Your experiences of/discomfort with the idea of growing up to be a woman?

(29 Posts)
RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 27-Jul-16 12:13:36

When you realised you would grow up to be a woman, what did you feel? What did you think it meant?

Did you ever dress, behave, or try to act, more like a 'boy' - and when?

Do you see the same behaviours in your children, or do you think it's easier now for them?

Did you ever think your body would change - or did you try to change it?

Lots of questions, but what I'm interested in is how we see gender as children, and how that affects us. For example, I was a tomboy growing up. I wanted to be taken for a boy, and always wanted to beat my older brother at everything. In my teens, though, I was both very keen on 'girly' things, and terrified about my body. I used to wrap fabric around my developing breasts and I was quite excited when I heard that if I ate little enough, my periods would stop.

My DP, OTOH, confused her mum no end by putting up masses of pictures of sexy, muscly men on her bedroom walls - she is not remotely straight, but she assumed that, at some stage, she would end up with a body like that.

I wonder if talking about these experiences and feelings - which I suspect aren't unusual - would be interesting in terms of thinking about gender roles?

HemlockSolanum Wed 27-Jul-16 12:41:13

I grew up completely frustrated by "boy"/"girl" stuff.

I was a geeky child, I loathed the colour pink, would scream if my parents put a dress on me, hated sports and physical activities, preferring books and art. I had hair so long I could sit on it because I wouldn't let anyone trim it. People, luckily never my family, seemed to find me frustrating.

I didn't fit properly into the girl box, or the boy box, and I outright rejected the tomboy box.

I remember being about 11 years old and being aware of men's stares and comments. I used to threaten to write "my face is up here ^" on vest tops. At the age of 11 I was already aware of and uncomfortable with how girls are sexualised. I also started puberty that year, and while my early years of periods weren't so tainted by pain, it was definitely a source of frustration that us girls were now treated differently again because of it. I hated the way the focus was on our bodies so much.

Once I started secondary school I chopped all my hair off, and in combination with a fairly flat chest, I easily passed as a boy by wearing baggier clothes. It wasn't a concious choice, I just felt more comfortable not being so obviously female. I wore unisex clothes, jeans and tshirts. And I was constantly referred to by strangers as a boy.

I was neither comfortable or uncomfortable with that misconception, but I was very annoyed that I was spoken to differently when they thought I was a boy.

In addition to this I was just starting to be aware of the way I was steered towards or away from certain interests, and I would get annoyed. It did cross my mind many a time that I'd have more options if I were a boy.

I felt like areas of the world were closed off to me. And the areas that had opened up as a result of my developing body were a dismay at best.

For a long long time I thought I was unusual, all those other girls seemed to embrace their bodies and their "sexuality".

As I grew older though I started to edge more and more towards an almost caricatured femininity. As a mid to late teen I often wished I had been born a boy so that I could dress in drag. Looking back I think what I was really longing for was the fun of dressing up without the negative consequences of a female body and all that entailed.

I think at that stage I'd have given anything to swap my genitals in order to access that seperate boys world.

Now I'm quite a lot older, and while I still feel no love for my, often dysfunctional female body (PCOS) I am now comforted by women who felt the same as me. Knowing that my experience and feelings weren't remotely unusual. And knowing that I wasn't a freak and wrong, but that society is what's wrong.

Now I'm able to accept my female body for what it is, and for what it has given me (children and sisterhood). And instead of fighting myself I'd rather fight society to try and make a better world for my daughter and my daughter's daughters. So that they never feel like I did.

HemlockSolanum Wed 27-Jul-16 12:41:43

Oh god that was an essay! Looks like I needed to get that off my chest blush

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 27-Jul-16 13:13:40

Not an essay - exactly the sort of thing I was asking about!

JacquettaWoodville Wed 27-Jul-16 14:32:33

It's not something I was uncomfortable with but I am interested in the thread.

almondpudding Wed 27-Jul-16 18:04:56

I grew up in a pretty gender neutral family.

My sister always claims we were ill prepared for how awful the world is. It did take a bit of coming to terms with.

My teens have had a similar upbringing, so perhaps they're similarly ill prepared.

I'm glad the feminist theory section is being used a bit more, as everyone uses feminist chat more, so thanks OP.

AskBasil Wed 27-Jul-16 21:54:40

I remember being very young, about 7 or 8 and looking at Top of the Tops seeing either Pans People or Legs and Co. The dancers all had very stupid expressions on their faces and I recognised the sexualised dance moves as submissive and wondered incredulously why these people were behaving like fuckwits on TV in front of millions of people.

