Nicolette Writes

Professional Freelance Writer and Stay-at-Home Mom

Gender 101

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!


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4 thoughts on “Gender 101

  1. Nicolette

    It’s all how we look at thigns

    I think this is a start to an awakening for you . with more excavation you will see that to be women one can also be masculine. and as you say: women don’t have to shave their legs and pluck their mustaches unless they choose to do so.. Women should claim back their power and choose what they want to accept for themselves..not simply do things simply because society says so.

    It’s pretty sad how much money women are forced to spend to please the man . or their partner: make up, eye brows.lip stick . nail polish, hair spray , beautician and the list goes on. .How much does the man spend on the woman.

    More over what about the woman who is really a man inside what about her? What about the woman who is attracted to other women..where is she . is she still a woman or the adjectives people give to women who like the same sex? Despite her sexual orientation or choice of clothing or people she hangs with she is still a woman.

    Not only women are going to seem different: What about men: men who wear dresses..who feel comfortable wearing makeup; who feel attracted to other men. They are still men.. They just have their own unique tastes and likes.

    What about those who have both male and female parts.. what about those who like both male and female genders: : transgenders and bi-sexuals?

    There is much more to expect when going to college but really if one lets go of one’s ideas of what a man or woman is there will be no surprises at all . Everyone is going to be who each one is inside.. We shouldn’t make it our business to judge how the other person is since we have so much about us that really needs taking care of..College is not about watching people it is about acquiring new skills so we can help others.

    So we are a wide variety of people.. we are black and white, fat and thin, gay and straight, short and tall. .we are all still people. .. Once we stop looking at the externals and start digging deep into our heart: all those adjectives.and those hang ups others others have won’t mean anything at all.. We will be fully liberated; free from prejudice and will be able to share this liberation with all.

    Keep on seeking and speaking and sharing..

    love you


  2. Dear Joy!

    Thank you so much for your reply! This is what inspires me – this kind of grappling with issues and talking about them.

    I just realised something again as I read your comments: we forget that we are not what we are outside (outside is merely our skin), but we are ‘spirit’! Who we are is this something that is not tactile.

    I think that kids in schools these days are being prepared much more regarding gender issues… well, I hope so. I just cannot imagine that it is still the way when I was in school, ten years back. Back then it was simply black on white. Man parts = man, female parts = woman. Anything else is wrong or sinful.

    Come to think of it, it is especially men who suffer because of our narrow perceptions… in many Western communities it is okay if women like to work with motorbikes, or if they play rugby. But if men are interested in dresses and hair there is a much more negative energy directed at them…

    What a strange and interesting world we live in!

    Thanks, Joy!

    Lots of love***

    • HI Nicolette

      It’s a shame that we must educate as though being gay i s “different” or being straight is not..! This is what irks me. By the adjectives we put before groups of people, we as a people, single out others to be looked at.

      We are all’s a shame. that we cannot see it as that.. I think what we need to a young part of school curriculum is that people have different beliefs, different tastes, different sexual attractions. There is no right or wrong..Everyone has their preferences.

      If we teach children to respect the choices others choose..then all this other will fall under one umbrella.

      Sadly we are a society that likes to label. and that is our problem..Some labels are unfair and by their very presence demean and single out.

      People are people. Everyone needs to stop seeing people as gay , straight, black , white, fat ,thin rich, poor and just see them as people. What’s inside .. what one prefers. what one does; does not change, in any way, that people are still in the end: PEOPLE.

      I think grouping together. and protests are fine as long as in all our shouting we point out we are no different. .just have different tastes ..In our gatherings. we should be careful that in protesting. .we don’t marginalize those who are not of “our group” and fall into the very thing we are protesting..

      Really .. the thing we should point out and shout out is: we are different but still share the same humanity and are all human .. and are all people: no matter how we dress, how we talk, what we like, what we do, how we look, what we eat, where we sleep, who we marry or don’t marry..we are all in the end people, all part of the human race..

      Drop the adjectives and drop the prejudice..


  3. Dear Joy!

    You are so right when you say we should focus on the fact that we are all from one group: human.
    Coincidentally, just before you posted your previous comment, I was looking at a photo of my graduation. The Rector who ‘tapped me on the head’ was black.. and I was thinking to myself what a significant photo this is…

    Ten years ago, this would have been unthinkable in South Africa. He wouldn’t have been black, and most white people probably wouldn’t have been impressed being given anything (and, gasp, not an education!) by a black person. The white has always been the benefactor. The teacher.

    Another reason why I find this photo very significant is, is that I realised that I never noticed before that the rector (hope this is the right name for the guy! It might be a direct translation from Afrikaans!) is black. I have just always seen it as the rector tapping me on the head! Nothing strange, nothing weird. And isn’t this what we should be striving towards? To be at a place where a person is a person – not black or white:-)


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