Women’s bodies are political. They have, since prehistory, been a site of power struggles, conflict and repression.
In recent times, despite less constraints on dress and behaviour, the tenets of modern ‘womanhood’ are still the wearing of make-up, a bra and removal of body hair. To not conform to these practices is a social statement equivalent to getting body art, wearing a protest T-shirt or carrying a placard, and is received as a defiant act stating ‘judge me, question my motivations, renegotiate your stereotypes’, when in essence it is a subtraction, not an addition. It is a returning to the self, to the natural state, unadorned by cultural baggage.
I believe in deconstructing notions of gender; removing constraints. Male and female are biologically defined; men and women are socially constructed, and as such, what ‘woman’ is has been dominated by the gaze of others for millennia.
It starts with kindly, well-meaning comments about how young ladies should look, dress, behave, and attract the attention of others. Then, the onslaught of images in the media. The pernicious effects of advertising. The need to fit in with peer groups and concerns over social exclusion.
Travelling the world and, latterly, having a child, have encouraged me to question the norms of ‘womanly’ and ‘ladylike’ behaviour. It has become increasingly important to me that I feel comfortable in my own skin, as the person I am, not the one I think I should be. More importantly, I want my son to feel this way too, and to be accepting of others. Normalising commercialised ‘beauty’ practices perpetuates the notion that gender matters and is a criterion for judgement, equivalent to character and behaviour. Are you of sound character, good behaviour, and can you do your gender properly?
If and when my son chooses a life partner, I hope it will be in the complete acceptance of that person, as they are, with every hair, blemish and freckle. I am aided in this by the fact that the social circles we move in are similarly minded. He is currently enjoying having long hair. That he is often referred to by the female pronoun is of no concern to him, and holds no negative connotations. As a friend’s independently-spirited, quick-witted daughter replied when asked if she was a boy or a girl: “My gender is none of your concern”. The wisdom of youth.