I felt shame. Because I knew that I was going to grow up to be like them and this is what women are like and I would have to be like that to be a woman. I can remember the moment so vividly, that moment when I became aware that I was part of the stupid, un-serious half of the human race and that was why men ran everything - because women were like this. I can remember so clearly feeling that these women were letting the side down and that "I'm not like that" and resenting them for behaving in a way that might get me mistaken for an idiot.

Then when I was about 12 and men first started sexually harassing me in the street, I can remember feeling outraged and wondering why they didn't realise that I wasn't the sort of girl who shouldn't be harassed, because I wasn't like "those other" women, the ones who weren't special and clever like me, so could be treated as women.

I grew out of that shit by the time I was 15. grin

PhloppysFonics Wed 27-Jul-16 22:21:39

I was horrified at the idea of becoming a woman ie. Breasts and periods and also the perceived expectations that went with being 'ladylike'. (I thought I would have to stop climbing trees!)

I was a daddy's girl and thought that these things would put a wedge between us and sadly it did. I sensed that my dad was awkward around me and that breasts were in the way when hugging etc.

I was very body conscious and tried to prevent puberty by starving myself resulting in anorexia. I still have hang ups now and feel awkward and ashamed of my womanly body. I'm very aware of my body and it being 'too much'.

still feel weird about my body doing womanly things eg menstruating and gestating like it's embarrassing or shameful or disgusting. I wish I could be one of these women who say 'it's my time of the month' but I cant! Even find it hard with close friends and DP! I just worry people will think I'm disgusting.

I don't believe that about other women though. It's more about my own body and how I grew more detached from it when i started going through puberty. So very much self body hatred rather than more general female body hatred.

I am much more accepting now I am a little older but i still have to process lots of my thoughts through a feminist worldview in an attempt to reset my unconscious views and feelings.

Wow, feels good to get that off my chest!

MaudlinNamechange Wed 27-Jul-16 23:08:57

My mum worried about her weight her whole life and I am built like her (stocky, though I was not a fat child). So she policed my food and I was only allowed to wear certain sorts of clothes because she thought my bum was too big. Before I was old enough to have developed, that is, it was just a chunky bum not a sexy one, but I gather that she was afraid that clothes in any way tight on a girls' round bum (with a small waist, it was the 70s and very few kids were actually fat, not even me!) would be unseemly as it somehow references sexiness. I somehow gathered that by the shame and horror with which she steered me away from certain clothes that all my friends had.

So even when I was very young I felt lumpy in a shameful, sexual way. I asked for my hair to be cut very short and I liked it when I was sometimes mistaken for a boy (which was as much as anything for the things I was likely to be doing)

boys at school when I was as young as 8 would molest the girls - pinch bums, flick nipples, pull up skirts - and in a dark and ugly way I thought this was my fault. I knew it was insulting, it didn't imply that I was pretty

I longed to be pretty but as I wasn't I pretended I didn't care.

When I was about 15 or 16 I started going by myself to clothes shops and trying on outfits I didn't dare buy or even admit I liked. I liked to get pencil skirts, matching jackets, sheer blouses, high heels, dress up in the whole thing and pose. I would turn around and look at my tiny waist from the back. In the days of communal changing rooms someone was always there to say "that looks great on you" and then I would blush and mumble and take it all off and again and put it back. because of my mum saying I was fat and asserting unverbally but very clearly that I was not to attempt to be pretty, because I wasn't and it would humiliate us all, I never even attempted to wear any clothes like that.

When I was at university there were lots of things I didn't do because I couldn't stand up as a fat bird and have people look at my body while I pretended some aspiration to be competent at x, y, z. I was about 9 stone.

One of these things was the jobs milk round. I didn't want to buy fitted clothes because I was "fat" so I couldn't go to interviews or even think about jobs.

Sorry too long. there's more but I'm just going to cringe and hit send

PausingFlatly Thu 28-Jul-16 10:20:24

I hated being put in the girl box as a child.

I remember throwing an earth-shattering tantrum when I was about 6 because someone had bought mugs with different pictures for me and my brothers - theirs had cars and trains, mine had a blue-eyed, flaxen-haired doll.

I've never felt uneasy about having a female body and didn't phrase any of my feelings as "wanting to be a boy." I didn't even like my brothers' car and train mugs. But I'd worked out, even at that age, that an icon like that doll was associated with being in a box that did "girly stuff" instead of the stuff I wanted to do. That it meant being diminished and excluded from the fun. This was the era of Janet and John reading books, of course.

And throughout growing up I identified with the hero in books and films - and that hero was more often than not male.

