I read a short non-fictional memoir by Eli Clare called “Stones in My Pockets, Stones in My Heart” from a book called The Disability Studies Reader given to me by my sister Shahd, who has taken several Gender Studies courses and is opening my eyes to an assortment of topics that relate to my womanhood and humanity. It was a powerful literary piece discussing how Eli coped with her gender identity struggles, beginning with how her father and his friends regularly raped her so early on in her life that she does not remember a point where she was not raped, into her teenage years and how quietly she ignored the pressure to wear skirts, paint her face with make-up, kiss boys, date in high school, shave her legs, strut in heels. She went through high school as an outcast, a reject, someone who always felt like she didn’t belong, someone who always asked her mother, “Mama, am I feminine?”. As she entered university she began exploring the possibility of her being a lesbian, and came to terms with it later on. Eli not only struggled with gender-labels, but also suffered from a chronic condition which made her hands shake consistently. She was labeled a ‘freak’ in every way. It was a long, bitter struggle, one that she described very powerfully and had a great emotional impact on me.
Last year I took a Psychology class as an elective, and I now remember studying gender roles at one point. My teacher was a 50-something-year old traditionalist, and once very boldly said “Girls feel that their hair is a part of their identity as females.” Because there’s nothing I hate more than a man telling us what girls are like, I told him that was not true. The old creep laughed and said, “Is that so? Well, would you cut off all of your hair?” And I told him I would. And I would’ve. He actually promised me an A in his class if I showed up the next class with a boy haircut. I kid you not, I was dead serious when I told him I would go through with it. The extent to which I am always determined to prove someone wrong never fails to surprise me. But – at the end of that day, my teacher hunted me down and told me he was only joking, and that he didn’t want my parents calling him yelling at him for getting their daughter to cut off her hair. I finished his old-fashioned course with an A anyway, with my hair in tact.
But I still stand by my point. My hair does not determine my identity as a girl or as a female. In fact, not even my body determines my identity as a female. Breast cancer is hereditary in my family – if someday I lose my breasts, and I lose my hair, then will I be stripped of the term ‘woman’ just because I don’t possess “womanly traits”? Do I not have a say in it?
One of my classmates decided to get a Rihanna-like haircut during our Junior year of high school, a bold move on her part. At the time, this meant a boy haircut, but it also meant that both sides of her head would be shaved. It was different, but she liked it, and that should be enough, right?
Wrong. Not in this world. Not in this country. Not in our high school.
Besides the bad treatment she received, my friend went through an incident that should never have occurred. A classmate known for his sexism and poor treatment and perception of females decided it would be funny to ‘playfully’ slap her, because he didn’t like her hair. Our teacher, a woman, was outraged and asked him how he would ever dare lay his hand on a girl. The jerk’s idiotic response was “she is not a girl”.
Now, put aside the fact that he assaulted a female classmate. What on earth made this guy think he had the right to determine what did or didn’t make a girl a girl? This is someone who honestly thought that “imaginating” was a word. So it’s not like he’s gotten an A in a Gender Studies course, or attained a Masters Degree in some form of criticism. Perhaps he was merely reciting what society tells him – but what does that tell us? That half of our society consists of mindless sheep who follow and recite whatever the rest of the herd is doing and saying?
Our society, according to most of the local male perceptions, believes that a girl with a boy hair cut is less of a girl. A girl that smokes is less of a girl. A girl that is not a virgin is less of a girl. A girl that is ‘too’ interested in sports is less of a girl. I know girls that have had their sexualities and gender-identity questioned because the people labeling them were genuinely jealous of what good athletes these girls were – girls that can beat any guy at any time.
We know that labeling stems from insecurity. But does that mean that our entire society is insecure? I would consider that possibility, but it’s difficult in our case. The people throwing labels around are too egotistical to be insecure.
Too egotistical to be insecure, and confident enough to believe they have the power and the right to decide not only what is right and what is wrong, but also what defines a man and what defines a woman. Though both standards are unrealistic, my personal point of view is that the standards set for a woman are much harsher.
The funny thing about smoking is, the idiots whose sole purpose in life is to put stickers on people, tend to use words that don’t really apply to the female smoker in question. There is no correlation whatsoever between smoking and sexuality, yet, these people attack her by calling her ‘promiscuous’, because that’s the only way they believe is a valid way of insulting a female’s womanhood. I can’t help but point out that it does nothing but prove their ignorance and stupidity, that they actually believe smoking is relevant to sexuality.
Smoking? Hair? Clothes (or lack thereof)? Is that all that defines what we are in society’s eyes?