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CategoriesFemininities and SexualityThe I Column

Redefining Femininity

Surrounded mostly by women while growing up, and even now, my idea of femininity looks like masculinity and femininity combined. Or, at least, the idea of what ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ means in a largely patriarchal society. Gender roles were flipped for the most part in our household, as my mother worked as well as took care of the home and our family. My father, on the other hand, was both absent and abusive, which made me feel like I had a single parent. I believe this may have warped my sense of my purpose in regard to recognising my own gender. I saw a woman (my mother) do every single thing that goes into running a house and raising children: working to provide for us financially, taking care of our home by cooking and cleaning, and most notably, teaching us the importance and value of independence and doing things by ourselves. The actions of my mother as a nurturing and protective person who ‘does it all’ is what femininity looked like.

The patriarchy, of course, held her back from leaving my father, but she always made sure that we were taken care of and given the best opportunities to succeed and be self-reliant. I see this as one of the major facets of femininity as I understand it: that it entails being determined and self-sufficient amidst the cruel powers the patriarchy has, over women especially. I saw these patriarchal norms unfold from the very beginning, even when I did not know what they meant or implied. The stigma of divorce and single parenting that forced her to stay in a toxic relationship was the patriarchy’s doing. I saw two distinct kinds of assertiveness and power in both my parents that guided me in unlearning gender roles. It was my mother’s actions and beliefs that taught me that women could also be assertive.

Having no time and headspace for emotional learning in the home, we did not talk about all the things that were bothering us and that were problematic on account of the socio-cultural environment and its biases and inequalities. It wasn’t until college that I started to unpack stereotypes and biases around gender. I soon realised that gender is more than just how you look and dress, and your anatomy. It wasn’t until graduate school that I made sense of my own gender identity (as a non-binary, trans person) as the combined result of my upbringing, socialisation, and my own ideas and beliefs around gender and sexuality.

 

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Common misconceptions about people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) who cut off their hair, that they now suddenly have become a ‘man’ or identify as one by a mere haircut, are problematic. While choosing to fit more into one’s gender identity and expressing one’s sense of self can be liberating for sure, it is also almost a rebirth of oneself. ‘Looking the part’ and having a body that finally aligns with one’s gender identity is something we desire to do for a long time, but are afraid that if we take this step, things would change forever.

Indeed, it does – it did for me. Telling myself I just need a change, I cut off my long hair and started presenting as more masculine, a side of myself that I felt guilty about and often hid. The social transition was long and is still ongoing. It took me even longer to keep my facial hair, which is considered anything but ‘feminine’. Ashamed all my life for having excessive body hair (because I was AFAB), sporting a thick beard felt new, but necessary. I decided I was no longer going to be ashamed of the way that my beautiful body is made, nor was I going to start identifying as a man, just because I was presenting as more masculine. I felt relieved to not have to hide anymore and constantly worry about my facial hair. And although I still worry about what people think about me for not removing the hair on my face, arms, legs, and all of my body, it has been one of the best things that I started to accept and own.

Self-acceptance is essential to leading an authentic and fulfilling life for queer and gender non-conforming people. It is only when we embark on the journey to accept ourselves that we can explore the possibilities of our gender identity and the connections we can form with others. I just wish we did not have to categorise every move we make or thing we say as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. Resisting the destructive forces of the patriarchy means breaking away from this oppressive binary and embodying a more authentic, expansive gender identity. We must unlearn these ideas and create a more holistic view of what femininity is comprised of and looks like.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Article written by:

Sweta is a non-binary trans Dalit based in Delhi. They have pursued education in Social Work and Gender Studies and seeks to explore alternative therapies and methods of healing. Living in an all-women household, they explore anti-caste feminist politics in the everyday. Having lived across different countries as they grew up, they are now exploring anti-caste cultures through local travel, food, music and cultural movements.

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