I've wondered for a long time what effect (if any) it has on females, particularly adolescents, to spend such a proportion of our time looking through the eyes of a man. To have the inert, decorative woman awarded to us as the prize for our manly endeavours at the end of the film. To read the soft porn of, say, James Bond and imagine our manhood rising at the sight of her curvaceous breasts, etc.

The experience hasn't lead me to doubt that I am a woman. But I feel bi-cultural. I am a woman and share many lived experiences with other women. But I know some (often shallow) aspects of what it's like to be a man - because they tell me so almost constantly. Not in person, but by sheer volume of published material, that lingers even as new publishing becomes slightly less male.

PausingFlatly Thu 28-Jul-16 10:52:09

I became aware that I was part of the stupid, un-serious half of the human race and that was why men ran everything - because women were like this. I can remember so clearly feeling that these women were letting the side down and that "I'm not like that" and resenting them for behaving in a way that might get me mistaken for an idiot.

Yy, AskBasil, this almost exactly.

Though I don't think I resented them: it just made me feel like an outsider that "women" behaved like this when I didn't.

And, now I come to think about it, the teenage sexual harassment and assault by males strangely validated that I belonged to the class "woman", who got treated this badly. While many of my female peers were vociferously and occasionally violently informing me that I wasn't "one of them" because I wasn't performing femininity properly.

MaudlinNamechange Thu 28-Jul-16 11:55:30

"I've wondered for a long time what effect (if any) it has on females, particularly adolescents, to spend such a proportion of our time looking through the eyes of a man. To have the inert, decorative woman awarded to us as the prize for our manly endeavours at the end of the film. To read the soft porn of, say, James Bond and imagine our manhood rising at the sight of her curvaceous breasts, etc.

The experience hasn't lead me to doubt that I am a woman. But I feel bi-cultural. I am a woman and share many lived experiences with other women. But I know some (often shallow) aspects of what it's like to be a man - because they tell me so almost constantly. Not in person, but by sheer volume of published material, that lingers even as new publishing becomes slightly less male."

This is brilliant. I have often thought about this too, and thought back to my younger self and suspected myself of internalised misogyny from a lot of very traditional books where anything feminine is suspect and silly, and the male authors and male protagonists are always unselfconsciously spouting off about things like what people are worthwhile and which people are a waste of space

CancellyMcChequeface Thu 28-Jul-16 14:27:56

I was a geeky, intellectual child who preferred stereotypical 'boys' toys. I never saw myself as a tomboy - I'd actually get angry when the toy packaging had 'for boys' written on it, because I'd say that girls could play with those toys too! I remember getting annoyed when the characters on children's TV shows were all-male, or had one token woman who usually needed the men to rescue her. I hated pink and refused to wear it, but had long hair and didn't mind wearing skirts and dresses. I saw myself as an individual and felt free to ignore the gender stereotyping. Relatives often bought me 'pink' presents, and I'd be polite, but disappointed, since it reflected that they just saw me as 'a girl' rather than a person with her own interests.

Around the time that I started developing hips and breasts my (very feminine) mother started dressing me in boys' clothes. I still don't know why, but all the photos of me from that time look awful, because they don't suit my shape at all. From around the age of 10 I had the perception that I was fat and ugly, and that being thin and beautiful were much more important than intelligence or personality. I wasn't overweight at all, but wearing clothes that weren't designed for female hips made me feel that way.

As soon as I was old enough to choose my own clothes I started heavily performing femininity - I had low self-esteem and getting attention from older boys/men made me feel better. I learned to tell them I was 15, rather than 12, so that they didn't feel bad (I hasten to add that there was no sex involved! Just flirting.) I definitely internalised the message that my function was mainly as a decorative object (and that it was better to hide my intelligence), but at the time I saw it as almost positive - a sign that I was a woman, rather than a child. I had attitudes that I find a bit horrifying now, like feeling complimented and validated by street harassment. I was actually pleased when I got my periods, too, and other than feeling that I was 'fat' once I weighed more than 100lbs, I had no issues with the physicality of becoming a woman. But it's almost as if I felt that to be a woman I had to squash myself into the little gender box.

This went on until I was around 17 and started reading second-wave feminist texts, and later read feminist blogs, which tended to be more radical back then. (IBTP, anyone?) It didn't happen all at once, but the way I saw myself really was transformed. I became comfortable in my own skin again. I wish I'd had more varied female role models at my 'difficult' age, but I don't know how much difference it would have made. I've always been a very literal thinker and I took in the media messages around 'this is how to be a woman' at a very impressionable age.

So it's almost as if I felt free to disregard gender stereotypes when I was a child, but believed that part of growing up meant accepting them, and I disliked being a child for other reasons and was very eager to grow up.

