Origins of a tomboy

When I was 5, I wanted long hair and a ball gown. I would dress in my mother’s sarees and play with her makeup and pretend I was a princess

10 years later, my wardrobe had more pants than skirts, I didn’t know what waxing was and the only thing I applied to my face was Vaseline when my lips chapped. I got my haircuts in a salon and shopping meant buying new jeans and a t-shirt once a year. And I liked it when people called me a tomboy.

I used to hide away those childhood photos where I “looked like a girl” and I would cringe at all things “girly”. I would try to hide my ample chest under loose t-shirts and daddy’s shirts and wore only those jeans that squashed any hint of an ass. It was difficult to say the least, because when you are short, busty and standing on haunches instead of hips, you are not built for squashing.

But, in the privacy of my room, in that little time between fresh from a bath and fully-clothed, I would try on my sister’s clothes and parade in front of the mirror. For that little while, I accepted my curves and gloried in being a girl. Just for that little while, before shame assailed me for behaving “like a girl” and I shrank back into my baggy cocoon.

It wasn’t just the clothes, though. Everything in my life was categorized into girly and non-girly.

Giggling- girly. Laughing loud and open mouthed- non- girly. Crying in public- girly. Crying in the privacy of my room- non-girly. Being nice to the person you think is an idiot- girly. Calling an idiot an idiot- non-girly. Getting upset- girly. Taking everything as a joke- non-girly. Feeling sad- girly. Feeling angry- non-girly.

It was a fine line that I walked. Just because I consciously denied being a girl, didn’t mean that my subconscious got the memo too and also, I was only a tomboy, not a boy.

Why was I so disappointed at not being a boy?

Maybe, it is the subconscious conditioning that tells us even before we’ve ever met a boy, that boyhood is like being a member of some super-exclusive and super-fun club; that they get to do all these things and have all these options that we, as girls, will never be privy to; that they will have all the freedom that we are allowed only to dream about.

I see my father jet-setting off to all these cities and countries that I’ve only seen in my atlas while my mother travels from the kitchen to the garden, to my school and back to the kitchen. I see my cousins who never get asked where they’ve been and why they are late returning from school. I grow up to see male relatives getting married at 28 and 30 and women of the same age cradling their first-borns. I go to a college where in a girls’ hostel, attendance is taken after curfew hour to account for our presence and the boys’ hostel has no curfew at all.

I’m not complaining. I’m just stating facts. Because I do understand the logistics behind these rules. I understand that safety is our paramount concern and that there are so many things out there, when you a girl, that can go so wrong. So, I’m not angry at these rules. No. I’m angry at the state of affairs that brought about these rules.

When did it begin I wonder? This subtle conditioning into our brains that gave one gender more power than the other. That taught one gender to dominate and the other to submit. That told one gender that it’s ok to take risks and the other to stay safe.

Because it’s almost l0 years later now and I no longer want to stay safe. I no longer want to hide behind the persona of a tomboy. I no longer wish to live in the denied existence of my “girly-ness”. I want to put on red lipstick, heels that lift up my butt and a dress that actually has a shape. I want to go out with my girlfriends at 10 in the night and party till 2. I want to giggle and laugh and get drunk and cry and call the guy who’s stalking me on facebook an idiot and get upset when I get called a bitch in return. Because, I’m sorry, society, but, I’m finally tired of the rules.

Today, I finally asked myself the question, what is so wrong in being a girl? And I answered it with- not a damn thing!

We are in the 21st century after all. Things have come a long way from a wife confined to her kitchen and girls being told to be seen, but not heard. We have the examples of Indra Nooyi and Aung San Suu Kyi and Angela Markel and Malala Yousafzai who prove that all that is required is ambition and determination and the belief that once you set out on your path, no force on earth can pull you back or push you aside.

I’m a feminist with a dream of a gender-neutral society, where on the forms you fill out, nobody asks about your gender or caste or ethnicity; where the only thing that matters is whether you are good at what you do and where we are only judged for being a person, good or bad, and not for being a woman.

So, recently, when I posted a picture of myself with my nails painted red and my friend commented with a wide-eyed smiley and a “you are becoming a girl” comment, my cheeks did go red…not from embarrassment, but with pleasure. Because, even if I do say it myself, my nails did look pretty damn good!



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