A lot of people who have met me when I was younger, definitely pegged me as a tomboy. My go-to avatar was a baggy black t-shirt, man sandals from bata, and what seemed to be a permanent resting frown from having a unibrow. To top it all off, my hair was cropped short. “Just like lady Diana” my mother would say affectionately, but in reality just a very unappealing mushroom cut. This look continued right into high school and transitioned into a gentle butch as my friend Sush would call it. This look landed me many hours of anguish and embarrassing moments. For example, when I joined a new school in the 8th grade, all my classmates spent the first few hours assuming I was a guy, Id like to take it as a compliment, that one of the girls even hit on me.
But what a lot of people don’t know is this story goes way back. You know the classic debate among psychologists nature vs nurture. Are we born the way we are? Or are we conditioned that way by our environment and upbringing? Read this story and you be the judge of that!
When my mom was almost 8 months pregnant with me, my parents attended a fun house party at the home of a prominent gynecologist in madras. When the party was in full swing and a good dent had been made in the whiskey and kheema samosas. A now semi inebriated gynecologist thought a fun idea for party games was dragging my mom off to her home clinic to reveal the sex of that baby, as this was officially prohibited by the law and still is. My parents weren’t too bothered about whether I was going to be a boy or a girl, but curiosity had now gotten the better of them! After scanning my mom, the gynecologist announced happily “congrats guys, it’s a boy!” My parents proceeded to go home and make two expensive trunk calls to erode and Bangalore respectively to tell my both sets of expectant grandparents the good news. Everyone was overjoyed! The nursery was painted blue. All sorts of blue baby boy stuff was bought. My grandmother stitched about 6 pairs of blue shorts and frilly shirts to go with them.
So it came as a huge surprise to everyone that, when my mom went into labor and gave birth to me, a girl. In fact, when the nurse, brought me out for the first time to meet my dad, his first words were “Sister, is there anyone else in the delivery ward.” Followed by “Are you sure, this is my baby?”
Not that he wasn’t overjoyed to have me! it just came as a huge shock to everyone since they were expecting a boy. My mom used to always joke that even as a fetus, I had a sense of humor and must have kept my finger at a weird place when the gynaecologist was doing the scan :P
What happened to all the boy baby things you ask? Well, I think the below picture will sufficiently answer all your questions.
This was further cemented by the fact that I grew up watching a tonne of action movies with my dad all centered around crazy macho heroes that I loved. My dad introduced me to dirty Harry, the lethal weapon trilogy and it was almost a ritual for us to watch the old A-team reruns on Starworld together. None of these were especially appropriate for a child :D but my dad’s idea of censorship was covering my eyes with his hand for the dirty and violent bits and taking his hand off for the rest of the movie :p
Anyway, in my naive child mind, I never perceived these traits as masculine or feminine ones. I admired these men because they were brave, bold, and almost always dug themselves out of whatever crazy dangers, they found themselves in and that’s why I wanted to be most like them. Whenever we used to play Goldy gold and action jack. I was the only girl who volunteered to be action jack because in my mind he did all the rescuing and that was so cool. The other girls would patiently take turns being rescued by me. This continued whenever we played Starwars as well! I was always a Jedi rescuing the princess.
I spent so much of my childhood and early teens hating my parents for not grooming me to look like other girls my age — with their straight long hair and pink backpacks. I realize now that I am lucky to have been brought up in a gender-neutral household. This is something so common now with the wealth of information we have at our disposal now but I’m not talking about woke parenthood style of today, this was the 90s for god’s sake. My parents never once told me to dress like a girl or act like a girl. My first cycle wasn’t a pink ladybird it was a black hero trailblazer.
This is why as an adult woman I can never play or be the damsel in distress. My mind genuinely cannot process it when I see other women doing this, especially if they see it as some weird feminine right of passage to attract a man. I cringe when I see a woman playing this card to feel more “feminine” by “empowering” their man to “rescue” them out of situations.
The hard truth is. Every tough situation I have found myself in adulthood, I have almost always rescued myself out of it. That doesn’t make me less feminine in any way. If I ever decide to have kids, a daughter. I will be sure to teach her to be brave, kind, empathetic! And point out to her that being masculine or feminine has nothing to do with it.