Note the past tense
When I was younger, I remembered wanting to be a boy so badly instead of a girl. I remembered wondering how much better my life would’ve been if I wasn’t a girl. It took me 20 years to finally be comfortable as a girl, as a female, as a woman. This is my story.
For some background, I come from an Asian Chinese family of four, and I have a brother who is 2 years and 2 months younger than me. Yes, I am the older sibling.
When I was in primary one, my daily allowance was 60 cents. I recall that was the price of a plate for chicken rice or bowl of noodles in the canteen. By the start of Primary four, my allowance had increased to two dollars, because I started to have supplementary classes and CCA in the afternoon. My brother was Primary one then, but his daily allowance started at two dollars as well. I couldn’t say anything since I was not the one giving the allowance, but to me, that was unfair.
When it came to computer games, my brother, being a “typical male”, was the first to try them out and unsurprisingly, he was addicted to playing them. I thought it was fun, since I’ve watched him played a few times, so I wanted to play as well. Back then, there was only one common computer for us to share at our babysitter’s house. As such, our parents imposed a 30 minutes time limit on our daily computer games playing time to ensure that both of us had a chance to play. However, the time limit was not present when my brother was the only one playing on the computer. Anyways, we would usually play before or after each other. Being a stricter rule-follower in the past, I always watched the time and kept to the time limit. However, my brother always liked to extend his playing duration, saying things like “after this game ends!” or “a while more”. Whenever I insisted that his playing time was up and he should stop, I would be scolded for being too calculative about the time. But whenever I delayed my playing “slot”, I would be scolded too for not keeping to the time. I eventually grew out of playing computer games because I was not very interested and it was, most of the time, a bitter experience. After a while, the time limit was lifted and my brother could sit at the computer playing for hours.
As I grew into my teen years, my babysitter taught me how to wash the dishes. At her house, that meant washing everyone’s dishes in the sink when I was finished with dinner. In that household, besides my babysitter, I was the only female. While eating, I would be told: “wash all the dishes in the sink after you eat finish”. Either you cook or you clean up right? I then waited for my brother to be taught how to wash the dishes and then do it as well when he was of a similar age. It didn’t happen. Well, not until I kept questioning, for several years after that, why he didn’t do the dishes. I often made a fuss over times when my brother didn’t do the dishes and just left his plate / bowl / utensils in the sink afterwards, obviously for the females in the house to clean. This behaviour was, as I observed and realised later, common among the other males in the house. They simply ate and then left their dishes in the sink for someone else to wash. The response I got to my fuss was “just help and wash all the dishes”, “don’t be so calculative”, “it’s just the dishes, small matter, don’t argue”. And to that I always thought: “if it’s a small and easy task, why can’t he do it? He also ate, and he is able-bodied”. Being the stubborn person I was, I kept harping on the issue because I was upset. It was only in recent years that my brother started to wash his own dishes. But even then, he only washed his own dishes and somehow my babysitter had no issues with that. Apparently, when a guy washes his own dishes, he deserves some compliments too.
Other than these very personal experiences, there were other situations I believe would be more common to girls, which made me disliked being a girl back then.
For instance, I was told that I had to sit in a dainty manner, legs closed or crossed, because I was a girl. Meanwhile, guys could sit comfortably in any posture in public. Just so people know, it’s really hard and uncomfortable to sit cross-legged when you don’t have skinny thighs. Society also places a lot of expectations on how a girl should appear, which can lower the self-esteem and confidence of many. Long hair, slender bodies, dresses are a few examples. I am a girl with not-so girly appearances — short hair, on the slightly muscular side, wears T-shirt and pants on a daily basis. But “only boys have short hair and dress the way I do” right? For people like me, who didn’t fulfill the “requirements” of how a girl should be like, society was not keen on calling them “girls”, so they labelled them “tomboys” instead.
To sum it up, being a girl back then meant having to meet many expectations, and being a boy meant having advantages and “privileges”. So, I had wanted to be a boy, it made logical sense!
Fast forward to today, I went from “I want to be a boy” to “I’m comfortable being a girl”. What changed? New perspectives and people did the job.
A closer look at the people around me revealed how empowered and impactful females are. For instance, my mum graduated with both a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree and has been pursuing a career in the IT field. Currently, she earns the highest paycheck in my family. Education in Singapore is a privilege available to women and women can outpace their male counterparts in education attainment and career progression. Women are now empowered to craft their own success with their hard work. This playing field is already much levelled when we compare to earlier times when gender roles were not only strict, but enforced socially as well.
I also realised that in the past, I was stuck in the mindset that if something happened, it was just how things worked and there is nothing I can do about it. So my only response is to keep it on my mind and bear a grudge (for a long time). The unfair difference in treatment is just how things are and I just have to suck it up. But witnessing how my friends have made decisions for themselves has taught me that I do have control over my life. If I do not like something, I can either change my environment, my behaviour, or simply ignore it and move on with my life.
To elaborate further, I am aware that I cannot change the attitudes of people, nor can I reverse time and undo all the misery. So I choose to work on reparenting myself and not get so caught up on the past. Letting go is a slow process that I am still going through, but it is essential to heal. The awful parts of my experiences growing up should not be attributed to my gender, but instead the parenting approach and attitudes of those who brought me up. Being a girl is not the worse scenario. These days, when I encounter acts that are a result of a person being spoilt or entitled, my first reaction is disgust and disdain. But afterwards, I make the smarter choice of ignoring the person’s presence, brushing it off, and moving on with my life instead of being stuck in a negative headspace.
You have the power to do what’s best for you. Add to your life by subtraction.
Meeting more people have made it more apparent to me that every woman is unique in her own way and strong in many ways. They all have their own dreams and goals and are taking steps to achieve them. In fact, women are constantly changing the world, think about Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai and many more. There is no need to subscribe to social norms at all and I don’t have to account to anyone other than myself. So long as I stay true to myself, I will be fine and even amazing! And so, I stopped wanting to be a boy and instead choose to embrace who I am truly.
While I have grown to be comfortable (and even proud) as a girl, that does not mean that I have accepted the status quo. Gender inequality is still a persistent issue to be addressed and worked on. Gender roles are toxic and suppress true self-expression, at the price of respect for others and acceptance of diversity. Let’s change the world by being ourselves.
Thank you for reading!