Reading between the binary: Embracing femininity

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Once I decided my gender needed further observation, it became necessary to examine other female terms I previously embraced.

I knew, and know, that everyone relates to their gender differently. I also knew, though, that I felt discomfort with some situations wherein I was identified as a woman.

So, I thought about different terms. Lady, girl, woman and female are all clumsy and wrong. It’s a little like wearing a shirt that’s supposed to fit and looks soft, but the material feels awful. The closest to woman that I consider myself is woman-aligned.

I knew those terms were out. For me, the next ones to examine were daughter and sister.

These were a lot more complicated for me to examine. Quite frankly, I doubt I’ll ever understand the complexity of these titles.

At first, I noticed that I disliked the assumption that I was just female, as though there was nothing more to my gender. So, I tried mentally replacing daughter with child and sister with sibling.

Honestly, in a religious setting I find the terms clunky. However, when I considered them alongside both my position in my family and in my sorority, I found myself disliking the alteration.

In my experience, divorcing myself of the title daughter made me feel like I was robbing myself of the label’s emotional dynamic. For me, daughter feels like a term that encompasses more than just my gender – it is feminine, but it is also tied to a place of intimacy.

I am reluctant to leave that place of familiarity because my identity as a daughter never felt strongly aligned to personally malignant sexism or gender discomfort. My conception of myself as my parent’s daughter focuses more on the nurturing and loving aspect of our relationship than by socially assigned gender assumptions.

Not that child lacks meaning, but I found myself unwilling to give daughter up, so the term stays as a personal way to remain connected to my familial identity.

Then the word sister underwent similar examination.

In one sense, sister is a term connected to my relationship with my one sibling, my younger brother. Sister is also too tightly wound in sibling affection for me to abandon it.

Sister is also related to my sorority at Jewell, Alpha Delta Pi. As you can imagine, this is especially complicated because I discovered more about my queer identity after joining. Ultimately, I believe that my experience as a sorority sister does not negate my identity as a queer person.

Being in my sorority didn’t just help me grow as a person both independently and within the sorority community – I also confronted my own internalized misogyny.

Firstly, if you’re thinking that it sounds exhausting figuring out both gender identity and internalized misogyny, it definitely is. It’s also rewarding, but the course of self-exploration never is smooth.

Secondly, this process didn’t happen after I joined the sorority. It happened the second my first-year roommate came to our dorm room after formal recruitment, ecstatic. She’d joined a sorority, and the sorority she’d wanted, and I was immediately jealous.

I don’t just mean a little jealous. I was completely consumed, and it was the first time I had to confront the fact that I wanted the very thing I constantly internally – and, on occasion, externally – ridiculed.

Of course, I was ashamed of it, so I let it simmer in silence. I was genuinely thrilled for my roommate but I also wished I could have her happiness.

It wasn’t even all about rejecting the concept of being in a sisterhood – it was my internalized rejection of anything considered undesirably feminine. Ultimately, much of our current culture contributes to cultivating so-called essential female qualities within those presumed female while also instilling them with disgust towards other emblems of femininity. This is seen in the phrase “I’m not like other girls,” wherein the prime issue isn’t that the speaker isn’t a woman, it’s that she doesn’t behave like other women do.

It’s meant to keep women in competition with each other for male attention. It commodifies the female experience, attributing positive or negative qualities that make women more or less marketable while demeaning all of it.

The fact of the matter is: internalized misogyny keeps people preoccupied with insulting divergent experiences of femininity rather than addressing larger oppressive and bigoted structures.

It’s not something anyone has full control over. I know that I will always be fighting against what our social setting sells in this regard. However, joining a sorority helped me address that I had internalized misogyny, and, slowly, I found myself exploring aspects of femininity I previously suppressed.

I found myself incorporating more pink things in my life. I let myself admit to liking skirts and lace. I found that there are some stereotypically feminine things that I will never like (high heels? I don’t know her). I found that engaging in this ongoing awareness with myself taught myself how to grow comfortable with my preferences.

For the first time, I started treating myself as a human being. I wanted to learn more about myself.

It can be a massive headache, juggling the knowledge that all binary gender constructs are just that: constructs, alongside allowing myself to experience different gendered perspectives/tastes and exploring where I feel female and where I feel nonbinary. It isn’t easy, but it is rewarding.

Although there are spaces where I find myself preferring neutral pronouns and masculine compliments, there are other spaces where I am happily a daughter and a sister.

With labels tied to family, I am grounded in a deep awareness that our bonds, though sometimes messy, are strong.

With labels tied to my sorority, I am reminded in the strength and beauty of femininity. It makes me proud of my fellow sisters, of my complicated relationship with all things female and our shared desire to be the best we can be.

Sometimes, the language you are initially given doesn’t work. It’s okay if it doesn’t – and it’s okay if it does under specific situations.

Photo courtesy of socialsciencecollective.org.

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