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Written By: Bharathi A. Panicker

Edited By: Ananya Khandelwal 

 

A lot of young girls seem to go through what I like to call a "pick me" phase. This is associated with wanting to be different from their female peers, and showing intense dislike (or sometimes even hatred) towards (so called) traditionally feminine activities. Of course, there is nothing wrong in actively choosing to not be feminine, but when it is paired up with loathing towards women who have interests different than theirs, it can be quite toxic. 

 

I vividly remember going through such a phase, when I was around twelve or thirteen. Up until that point, I used to wear skirts, pink was my favourite colour, I liked fairies and unicorns and wearing bangles. With the onset of puberty, I thought it was unfair that I had to go through severe pain every month when boys did not.  Here's where the problem starts. Personally, it began as an unreasonable dislike for the colour pink, seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately for my parents, I had a lot of pink coloured clothes that I abandoned in a week.. A similar pattern was followed for skirts, kurtis, bangles et cetera. I was in a mad rush to clear my wardrobe of anything that would hint at my gender, and soon all I had was loose fitting t-shirts and jeans. 

 

Of course, this on its own doesn't seem harmful; people grow out of their old tastes in clothes all the time. However at the same time, I started to get judgemental about the girls around me who chose to wear the things I disliked. I thought the girls in my class were "uncool" because they wore eyeliner and talked about boys. I wanted to go to great lengths to show how much I wasn't like them. Social media posts about how I didn't wear makeup, and prefered reading books instead were shared by me multiple times. The word "girly" fell from my lips as an insult on a regular basis, and I always called myself "one of the boys". There are some really unpleasant diary entries I found from when I was in eight grade, where every third line is some form of criticism towards "girliness". It's not that I didn't want to be a girl and wanted to be a boy. It's that I thought being a girl meant I was somehow less human than boys. 

 

The good news is, I grew out of it, around the tenth grade. The bad news is, to this day, I can't pinpoint out what exactly caused this. 

My family has always been quite liberal and I haven't really experienced much sexism from my parents. However, my school was rampantly sexist to the point where we couldn't even choose our electives (boys had to do electronics while girls had to do home science). A lot of my teachers also propagated really outdated ideas of femininity. In hindsight they were probably dealing with a lot of internalized misogyny and trauma themselves. Until the mid 2010s, most, if not all, of the media we consumed were made by men, for men, which often showed women as mere accessories to the male protagonists. I believe all of these things contributed towards triggering what I went through those few years. 

 

Over the fact that at that point I disliked other women, I also realised there was some level of self hate which I was carrying around. With the rise in the feminist movement, intersectionality and broader definitions of what it means to be a woman, at some point I learned to embrace and love the fact that I was a woman. I also learned to treat other women with the same respect I would want to be treated with. It took some time and effort to consciously correct misogynistic language, and habits and I'm still learning new things every day. As I type this wearing bright pink eyeshadow and winged eyeliner, I can only imagine my younger self scowling at me. If I could go back in time, the first thing I would do is tell her that it's okay to be girly, and be like other girls. 

 

Things are different for different women, and I can understand how troubling it might be for someone who's trying to figure out their gender or sexuality at that age. However it is important to understand how going against traditional femininity could be a reflection of  grossly sexist behaviour and language around us. We need to accept that our choices are our own, and understand that gender roles no longer have a place in modern society. I hope the middle schoolers of today have more access to resources that can teach them about this than I did at that age.

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