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Life > Experiences

The Performativity of Being a Woman

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ashoka chapter.

Edited by: Mohan Rajagopal


the woman with the curly hair and blue bag behind me sipping her coffee 

she’s the protagonist in her own story 

our paths diverge 

i perform for her 

i look like i have my life together 

i drink my black coffee with a straight face

although i detest the flavour 

she looks and smiles and i do the same 

sit up a little straighter too 

in that moment in my mind 

i’m cool

i know what i’m doing 

my life is put together 

i’m chasing my dreams without resistance 

and in the eyes of the stranger, i am perfect 

and so is she 

I sit still in this beautiful cafe. It is outdoors and small and, in a colloquial sense, aesthetically pleasing. There are magnificent vines strung all around and the natural sunlight makes it seem like I am the main character in a Linklater movie. I don’t even like dark roasted coffee but I am drinking it with non-dairy creamer. I want to impress the people looking at me. I read a book I don’t understand. This act was performed for the beautiful girl with multiple piercings and a tote bag and for my Instagram. It is all an act. On the inside, I am a Taylor Swift-listening, romance book-reading girlie girl-a side this woman sitting across the cafe will never see. I am fitting the ideal of the times. 

There is a performance that is associated with being a woman. We dress up, we’re competing for some type of attention from people that we do not even know. It brings us validation. It is a task I undertake every day. I spend extra time getting ready in the morning, I watch movies by obscure indie directors, and I listen to music that is objectively niche. 

I am extremely aware of how I look to others. How I portray myself, and the actions I perform. There are times people do look at me but I am more conscious of the way I look at myself. I do not think the face I make or the way I dress matters to them to the extent it matters to me. It is an act of self-judgement. I am constantly surveying myself. It is the plight of womanhood, the constant self-surveillance. I am on the outside looking in at myself and deeply analysing my actions, trying to see what other people see and forming judgements about myself the way the onlookers would. I believe that life is a movie and I am the main character. There is a front I create for the people around me. I engineer the character that is portrayed down to the last detail and let myself out into the world to be observed. 

There is a social contract we engage in with ourselves and other women. It is because of this contract that we agree to put on a face, a front of what we believe to be acceptable. It becomes a performance when others are present to witness it. It is an intentional act, a performance of our femininity. Repeated actions of gender presentation are what constitute our performance. I perform for other women because of this contract, a contract of performance and perceived perfection. It is present in my language, my mannerisms and gestures to my place in society. My actions become an insignia to the women around me. It arouses the competitiveness of this social contract. 

It is due to this contract that a party becomes a stage for my performance. The kind of liquor I drink matters, and the quantity I drink it in too. It determines how cool and chill I am. I might not even like drinking but to fulfil this role, I feel I have to. The kind of people I sit with come into question. I am under scrutiny, not just by the people around me but myself too, down to the last detail. I am constantly being judged. The way they look at me, in my head, is more than just observation. Self-doubt creeps in and I start to think, am I wearing the perfect costume for this situation, is my hair looking just right, I should really sit up straight? I make sure not to be mysterious in my quest to be perfect. I take the time to sit in the middle of the most crowded room at the party with my glass of socially acceptable liquor and my vintage jacket I stole from my mother and stare off into the distance. 

All these actions I perform are a signal of the space I occupy. The human mind is obsessed with defining itself. We try to fit our version of the ideal. The idealised version of our femininity. 

Amreen Bedi

Ashoka '25

Amreen is a writer for HerCampus Ashoka. She is a first-year student at Ashoka University, studying English and Creative Writing. In her free time she can be found writing poetry about her perceived 'sad life' and reading books by authors who have actually led a sad life. She is also an artist (only some of the time).