Growing up, I saw myself as a sort of rebel girl.
I didn’t like pink, I refused to wear skirts, or dresses.
I got into fights with boys. So I was violent.
I always wanted to lead, to have my voice heard. So I was bossy.
I once challenged a boy who lived next door to race on a bike because he assumed he’d be better because he’s a boy. So I was aggressive. We even crashed into someone’s gate near the end of the race (hence I never found out if I was better, or if he was.) So I was ruthless and careless.
I was furious. I was a rebel.
I was the rebel girl.
So over the years I toned everything down. Notice how I said ‘was’? I started wearing skirts and dresses when I was required, and sometimes when it wasn’t. I’m still not madly in love with pink, but I do own a few pieces of pink clothing. I stopped fighting with boys, I stopped swearing back at them when they did at me. I drifted to the sidelines, I stopped interjections in group discussions to disagree with a boy because I was told it was ‘rude’. I started objecting to boys versus girls in P.E. class because it was ‘unfair’, because ‘boys are stronger than girls’. My scar has faded from the bike crash, so I guess the rebel girl has gone.
I started to conform. I started to blend in.
I was, just a girl.
I could list my excuses for conforming, for blending in, for toning it down. Although none should excuse the face I pulled when one of my closest friends told me in school that she was a ‘feminist’, these excuses have featured overwhelmingly in my self-reflective process.
Was it the time when my parents told me to close my legs when sitting down because ‘you’re a girl, not a boy’, or ‘think about if you’re wearing a skirt and people are looking up your skirt at your pants?!’
Was it the time when my teachers held me back after a certain fight with a boy, sorry Ian I did kick you quite hard a few times, explaining to me that ‘you should be the bigger person here because boys are just looking for trouble’.
Was it the time when a certain volunteer supervisor told me that ‘I almost didn’t pick you after your story of the bike crash, I thought “this girl is quite angry I might not be able to control her”‘in a space that supposedly advocated free speech, self-expression and learning to not judge others.
Was it the time when I was dragged to buy more ‘feminine’ clothes or the time when all but one of my classmates chose to stay silent when a boy ridiculed those suffering as sex slaves.
Was it because I grew up in a household that still functions as one where mum works a full time job and cooks all meals on Sunday whereas dad freelances and is always ‘too busy’ to help with cooking? Or is it because my WeChat (a further developed Chinese knock-off version of WhatsApp and Facebook combined) is still flooded with articles such as the one that credited the success of Dong Qing, a famous Chinese television host, to her university-level educated father. Although her mother matched him, and in fact graduated from the same university. The only time her mother was mentioned was in the line ‘both her parents were graduates of Fudan University’, as if her mother never played a role in her upbringing or education. Furthermore, the article praises Dong’s father for calling up his friends when Dong was 14/15 and offering her to work for them on no pay without her prior consent. At least said friends were kind enough to offer 1 RMB payment (around 8-10p) per day for her labours, right? Or could it possibly be the fact that “In 2014, according to the data, Chinese women gave birth to 115.9 boys for every 100 girls. (The natural human birth ratio is around 105 boys to every 100 girls.)”  and that despite governmental ban on pre-birth ultrasound to determine the sex of the infant in efforts to prevent sex-specific infanticide/abortions, illegal ultrasounds and abortions in favour of boys still persist.
Growing up in a massively sexist and feminist-repressing culture which manifested itself at the familial level, school level and societal level I expressed myself in two extremes. Initially my response was to fight back, to reject all gender-associated norms and sexist stereotypes that were assigned to me. However, I soon caved in when it became difficult.
It is hardly an experience I wish upon others, and one that I continue to find difficult to navigate around. In a recent conversation with a friend I expressed my unwillingness to give birth or raise a girl.
‘But didn’t you just tell me about the gender-imbalance and how you shouldn’t prefer boys to girls?’ he exclaimed, ‘If you’re worried about feminism you could always raise a feminist daughter.’
True. Yet my experiences of being a feminist even before knowing the term ‘feminism’ or understanding what it was all about was a difficult one, and one that I would not wish upon my daughter.
On Women’s Day, I reflected upon what I had said the other day and my own experiences. I am now in a college that celebrates the achievements of women every day, and in a bubble that advocates the rights of women and all other marginalised groups with unceasing efforts.
I have come to realise that even the actions that I had considered to be feminist were conforming to gender stereotypes.
Pink should be a gender neutral colour, violence should not be tolerated whichever gender you are, being bossy and not letting others expressing themselves is censorship not feminism. However, making claims are always easier than taking action.
It is perhaps time that we teach boys not to peek at pants through a girl’s skirt, whether or not she has left her legs open accidentally or just to relax herself. It is also time to teach our girls to call others out for peeking, regardless of the reason or excuse.
It is perhaps time that we stop excusing boys for ‘being boys’ and girls for ‘responding to provocation from boys’. It is also time to teach all children that violence is never the solution.
It is perhaps time that we stop judging an individual from a single incident, regardless of gender. It is also time to let our girls know that they do not need to challenge boys to prove they are better, because girls can and girls will just as boys can and boys will. Every individual develops differently and your gender inhibits nothing, girls shouldn’t have to try harder to impress, nor should boys.
It is perhaps time that we educate everyone that clothing is self expression and that everyone should be allowed to wear anything they want, no matter their gender and even age. It is also time that everyone speaks out on behalf of those marginalised when they are ridiculed or prejudiced against, so their voice is at least not marginalised.
It is perhaps time to consider our roles in front of children, or even for yourselves. It is also time that we stop assuming a boyfriend is to pay for, carry things for, support, a girlfriend. That in a relationship everyone should be treated equally and that your actions are always watched by the young around you and that your actions do have an impact.
It is perhaps time for me to embrace the title as a feminist and to make my actions count.
Happy International Women’s Day