We are all socialised differently in relation to our families, friends and childhood environments and experiences. I was born in the back bedroom of a poverty-line house filled with outdated furniture and worn carpets. I grew up around drugs and crime but I also grew up around music, education and art. Life is never black and white and my childhood experience was a great example of that. I was assigned female at birth and I grew up being socialised female. Let me continue by saying: I don’t think there is anything wrong with presuming that the sex of your child will match their gender. For most babies who grow up into adults, this is their truth, their sex and gender are the same. For me, it was always a bit confusing.
Here’s a few important things that age five to seven-year-old me would want you to know. My favourite TV show was Time Team (a show about excavating land to find ancient burial grounds, buildings and artefacts) and I wanted to be an archeologist. I loved stuffed animals and weird little trinkets. As I got older I was really into free gifts inside cereal packets and my all-time favourite gift was a Beyblade (a kind of spinner toy) which came in a packet of Coco Pops. I loved rugby because when we learned the rules in school it was the first sport to make sense to me (and it was a sport where I was allowed to let out my anger). My best friend lived in the village next to mine and he taught me how to climb trees, how to dribble a basketball and, crucially, how to lock the butler in the freezer in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2.
I have vague memories of the times that I was reminded of ways in which I was ‘supposed’ to behave as a girl. It was sudden and all at once. Don’t you want to be a dancer instead of an archeologist?! We’re going to send you to ballet class! You can’t climb trees wearing a skirt! You shouldn’t be climbing trees at all! We don’t want you playing rugby, it’s too violent!
Suddenly I was expected to be all these things. I was sent to brownies and dance class. I was expected to date my best friend. I wasn’t allowed to dress up as my favourite character on world book day in school because he was a boy. Once my gender and female socialisation began to separate me from the things I loved it felt unescapable and immensely frustrating.
As a child and a teenager I had a whole ton of dreams and it suddenly felt that they were all being crushed. For a few years, I tried to be everything that everyone wanted me to be. I navigated difficulties: bullying, dreading school and eventually, learning how to fight. Then the cycle started again and again and there was a whole new list of things I wasn’t allowed to be and do. I gave up and became unhealthily obsessed with becoming a ‘normal girl’. I spent hours shaving my excessive body and facial hair, I went on diets, wore dresses, kissed boys and changed my dreams. (To clarify, there’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things if they are what you want, however, they weren’t right for me).
I still struggle with the need for ‘normality’, validation and acceptance. Being socialised female has made me a fearful, confused, and sometimes angry, person. At 22 I feel lucky to have more authority over my own body and the freedom to make my own choices about how I want to live. I’ve realised that I may never get to choose the way that the world perceives me or how people expect me to behave but that will no longer stop me from challenging their expectations.
How did gendered socialisation impact you? Perhaps your culture or upbringing is different to mine- if so, I’d love to hear about how the impact of gendered socialisation varies in different cultures.- AB