Femaleness is an unmistakable theme in my novel “Sylvie Denied.” I was born female in a female body, never questioned it and am happy with it – though admittedly I didn’t relish the prospect of 40 years of monthly periods and the toll of pregnancy on my body.
My parents weren’t into gender stereotypes – my sister and I weren’t dressed in pink, my brothers weren’t made to be stoic – and we were mostly treated equally. Which is more than I can say for most of the world during the years I’ve been alive. (I was born to white parents and grew up in a predominantly white area which must be taken into account as I describe my experiences.) Although the political and economic power of females has risen worldwide, it’s still nowhere near equal to that of males.
My first inkling of a male-female power discrepancy dawned when I was twelve and my older brother asked whether I thought of myself first as a girl or as a person. Without hesitation I said I thought of myself as a person. He said he thought of himself first as a boy, then as a person. Of course, this gave me much to think about.
This brother is 18 months older and our mom encouraged us to play together, so I played sports and board games with him and his friends. My skills matched theirs and I liked winning. They let me play baseball with them sometimes and even when they assigned me to the outfield (which I later learned was to get me out of the way) I showed I could catch a fly ball rather handily. But that didn’t mean the boys gave me any leeway. They made it clear they controlled the field and I was only there with their permission.
This made me realize that to my brother, being a boy meant status. At twelve, I wasn’t in full-fledged puberty with all its attendant social rules and was just starting to notice the preferential treatment meted to boys.
My generation broke glass ceilings. I know women who were the first to have been admitted to all-male colleges or to a particular law firm. This is great. But females have spent a lot – maybe too much – time and effort buying into dominant arcahic standards imposed by males at the expense of fully investigating the strengths of their own perspectives and experiences. As persons, first.