In recent years, it has become apparent to me that I have traveled through my life with blinders on.
These blinders can be likened to those worn by a horse thathas been yoked to a buggy. The blinders are placed on the horse to “protect” the animal from seeing things that might scare it, which may then result in the horse causing potential harm to itself or the buggy’s occupants.
Until the fall of 2011, I was that horse, and the inhabitants of my cart in need of protecting were societal expectations and constraints –based upon little more than the reproductive organs that grand design provided (blessed?) me with.
The potential harm that my blinders “protected” me from was an ability to face the reality associated with the sexual category assigned to me by restricting true knowledge of the world in which I live.
This restriction limited the chance of my challenging societal norms associated with my biological sex and seeing them for what they are, ideas and judgments created long ago by a few members of a patriarchal society whose sole purpose and desire was and is to keep women in a subservient role.
As a female, I am expected to be sweet, innocent, uncomplaining.
Failure to acquiesce to these expectations puts me at risk of being ostracized by my fellow females and labeled an upstart bitch by males.
In retrospect, I now know that I have lived a life straddling both sides of the gender fence.
I have been sweet and have complained. I have been a fraud in order to be accepted. I have displayed myself and been innocent. I have rebelled in an effort to attract.
I played every sport my middle and high schools offered and wasa member of the junior and varsity cheerleading squads. I loved pretty clothes and makeup, but the majority of my friends growing up were male as I had little tolerance for the silliness and pettiness of girls and as a result, found it difficult to connect with them.
I love tattoos, although some of mine are not what one would consider feminine. I have always had an incredibly strong personality, cautioned throughout my life that people found me intimidating but never really caring enough about others impressions to consider the underlying reasons or to make any serious alterations.
I now recognize that to some extent,I was both consciously and subconsciously rebelling against society’s gender norms as well as perpetuating them at the very same time.
In my school years, I played sports because I could, but also because doing so put me in closer proximity to the more popular boys.
I wore makeup and pretty clothes because I liked to, but also because I wanted to feel more beautiful and perhaps get one step ahead in the race for a particular boy.
As an adult and through the years that I dated, I carried these ideas and strategies, albeit somewhat modified, with me.
I watched sports because the men in my life liked sports, but I also dressed, did my hair, and wore make-up with their expectations in mind.
In hindsight, while I believed that I as simply being me – free, strong, independent – so much of the person I was, was tied up in how others perceived me and in pleasing the men in my life.
Another way in which I struggle with the terms of my genderis in how I define myself.
I am a wife, mother, sister, student, professional. I am white and female. I am all of these components, and I am not whole without each of them.
Being a wife and mother are incredibly important to me; however, when I tell someone that I am a wife and mother, I am often dismissed. I can only presume it is because these roles, despite their inherent and irrefutable value, are not in fact valued by society.
Society has placed so little worth on the role of motherhood, relegating it to the bottom rung of acceptability. I find this incredibly ironic, because without motherhood, none of society exists.
While we can purchase semen and eggs, those two components can only reach fruition in the womb of anactual female. I am held accountable to my womb in that I am expected to reproduce and at the same time, held in lower regard for having done so.
When I say that I am a student, smiles appear, commendations for being able to work full-time and go to school are showered upon me – until, that is, one hears that I am a student of Women’s Studies.
It is always at this point that I see that I have lost my audience. And I am horrified that the majority of people that I find myself interacting with, who I might mention are women, find the topic of themselves so unworthy of discussion.
I am a litigation paralegal, and in my professional life, I see on a daily basis how men and women who act in identical capacities are viewed in distinctly different ways.
The firm that I work at recently hired a male paralegal who is also attending the Paralegal Program at a local college.
But aren’t paralegals supposed to be females? Embarrassing as it is, I had this very thought.
I found it difficult to reconcile this young man with the position; it seemed so skewed, so out of place.
By allowing that thought process to mature in my mind, I perpetuated the myth that women and men have distinct roles that we should be confined to. I held this young man and myself accountable to a set of rules that places us in position of superior and inferior and my seeming willingness to accept that such a profession should be inappropriate for this young man haunts me.
I do not long for the days when I wore my blinders.
There is no truth in the blissfulness of ignorance.
I am thankful for the vision that I now have because I see the verity of what society has come to expect of humanity and me.
One cannot arm itself and fight against an unseen enemy.
If there is to be real change in how all of humankind is treated, irrespective of their biology, race, and sexuality, I cannot – I will not– hide in the shadows that blinders provide.
One who has been afforded sight cannot live in a world that devalues half of its inhabitants and remain at rest.
However, a lack of blinders does not in and of itself eliminate the pitfalls and potholes that my buggy may fall into.
I continue to rage against the bondage of the patriarchal society that I live in.
When faced with the barrage of societal expectations and constraints, 360-degree vision doesn’t make the path I travel any less treacherous. If anything, it makes it more so, as it becomes increasingly difficult to remain true to the course when faced with so many obstacles.
With increased clarity of vision comes increased risk, but also increased opportunity for a course correction.
Susan is 44 years old, married for 20 years to a wonderful man, and the mother of two fantastic grown children. She is also a litigation paralegal and identical twin. Currently, she is working towards her BA in Women’s/Gender Studies at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter, FL.
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