that this particular customer often visit the store and was very aware of my gender.
After, getting annoyed with the constant masculine pronouns I finally told him sir, “I am a woman” and his response was “Well! I can’t tell.” It was right then and there that I realize that our society has a distorted picture of what a woman should look like. It really got me thinking was my masculinity over clouding my femininity? Should I begin wearing makeup? Or perhaps I should just attach a sticker to my uniform that reads “I am a Woman.”
Chaka khan once sang “I’m every woman it’s all in me” because being a woman isn’t simply based on personality, the way she dresses or the way she wears her hair. We women shouldn’t be place in a box because we are the very definition of diversity. Women come in all different shapes, sizes, races, cultural and of diverse educational backgrounds.
One of the most common misconception is that women should act and look like women. But what exactly does that mean? Who came with this act like a woman notion? Why are we women constantly being place in a box? When I think of the diversity in womanhood I think of women like First Lady Michelle Obama, Erkyah Badu, Pink, Serena Williams and Janelle Monae. These are all beautiful women who have been shamed, demean and even dehumanize because of the way they’ve dressed, their body type, and the way they’ve worn their makeup and hair.
For example, Serena Williams has been subjected to some harsh and cruel criticism throughout her career as a professional tennis player. It’s no secret that being a professional athlete puts you in the front row seat of critics. However, I feel some critics go too far. In life, we’re all going to be subjected to some kind of criticism, and in many ways it’s good for our growth into adulthood. I feel that some of the things the media has said about Serena Williams have crossed the line. The biggest issue for me is the constant body shaming. Instead of recognizing her for her accomplishments as an athletic critics tend to focus on the fact, that her body type doesn’t fit society idea of femininity and beauty.
Over the years, I’ve read countless articles and have seen horrible tweets about to her physique and how she’s apparently “Built like a man.” Our society seems to be intimidated by women that don’t fit into the norm. Serena Williams is an incredibly athletic and one of the most beautiful women in sports today, yet so many critics go out their way to try and demean, degrade, and dehumanize her simply because of her unique physique. I can relate to Serena Williams because I know what it’s like to be shamed because of the way you look.
“Ain’t I a woman?” I mean, at the end of the day “Ain’t I a woman?” Sure I don’t look like the traditional idea of a woman. I don’t always dress in feminine attire. I have masculine figures both physically and emotionally. However, does that make me less than a woman or unworthy to be called a woman? Society teaches us that femininity means looking, acting, and having particular body and facial figures. Society has inadvertently or perhaps purposely poisoned our minds with what it means to be a woman.
Today’s society tell us that femininity and masculinity pertains to your gender when, in fact, it doesn’t. Masculinity and femininity has nothing to do with gender and I believe because of this misconception I have experience misidentification. I think that young women everywhere should embrace who they are and not become accustom to societies social norms pertaining to women.
Every little girl should be encourage to be themselves and not basic on what others think. Your clothing, hair, personality, and lifestyle choices don’t define your gender, or your womanhood. We women are divergent, strong, and passionate and come in all different types of packages. Not all women have the Hollywood look or meet social norms.
Be you, be brave, love yourself and realize that not all women have to look like the women on television or in the magazines. It’s okay to prefer jeans over dresses. You don’t have to wear make up to be consider feminine. For all the little girls that will be challenge with gender identity, know that you are phenomenal, beautiful, and very definition of strength. Never like anyone make you feel unworthy or less than a woman simply because you don’t fit their definition of femininity and beauty.
(Ahley’s story was published as part of Sharing not Shaming campaign by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a not for profit organization based in Zambia with a vision to raise a generation where girls are empowered, equipped and fulfilled in every aspect of their life, for the development of the entire world. To know more about SAFIGI’s goals and activities, visit http://www.safetyfirstforgirls.org)