Two Friends With Water Bottles

Growing Up in a Family of All Boys

Just like the title says, I grew up in a family of all boys. Of course, there were women in the family (my mother, aunt and grandmother). However, at the time, they were distant adults that, although hugely important to my upbringing, was not necessarily the same as a playmate or someone my own age would be. My cousins were all male and my brother (obviously) also fit into this category. I was close with them, and I wouldn’t say I ever really wished for another girl to be around. However, I do think that growing up surrounded by all these boys did change how I developed and viewed the world. I wouldn’t say that any of these differences are necessarily bad, but they are noticeable and occasionally very stupid. 

To start things off, there was a definite advantage to being the only girl grandchild in the family. My grandparents had only raised daughters, making the generation above mine exclusively female. I've always had the theory that all that feminine energy was used up early on, and thus, when my aunt and mother gave birth, their bodies sadly had to resort to boys. I was the only exception. Due to this, I was incredibly spoiled.

My aunt mothered my two male cousins, and although they are both incredibly lovely, they didn’t really fulfill her occasional craving to do more "girly" things like clothes shopping or getting their nails done. That meant she was forced to resort to another option—this being me. Having not only my mother but also aunt and grandmother rely on me (I liked to think of it this way) in order to fill that girly activities meter, made it so I had an excess of financially supported outings as a child. However, there was one downside to this and that was that growing up surrounded by boys made me almost embarrassed to take part in these activities. 

I have a very specific memory of going out clothes shopping with my aunt and enjoying myself immensely. We had gotten Cinnabon and were walking through the mall, me dodging through the exciting rush of people and her strolling along a bit behind, most likely acting as the pack mule and carrying bags of my underappreciated and very unnecessary purchases. Needless to say, I loved it. And yet, I also remember one of my cousins asking me, “do you really like clothes shopping?” at a family gathering shortly after. Of course, I did. I spent time with one of my favorite family members, was given sugary snacks and was provided with free reign to expand my (admittedly very limited and boring) fashion. But when he asked me, I immediately answered, “No. Of course not. I’m just there for the food.”

Looking back, it’s a bit difficult for me to fully understand my feelings at the time, but I think growing up surrounded by the majority of my playtime being dedicated to more "boyish" activities made me feel as though a "girlier" option wasn't acceptable. It was as if they were something to be ashamed of. I wanted to fit in with the kids I spent a lot of time around, and considering they were mostly male and very much against the concept of clothes shopping, I felt the need to dislike it as well. Trying to describe my childhood mentality now, there’s really no logic behind it.  All I can say is that I’m fairly sure my aunt heard my answer, and that younger me must’ve really come off as an unappreciative and unintentional b*tch. 

There is a myriad of other (increasingly silly) instances in which I rejected girlier aspects of myself in order to fit in. One such example being my very aggressive and very unnecessary dislike of the color pink. If someone were to ask me what my favorite color was, I may not have even been able to answer but you better believe that I would include my least favorite being pink. It was too girly, too garish and I didn’t see it as an acceptable aspect of what I considered my very tomboyish life. Branching off of that, I also had a strangely pleased reaction to whenever anyone would acknowledge me as a tomboy out loud. Every time it happened, whether it be from family members or friends, my 8-year-old heart would give a happy little jolt. Yes. Those outside of myself were also able to see my dislike of girly things such as tutus and Barbies. Thank god, otherwise, I would have been viewed as a “girly girl," a fate clearly worse than death. 

Silver ear piercing in ear Kimia Zarifi, via Unsplash

It was at about 11 or so years of age that I decided I wanted to get my ears pierced. I’m not exactly sure why I craved it so suddenly. Maybe it was because all my friends already had it done, maybe it was because I was finally tired of shoving things considered girlish away for no real reason or maybe it was simply because I wanted the option of having glittery rocks hang from my ears. Regardless, when asking my mother for it, and when mentioning it to family, I IMMEDIATELY began to justify it to them. 

“It’s really just logical.” I would say. “I actually have a few pairs of earrings, and it makes sense that I get piercings so I can wear them. It’s more for the sake of the people who spent money on them as gifts than me.” Obviously, my family’s level of caring on this front was about zero, and they would probably just nod and smile along. I do remember a few comments being along the lines of “Wow Emma, you’re finally embracing your girlish side, huh? I’m surprised.” This was in no way a bad thing, but I would always take it as a personal affront to my character. Girly? Me? Never. 


Another very specific memory I have of this being an issue took place at a tapas restaurant in downtown DC. My family had all gathered for some celebration, and we were all sitting around the tables, waiting for our food. I was an avid reader as a kid, and this carried through into the meal itself. At the time, I had been reading the "Twilight" book series by Stephanie Meyers and found myself enjoying it immensely. It was peak "Twilight" reading time, as the series had recently taken off and was taking the prepubescent and middle-aged adult women worlds alike by storm. It was unsurprising that I would also be reading them, and yet when my cousin once again leaned over to ask what I was reading, I once again spluttered through some dumb explanation of “it’s 'Twilight,' but I’m only reading it so I can make fun of it later.”

These are specific things that my younger self actually said, and besides the continued theme of toxic masculinity and internalized misogyny that was happening, I also find myself disappointed that I couldn’t have come up with a better excuse under pressure. I also remember that when he asked me this, I had been in the middle of a very sappy kiss scene, and the awkward and panicked closing of the book cover to hide this from him and those around me had been immediate and brought a warm rush of blood to my face. Because the horrifying and embarrassing fact of the matter was that I had been very much enjoying the "Twilight" books and the sappy romance that came along with it. 

I would also like to include as an aside that although growing up around them might have been the cause, my cousins and brother are absolutely not at fault for this. Not once did they ever intentionally make fun of me for being a girl, nor did they go out of their way to only do more boyish activities. When my cousin asked about "Twilight," if I hadn’t been so obviously flustered and worried about presenting myself as something other than I was, I would have no doubt seen that besides a few snide comments on "Twilight" being a sh*t book (which it admittedly is), he wouldn’t have cared in the slightest that I was reading it.

Regardless, all of this did affect the way in which I was raised and developed, and it’s so strange to think that I was once so opposed to anything girly. Now, I delight in wearing the occasional cute frilly dress and have actually been requesting more piercings, my only current justification being that “I want them." I’m glad my weird and unnecessary fear of my own femininity has, if not completely disappeared, been lowered substantially. If nothing else, my shame surrounding any enjoyment of the Twilight series has moved onto them being inarguably horrible films and novels rather than simply being too “girly."