I wrote this article for Life After School – a magazine that is handed out at high schools – and it was published last year. Comments welcome! To what extent do you think school kids are aware of gender issues?
Men’s shirts, short skirts – Man! I feel like a woman!
By Nicolette Ferreira
Glossy red nails, short skirts, a sparkling diamond ring – the perfect attraction. Perhaps you also imagine yourself as the ultimate feminine phenomena praised in Shania Twain’s popular ‘girl-power’ song. But once you get to university, you will meet people with various different outlooks on gender roles. Be prepared to count your words, or you might just end up in the campus newspaper for being sexist!
Feminist theorist, Simone de Beauvoir, made the statement that “one is not born [a woman], but becomes a woman”. Hmmm, interesting. At first it sounds absurd… a woman certainly has some private places which make her a woman, and a man, well, uhmmm… has his own ‘package’ that makes him a man. It’s as uncomplicated as that! A woman is a woman and a man is a man. Perhaps it is not that simple. Is it possible that society produces this ‘creature’ – the woman? Is it a mere myth that women should naturally like roses, have longish hair, love hearts and adore chocolates?
The ‘myth of woman’ refers to the belief that women and men are born as equals, but that women are then taught by society to become different to men, ie. soft, gentle, mysterious, stylish, dainty and feminine. Some feminists argue that this belief of difference between the sexes (fostered even before birth by the notion that pink is for girls and blue for boys) is produced to justify the oppression of women by men: if men are hard and capable, and women are soft, gentle and squeamish, it justifies why men should be the leaders, heroes and providers.
The ‘female sex’ has been defined in the past as “the sex that produces offspring” (Oxford English Dictionary 1963). This means that women are women because they have breasts, ovaries, a womb and so forth. But if we define women as those giving birth, or if we say that someone is a woman because she has softer lips, softer skin, longer nails and softer hands than a man (if we explain it biologically), the concept of ‘woman’ becomes problematic: what about those women who do not have soft hands or long nails, who are fat and all but dainty, who have rough skin or hair on their backs, those who have a bit of a moustache and those who do not want to or can not have children? Does this leave them in some unnamed category outside those of ‘woman’ and ‘man’? An unflattering she-man?!
We often equate being a “woman” to being feminine – and we are told by society that being femine means being the opposite of ugly Betty. This promotion of the feminine woman forces women to have children, to shave their legs, wax their backs and pluck their moustaches. Their bodies become de-formed (by too much make-up, painful waxing, exfoliation, tight shoes, haircuts, cutex) and ‘woman’ is ultimately created (through waxing, shaving, make-up and exfoliation!). One is not born…but becomes a woman!
You’ve been warned: don’t expect all women on campus to be ‘your’ kind of woman. You also don’t need men’s shirts or short skirts to be a woman! This is one of the greatest values I learned at Univeristy: to be a critical thinker!