You’re four years old now and learning things that seem formidable and challenging. How to eat with your own hand. How to not cry when the TV is switched off. The distant prospect of sleeping in your own bed. All this fascist nonsense we’re heaping on you, you’re learning to come to terms with that. But one day, too soon for your father, you will grow into a young woman. And that’ll be the day you’ll have to learn something much more challenging: how to be a woman.
Like any other subject in the world, there will be people who will claim to be experts on this. You can spot them easily because they’re the ones who says things like, ‘Women should…’, ‘Women shouldn’t…’, ‘A modern woman will always…’ and even ‘Real women…*fill in the blanks*’. Let me tell you a simple thing about these people: they don’t know what they’re talking about. Because there are billions of women in the world and no two are exactly alike. Even if they’re twins. So to lump them into a prescriptive box is delusional at best, reductive at worst. These people, they’re just saying what they think women should do, be, act like. Don’t take their word as law. Don’t let them put you in a box.
Women have always battled boxes. When my generation came into its youth, we decided we didn’t want to be defined by the roles our mothers were. We’re not just a mother, sister, daughter, we cried. There’s more to us. And the world said, sure. And then it gave us more roles, more boxes to define us by. Working woman, homemaker, troublemaker. It was insidious, and maybe that’s why we didn’t realise it was happening. We warmed up to our new roles, without noticing how constricting they were. And then, the noose was tightened. Working women are breaking up families, we were told. Homemakers are wasting their education, we were told. Outspoken women are feminazis, we were told. And not a single one of these generalisations came with the caveat that they were referring to some women. Because that’s what a box does. It covers everything. There is no room for exceptions.
Except, if you look around, all you’ll see are exceptions. How can you not, there are billions of women in the world and each one is doing what makes sense to her. That is the only way to be a woman. You’ll find that out for yourself, I daresay. Today, you love it when I wear red lipstick. Tomorrow, you may read a think-piece about how red lipstick is empowering / a sign of loose morals / a conspiracy by the make-up industry. I wear red lipstick when I feel a little low. You can wear it for a whole other reason. Or not wear it at all, that’s cool too. The point is, you get to decide. What you wear, how to talk, if you swear or not, if you want to marry, if you want to have kids – you get to decide.
The decisions will not always be easy and you may change your mind a few hundred times on a few hundred issues. You’ll get things wrong, you’ll learn from your mistakes and make new ones. And along the way, you’ll find the answers you need. That’s allowed. It’s called growing up. And if the decisions seem too hard, the road too rough, that’s because it is. Being a woman is a rigorous test. All you have to remember is, the answers are subjective.