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The balancing act of being a woman

This is a short recount of the contrasting expectations I have encountered in my life experience.
Our female readers can relate, and very likely add much more to this case. For any male readers, hopefully, this brings some insight into what Maddona would say... how it feels like for a girl.

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Taught to have good manners but also received great advice on how to stay safe

My mom has always been a step ahead of most life situations, and I remember I haven't even completed elementary school by the time I had a bunch of safety lessons understood and memorized: Always keeping an eye on the people around you, if a man is following you going inside a store or a place with more women inside, always checking your surroundings before getting into the car, not keeping prolonged eye contact with unknown people, not showing how angry I really was every time my mom got cat called in the street in front of us her children, and so on.

As early as 6 years of age, I knew what sort of "compliments" were totally inappropriate, and it would infuriate me to hear them in the street. At that age, I may still forget occasionally to greet everyone in my extended family when I walked into a family reunion and other good manners taught by my parents, but I would already know to say things like "Hey mom, dad is picking us up soon right?" if I noticed any unwanted male company getting to close to us at the bank line or while shopping in the market.

By 14 years of age, I was refusing to walk to the convenience store on my own, not because I was lazy, but ever since a guy came from behind a corner and licked my neck. I had a 2 Liter bottle of Coca-Cola and hit him with it while I yelled at him to the top of my lungs. He was petrified and ran away. And at that time I swore to myself that would never endure that type of behavior. Which lead to me slapping, kicking, and yelling at any guy who dared to try their pervy agenda. My parents were concerned about my safety since they knew I was not going to stay quiet, which is really sad, but a reality in many countries.



Open debate about my physical appearance

As a kid, possibly around 4 or 5 years old, I once overheard a relative telling my mom that was "kind of fat" and that my face was too round. Apparently, days later my mom found me looking at myself in the mirror and asking her if I was really a fat kid. I remember I wasn't even 13 years old when I heard the first nasty and sexual-oriented comments about my appearance coming from guys who were possibly in their 30s or even older. What was I wearing? Some might ask, oversized t-shirt with a stamp from an animated character - most likely Snoopy or the Looney Tunes- and bootleg cut jeans that were big on me. Still, those idiots managed to sexualize that.

At that time I wore a lot of oversized t-shirts, not only because it was the fashion but also because it somehow felt safe. Like a shield to hide from all sorts of pervs.


I was possibly around 15 years old when I started to be questioned on why I was wearing oversized t-shirts, and right at that moment, an awful milestone was reached...From that point on, basically until now, I have been asked "are you pregnant?" as if it was a valid replacement for a greeting if ever seen wearing an outfit that had some extra fabric. Sadly both female - extended relatives- and male - cough - friends have done so.

A similar situation would occur with makeup, I am sure many women have experienced this, being asked "are you sick?", "are feeling ok?" on any given day I was seen without eyeliner on, but also being stared down when having my makeup game on point...because "where are you going anyways? or "why would you need to do your makeup today?".

I pride myself on wearing not necessarily what is "fashionable", but the garments that I like and that form part of my style - a real form of expression. Many would find my style too extra, which is ok for me -everybody just mind their own business please- but boy if I had a peso every time someone made an unsolicited comment on my clothes! Like a time in a previous job in which 3 different guys asked me if I was not too hot to be wearing a sweater, or the day an idiot said that my beanie hat made me look like I could punch him... which could be the truth but it wouldn't be related to the beanie hat but to the subject himself.

Once, while studying at the University, a much older guy who I barely know approached me to say hi and went on for a good two minutes on why I shouldn't exercise so much since I look better with some fat left in specific areas...The audacity! He also managed to be angry while exposing his unsolicited opinion and acted shocked when I rejected his comments.


Be pretty but not too sexy, be smart but not too opinionated

Gender roles have been passed on for centuries, and among the expectations imposed on women, is the one of beauty.

In the art sphere women were imposed the role of muses, therefore required to be pretty, to look after their image, their weight, their words, and so on.


Gender roles have been passed on for centuries, and among the expectations imposed on women, is the one of beauty. In the art sphere women were imposed the role of muses, therefore required to be pretty, to look after their image, their weight, their words, and so on.

Within that expectation for women to be decent and have good looks, comes an invisible limit that varies from culture to culture of what is acceptable and desired, and what is too revealing, too sexy, or too provocative, because men are basically beasts that cannot control themselves according to these roles.

In daily life examples, you can see how there is a dress code for the work-life, which in a functional way might make sense (wearing a lab coat, using industrial shoes, using scrubs, etc), but in many other contexts, it does not. People who have ever worked in retail can relate and provide their own examples I am sure.

In my short experience in retail I was asked to wear the accessories, clothes, and shoes from the brand, which makes sense since you are representing it, but what never made sense to me was being expected to climb foldable ladders at the stock room, while wearing a "cute" outfits and fashionable shoes - not the most comfortable combination needless to say- all in godspeed while the customers were waiting for you to possibly make a purchase. The worst was when the creepy regional manager was in town and he would noticeably take pleasure in watching the female staff of the store climbing up and down the ladders. This guy once mansplained to me how I should walk across the store when assisting customers, to look determined but nice and approachable. Basically, you are expected to get attention but God forgive us if you become too intimidating!

