Feminism, Gender, and Growing Up

Our News

By Mallory Roberts

I heavily identify as a feminist now, and I like to think I’m a good feminist ally. I try to advocate for the rights of those who don’t get to have as loud of a voice as I do, mainly women and men who are people of color, from stricter countries with stricter regulations on the rights of women, and transgender people. As a (mostly) straight, white female, I almost have the world at my command, despite a 35 cent shortage of my dollar wages. I wasn’t always a feminist however, and I certainly wasn’t always aware of the privilege that came with being a heterosexual white female. 

That took a lot of growing, a lot of reading, and more importantly, a lot of listening to people who were in a place where they were screaming to get their voices heard. I’ve always had friends and people I know tell me that they think I’m a strong woman, but I’ve had to struggle and educate myself and VALIDATE myself in order to get where I’m at mentally right now. It hasn’t been easy. 

I was what most people call a “tomboy” in my childhood. I always wanted to be the Batman, wanted to play the “Dad” when we would play make-believe house, and never, ever wanted to play with Barbies. I had some feminine qualities as well. I was always partial to plastic toy horses, and when my sister wanted to do my makeup, I never turned her down. I wanted to be a pretty girl too. My parents did not express any disappointment or confusion on the way I acted. To them, it just meant I was going to probably make a great athlete. They weren’t wrong exactly, but I think my desire to imagine myself in a male role was also some kind of latent desire to be more masculine, or even that I recognized that male figures typically held more power in social situations. Batman was the strong, adult, male figure and he was the one in charge. I guess I could have been Robin, but I viewed him as what he was: a sidekick. Who I really should have identified with from the Batman universe, however, was a villain. 

In elementary, in first grade, I was sexually assaulted by a fellow first grader. I could chalk it up to the fact that he probably didn’t have a good family environment, or maybe he’d accidentally seen something he wasn’t supposed to, but either way, his actions troubled me then and I still feel troubled by them now. I think that event, and that constant putting up with it for weeks on end without saying anything really left an impact on me as I grew up. I was introduced into a sexual world way, way before I was supposed to. I had usually gotten along very well with my male classmates to that point, but after that, I began to lash out at them.

I would fight with boys on the playground at recess every day in third grade. I wanted to prove that I was stronger than them, that they should be afraid of me, and to be honest, at that point in time, I was. Younger girls would ask me to beat up boys for them, and I gladly would. I never once got in trouble for instigating these fights on the playground. I guess it paid to be a girl.

The real exploration of both my gender identity and sexual orientation were started when I got more invested in the internet. I formed a close friendship with many girls on AOL chat boards at the age of twelve or thirteen, and many of those girls are still my friends to this day. They introduced me to an openness I hadn’t been exposed to – the idea that virginity was a social construct and sex wasn’t actually a detrimental and dirty thing; that liking people of the same gender didn’t mean I was going to burn in fire forever; that just because I was sexually a girl didn’t mean I had to necessarily identify as one. My friends at school worried that I was falling in with a bad crowd, but I felt like I was learning about things that I should have known about since being a small child. I felt accepted, like I could actually be myself. I had already realized in fifth grade that I wasn’t religious, and I was embracing these new discoveries about myself because of that.

In the beginning of this article, I said I identified as a “(mostly) straight” female, and I can understand how the above paragraph might prove confusing in comparison. I thought I was bisexual, but after learning more about romantic and sexual identities, I’ve discovered that I’m heterosexual and biromantic, which is slightly and also vastly different from bisexual. Instead of being able to pursue sexual relationships with both men and women, I would prefer to be in sexual relationships with only men, but could be in a romantic relationship with both men and women. I’m still dealing with guilt when it comes to this identity however. Not because I feel bad for being attracted to women, but because I feel like most people expect a sexual relationship along with their emotional and mental connection, and I don’t have that desire when it comes to other women. I realized I was emotionally and mentally attracted to women at a very young age, thanks to the girls in my online group of friends. In fact, my first “serious” relationship was with one of those girls, from Texas to Florida. We’ve never met and she’s married now, but I still think of her fondly.

In regards to sex in general, I am reserved. Sexual assault for me wasn’t limited to just elementary, but I don’t feel surprised by this. With the statistics available for the likelihood of sexual assault or rape for women, it wouldn’t be surprising if at least half of the women you ever meet in your life have been sexually assaulted or raped. I have sexual desires, but I also find myself not enjoying or feeling guilty when I engage in sexual activities. I feel this way for several reasons, and most of them are linked. Interrelationship sexual assault is the main cause of distress for me when engaging in sexual acts. Because of this, I’m always afraid that if I don’t want to participate in an activity, I’ll be forced to do so anyway. I don’t necessarily worry about this in my current relationship, but it had been a very big issue for me in the past. 

I have several trans friends, but even if I didn’t, I would still care about trans issues. I don’t really understand people who can’t empathize with the plight of trans people. I can’t understand how anyone could possibly condemn trans people, or call them abominations or make them feel like the way they are feeling is wrong. Even when I was more close-minded and had a lot of internalized misogyny myself, I never thought identifying as a gender other than the one you were assigned to at birth was wrong. This may be because I myself have struggled with identifying as strictly female or as androgynous, but I don’t think you have to have your own gender issues to empathize or sympathize with the plight and struggle of trans people. It’s wrong that people are being killed because they don’t fit what society had constructed as a social norm.

Telling someone that they need to be normal is redundant; what even is normal? The people who suffer the most in the trans community are also usually people of color (POC).  As if POC didn’t already have enough problems trying to survive in a society that strongly caters to white, heterosexual, cisgender men, they now are also being murdered at a rate much higher than white trans people. Trans POC probably have the least heard voices, and while it’s great that Caitlyn Jenner is being celebrated, she is also a woman with money and a platform to speak on trans issues, and she very rarely says anything that actually helps people in the trans community who are actually struggling. 

This injustice is one of the things that makes me strive to be a better human being and to have a more open and understanding feminist platform.  I haven’t had the most typical upbringing in Texas, and even when my parents were repressive and (in my view) backwards, I still found ways to research and educate myself on the issues that I would face as a woman, and more importantly, the issues that society faces as a whole in regards to outspoken people who desperately need support. I think I still have a lot of personal growth left, but I like the direction I am going. I am becoming more confident in my sexuality, more confident in my knowledge on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized people, and more confident on my take of gender and gender identity. The pursuit of knowledge has led me to this point, and I hope I never stop craving that hunger for knowledge.