On one of the forums I frequent, a writer posed the question: do you give your characters a gender first, or develop their traits and personality first?
I have to assume that the poster was male. Because a woman knows, gender is everything. Gender is everything in our self-perception and how others see us.
I am a woman. The advertisements, TV shows, movies, news stories, and photographs I view tell me who I am supposed to be. I am to be pretty, first and foremost, because an ugly or fat girl is worth nothing. I am to be pretty, but not care that I am pretty. I am never to use my prettiness to my advantage, to get men to buy me drinks or offer me promotions. I am to buy all the things that might make be prettier: hair dye, heels, diet pills, designer dresses.
I am not a person with thoughts as feelings. I am a thing to be looked at. Not a woman with agency, but a doll who plays dress up. And, no matter where I go, no matter what job I accept, I always know, in the back of my mind, that men size me up and decide if I am worthy of fucking.
Because, as a woman, my primary role is to be young and hot. Not just pretty, but sexy. Fuckable.
Because, as a woman, I am defined by my ovaries. I am a wife. Or a mother. I am female first, person second.
Because, as a woman, I always wonder: why is this guy being nice to me? Is he friendly or does he expect something more?
Because, as a woman, every time I go out, I have to worry: will someone attack, me just because I am a woman and my sexuality is something to take? Will an acquaintance decide he has had enough of my rejection and force me to say yes?
Because, as a woman, I am supposed to be chaste. I am not to have one night stands or short flings. I am to save myself for Prince Charming, to save my precious flower for him to pluck. I am not to have needs. I am not to like sex, or worse, want it. Sex is a gift I only bestow to men who have paid enough, nagged enough, put in enough time pretending to be my friend.
Because, as a woman, even if I manage to rise above my inferior brain and achieve success , I will have an asterisk next to my name. I am a successful woman, not a successful person. Journalists will write articles about me, implying I am a lucky anomaly, claiming that women in my field are finally climbing the ladders. Finally, I am someone with buzz. And people talk about me. About how impressive it is that a woman rose to success.
And I will smile, with pearly white teeth. Because, as a woman, I am to be happy. I am not to wonder about my lot in life. I can vote, dammit, isn’t that enough?
Does gender matter?