This reminds what occurred with a guy I dated, who went from: "I love having these talks and debates with you", to telling me: " do you always have to have an opinion?" in the middle of a family dinner when the public conversation was about politics and he had all of the sudden become very silent. The same guy who would suggest me wearing something nicer when would go out with his friends, but would get noticeably upset when he thought I looked too good in a dress.


All of the above is greatly summarized by the epic video "Be a Lady They Said" starring Cynthia Nixon, which sums up centuries of expectations, impositions, gender roles, and the silent task of enduring them.


Crying is for girls

Regardless of the gender you identify yourself with, this is degrading. Either way being called a girl as a derogatory label, and being denied the ability to express your emotions. The imposition of not showing your emotions equally leads to "be a man", "man up", or "don't be so emotional", or "that is not "lady like".

"What it feels like for a girl" by Madonna
"What it feels like for a girl" by Madonna

Regardless of the gender you identify yourself with, this is degrading. The imposition of not showing your emotions equally leads to "be a man", "man up", or "don't be so emotional", that is not "lady like".

Another not-so-openly mentioned expectation is that of only showing the other specific emotions that match your gender role.

Tenderness, patience, and empathy are a good display of womanhood to many, but what about discontent, and anger? No, that doesn't seem to add up.


After the #8M demonstrations in Mexico back in 2020, comments flooded the internet calling women emotional, too angry, too opinionated, too in your face, and too violent. As if all these spectators and moral judges had not noticed the extreme violence perpetrated against women and how the law systematically looks away, leaving 90% of crimes unsolved.

Mexico is becoming world known for its femicides - defined by the World Health Organization as the intentional murder of women because they are women - with a growth rate of 145% since 2015 . This reality only gets gloomier the closer you look, when more than 40% of the femicide victims in Mexico knew their killer -many times current or previous partners, and even relatives. *


If I had to explain how it feels to be a woman, I would simply use a video game as an analogy to explain it. "Playing" this game as a person born with a vagina is like playing in the level expert. Less or many times with no tools or gadgets in the inventory, surviving attacks from all fronts, in which even friendly fire is allowed, the armor requires extra coins, and the XP points are questionable. And if you have kids, you are pretty much playing in level, God. Managing to complete the daily mission of looking after your family, surviving society´s expectations and demands, while looking the best your can, wearing uncomfortable outfits, and staying polite even when facing abuse, otherwise, your ability to remain in the game will be questioned, and possibly even extinguished... oh and all of this is done while bleeding, breastfeeding or experiencing hot flashes, changes in hormones that turn your character into a witch, plus the possibility of being tagged as a witch even if your hormones are doing just fine.

The game takes place in a variety of times, the Middle Ages, the Victorian area, up to the XXI century, all depending on which country and social status you are born in.


Life Game 2023 - An analogy of what it feels like for a girl by LuceBuona
Life Game 2023 - An analogy of what it feels like for a girl by LuceBuona

System error: Empathy not found

With this post, I do not intend to play victim, since I am not, nor to throw myself to the floor and make this an I've-suffered-more contest. The only intention is to call for empathy.

Any person who has ever been followed by a stranger down the street and catcalled knows that it is not only what is happening at that moment that is so unsettling, it is also the fear of not knowing if the perpetrator will stop or will pursue more. Egyptian actor Waleed Hammad, confirms the range of comments heard when being disguised as a woman, up to the fear of not knowing what would happen to him when a man decided to make advances on him.

If only humanity had the good habit of practicing empathy and managed to put itself in the shoes of other people.

If only abusers, predators, and sex offenders could feel in their own skin the sour taste of their actions.

A group of people actually did something similar, by identifying known catcallers in the streets of Lima Peru, disguising their moms and capturing in camera when they catcalled them too! You can find the footage of that social experiment here. Not sure if staged or not, but the purpose is gold! Creating empathy and awareness of how catcalling is not a compliment, but harassment.


If you reading these lines had flashbacks of moments in which you were disrespected, harassed, or undermined... I believe you. On the other hand, if you also couldn´t help to recall times in which you were abusive, judgemental, or provided your unrequired feedback on somebody´s physique...I get you too! Let's take responsibility for our actions and leave more room for empathy. A more inclusive belief system would inevitably lead to change, based on the fact that social norms aim to establish a standard of behaviors to be considered acceptable in society. A respectful, diverse, and empathic society would at some point lead to such behavior being integrated into codes, rules, and eventually laws.


“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

 

* Vazquez, R. (2020, March 19). Femicides in Mexico: Impunity and Protests [Policy Research Organization]. Centre for Strategic & International Studies. https://www.csis.org/analysis/femicides-mexico-impunity-and-protests

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Comments (5)

Felicidades!! Muy lindo todo , gracias!!!🥰🤗❤️👏

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Guest
May 15

Muchas gracias!! Que bonito !!!😇🥰

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Guest
May 15

Felicidades!!!!🥳

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LuceBuona
LuceBuona
Admin
Jul 27, 2023

I was in tears even before playing the video! Recently started watching Bluey and to be honest I am saviouring every episode, making sure not to rush through them. Luce as a kid would have love it too! Without all the sometimes extreme drama cartoons such as "Candy", "Peline" and the anime series called in Spanish "La Ranita Demetan" displayed. I also remember feeling sad and stressed after watching some of them...But Bluey is so not like that. I am sure this is appreciated by kids and parents equally. Cheers to all healthy, innocent and non invasive copying mechanisms! And thanks for sharing this one! 😍

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