MrsJackAubrey Thu 28-Jul-16 14:37:39

I can remember so clearly feeling that these women were letting the side down and that "I'm not like that" and resenting them for behaving in a way that might get me mistaken for an idiot.

perfectly put thank you. It is only now I'm post menopause and no longer give a shit that I have stopped feeling like this. Most of my life has been spent trying to be as non-conventional-woman-ish as I can and, in effect, being like a man in how I talk, (confidently) how I behave (confidently and also aggressively) and how I 'possess' myself (don't just me ya fuckers).

I'm pretty sure I'm heterosexual. Or not. But I love being me, and would not want to be a man for all the world.

But I know I was deeply resentful at discovering I was of the sex that was going to have a harder life than my brother.

MrsJackAubrey Thu 28-Jul-16 14:38:21

*judge me

LassWiTheDelicateAir Thu 15-Sep-16 15:20:57

I don't recognise any of this. I've never agonised about being a woman nor been ashamed of my body.

I've always been clear about what I wanted to do and what I wanted out of life.

Most of my life has been spent trying to be as non-conventional-woman-ish as I can and, in effect, being like a man in how I talk, (confidently) how I behave (confidently and also aggressively) and how I 'possess' myself (don't just me ya fuckers)

That makes no sense to me. I am confident, always have been. I don't think I'm aggressive (not a particularly praiseworthy trait) but I am definitely not a pushover and I am not afraid to stand up for myself. Why is that "being a man"? It's being me.

meddie Sat 01-Oct-16 16:11:12

I spent my childhood railing against a world in which girls were treated differently from boys. I hated being pushed into the girl box.my mum would try and dress me in pretty clothes with matching hair ribbons. I would pull them out soon as I got outside.By the time I was 7 my mum had given up on trying to turn me into a feminine girl and finally agreed to allow me to have a pixie cut. I was beyond thrilled.
I joined the cubs in 1973 (thank heavens for a forward thinking leader) even though I wasnt officially allowed too. I loved being mistaken for a boy on parade.
I refused to do sewing at school and instead insisted I wanted to do woodwork with the boys. I think they fnally give in after months of me whining and only producing one soft toy which looked like a hideously mutilated puppy, because I had been forced to do it. so I deliberately did a bad job.
I desperately wanted to be a boy and would pray almost every night that I didnt get boobs, so I could pass for longer as a boy.
I was a late developer and remember feeling totally alien to other girls my age who were interested in boys and clothes and make-up.I felt like I was a different species to them.
I hated puberty and the changes that came with it, but once out the other side I finally accepted that I was a girl and just decided that wasnt going to stop me from doing anything I wanted and if men had an issue with that then fuck em. I wasnt going to perform femininity for anybody.
I look back now and I dont think I really wanted to be a boy because of anything dysphoric. I just wanted access to the life boys had. They got to do the cool stuff, they didnt have 'to help mum' around the house because that was a girls job. they werent expected to put anybody else before themselves and they were forgiven for a lot of things that girls were judged harshly for.

powershowerforanhour Thu 27-Oct-16 23:07:23

Yes, Pausing! When I was old enough I would spent about two minutes fantasising about kissing the male star, but you can't really go anywhere with that. You get a mental still picture but that's it, no story. So I'd slide back into long, complicated fantasises about being the male hero.

I wanted to be Sam in Quantum Leap. I wanted to be Indiana Jones leaning off a galloping horse to grab a rock to stuff in a tank turret and James Bond riding a motorbike off a cliff to catch up with a diving plane. I wanted to be Benton Fraser with a husky surviving in a blizzard. I wanted to be Mulder, not Scully.

I wanted to be Winston, not Julia. I saw Julia in my head reading the book but I was looking through Winston's eyes. I saw Eowyn fighting the Nazgul but she was just a bit part character who came along late in the story- I saw through the eyes of the hobbits who had been journeying together. I was often a lone hero but if I was in a team they were male. Fellowship, mateship, best buddy on the road trip: they're all male, right? All those war movies that were popular then- Platoon, Top Gun, Born on the Fourth of July, and all the Wilfred Owen stuff at school taught me that women are fickle and don't understand. They are the prize at the end, or don't exist at all if you're Wilfred Owen obviously. Real proper deep understanding human relationships are between men. (Or boys- I identified with the narrator in Stand By Me).

Even when I wanted to be an animal, I was male. I wanted to be Thowra and Black Beauty and White Fang and Top Cat.

The only females I ever wanted to be were Pippi Longstocking, Matilda (I wanted to be Danny the Champion of the World more though), Jinny on Shantih and (kind of) Thelma out of Thelma and Louise. A short list, only the last of whom is an adult.

powershowerforanhour Thu 27-Oct-16 23:26:07

Oh yes, and I despised the useless women in the films squealing all the time- at snakes, gunshots, everything. I'd be inwardly shouting at the telly all the time.
"Don't just stand there at the edge of the cliff above the frothing river needing hero to put down covering fire then bodily shove you in, jump in after and drag you to the surface and swim with one arm round you! Bloody jump in, swim across and find a branch for him to grab when he comes over too having left it daringly late!"
"Don't fucking stand squealing on the edges of a fight then ineffectually swat a bit with that iron bar before accidentally hitting your own hero! They're not even looking at you, take aim swing hard and stove the baddie's head in and give him a hard kick in the bollocks with those stupid heels for good measure!"
Silly me. The character could only do as her screenwriter master had drawn her to do. If she was lucky she might be allowed to momentarily slow down one of the stupider more dispensable baddies - though it would be balanced out by standing on a twig or squealing at a bat and giving away the hero's position- but she would never, ever be allowed to beat the main baddie or do anything really stronger, faster, more skilful or smarter than the hero and swing the victory.

IminaPickle Thu 27-Oct-16 23:39:50

I'm a heterosexual female. I was bought up in the 70s; toys and clothes were far less polarised than nowadays. Being a girl wasn't something that I was constantly conscious of- I had brothers and boy and girlfriends, we played together and the same games. I was a teenager in the 80s, clothing was definitely gendered but there was a definite sense of dressing up for occasions. Makeup, jewellery, even hair drying were weekly rather than daily events.
I wonder whether my experience is defined not only by my parents and the time but by 2 specific to me facts: I have a boys name and I'm pretty flat chested. I don't have the experience of playing up to a pretty or feminine name or playing down my 'assets'. I certainly avoided a lot of the harassment my peers experienced, although I was/ am attractive.
I haven't answered the question blush I thought about what I'd do when I grew up rather than what I'd be. I dreamed of travelling, having sex and a high status career.

PausingFlatly Fri 28-Oct-16 10:12:37

Yy, powershower! James Bond and Pippin and Thowra, and... Biggles. I was absolutely Biggles.

Very interesting what you note about the (few) female heroes we were offered being mostly children, not adults.

venusinscorpio Fri 28-Oct-16 11:24:39

My first conscious moment of something approaching feminism was the song "soldier soldier". At the age of 4 or 5 I was very sure that it wasn't fair for the soldier to take the woman's grandfather's coat, boots, etc, and then not marry her because he already had a wife! I decided that male/female relations were intrinsically unfair to women on the basis of that smile perhaps if my mum had sung me different songs I would have been a female MRA! Also I loved adult historical fiction from a relatively early age (8 onwards) in which obviously women generally had a pretty tough time. I was quite a "girly girl" in terms of my appearance, I wore makeup at 10 (lovely 80s neon shades!) and I looked much older. I was conscious of the difference I perceived between boys and girls at a very early age. When I was very little apparently I loved watching TV adverts, I preferred them to the programmes and I think sex roles were very clearly delineated in advertising back then.

powershowerforanhour Fri 28-Oct-16 12:15:38

I like adult historical books and films too but obviously in most of the swashbuckling stuff- Sharpe, Rob Roy, Robin Hood (with the honourable exception of the child's comedy version Maid Marian and her Merry Men), Braveheart, Hornblower there aren't any decent roles for women. Diana Villiers in the Aubrey-Maturin novels briefly looked promising, but conformed to the capricious crazy bitch stereotype, declined into being a stay at home alcoholic and was killed off in a handy tragic accident "off screen" in one of the later books instead of being rehabilitated back into the story and her daughter and Stephen's lives, which would have required a complex examination of her character.
The only historical novel female character I can think of that I liked, was well drawn and you could see through the eyes of rather than casting your male gaze upon, was Mary in The Other Boleyn Girl.

MrsJayy Fri 28-Oct-16 12:24:41

Oh dear where do I start this might be a rant , I was teased about wanting to play with boys toys i grew up closely witn a boy cousin who had great toys but because i was a girl i wasnt allowed and a doll was thrust upon me . I Ruined fancy shoes by climbing walls I loved star wars but that was a boys film, On and on it went as a teen i liked make up but still loved starwars and xmen cartoons that confused my parents. I let my dds develop their own way and choose how to play and never said you are this that or the other because you are a girl.

MrsJayy Fri 28-Oct-16 12:26:14

imina you had a different 70s upbringing than i did

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