Beyond being biologically female, who am I? Call me a feminist, femmosexual or ‘macho’ female, I am a 66-year-old woman and on International Women’s Day on Tuesday March 8, I am pondering whether these gender labels reflect who I really am.
What does my gender assume about me, both for myself and more importantly, for others? Should it be singled out as a symbol of my intrinsic worth and meaning; dictating my identity with its array of implicit assumptions?
IWD was inaugurated on March 19, 1911 in northern Europe, moving to March 8 in 1913. In 1975, the UN, calling for global attention to women’s concerns, declared International Women’s Year, convening the first conference on women in Mexico City. In 1977, the UN General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
For most of my life, this ‘special’ day has played havoc with my sense of self; questioning whether its focus on gender should be paramount. Isn’t human more to the point about us all?
Certainly as a child I indulged in dress-up doll time, ‘staging’ tea-parties in my doll’s house, with male friends toying instead with Meccano sets, trains, boxed cars and creating buildings with Legos. My father taught me to play poker and chess, my mother taking me to my first Aussie Rules match as well as to the movies, theatre, opera and classical music concerts. At nearly 14, I discovered politics when JFK was assassinated (I still have the front page of the 23 November, 1963, broadsheet Herald newspaper) and as my hormones ran rampant, I was fascinated by sex.
I was unaware consciously that my interests were unusual as a female, loving fashion and fantasising about being a famous model (that didn’t last long). I was also an avid reader, relating to male characters as much as females about ideas, experience and beliefs though bedroom behaviour was strictly heterosexual. That didn’t seem significant, believing my biological gender was irrelevant in achieving my future aspirations.
By my mid-teens, I had become an incorrigible football addict, passionate about politics and not just desiring sex (social mores in the 60s slammed sex as sluttish if you were female, young and unmarried), but intrigued by sex per se and its significance in our society. These interests have dominated my life, but football, politics and sex were, I learned as I became older, were more commonly valued as male domains and almost an anathema to being female.
I had no female friends to discuss these interests with, and it wasn’t until my final year of high school that I could engage conversationally about politics. Football was a family focus, and sex, well, I never talked about it; my first conversation was at nearly 17 with an unmarried man 10 years my senior I met at the beach. We had some sexual engagement without intercourse. Despite damning gender stereotypes, proclaiming my rights as an individual for particular jobs in male-dominated workplaces and demanding to be paid much more than I earned (without success), I realised by my late twenties I had been naive about it all.
I rejected calling myself a feminist, realising I had more in common with men than women, adopting the label ‘macho female’ to encapsulate my ‘male’ interests, characteristics, and at times, even personality, referring to myself simultaneously as a ‘femmosexual’ to denote my strong, female sexiness.
These labels I soon realised were just as biologically-gender biased; understanding that we had to ‘see’ beyond genitalia to achieve genuine gender equality. The gender divide, the denial of females’ rights and the discrimination still extant in our society is so destructive to us all that International Women’s Day, 2016, must be acknowledged as a turning point for not just women, but men too, whose ‘unconscious bias’ (according to BHP Billiton CEO, Andrew McKenzie) has proscribed female aspirations for too long.
We can celebrate changes for women over the past century, but IWD must now inspire much greater change to ensure women can compete, collaborate and co-operate with men not as gender specific, but as people, biology irrelevant. Maybe our society should consider the 2014 High Court of Australia ruling that transgender ‘Norrie’ could be legally identified as of ‘non-specific gender’ as public discourse to denounce all gender references as superfluous to the human condition.
The focus on our biological gender identity should be eschewed and eradicated as it too often accounts for so many erroneous and misguided norms and stereotypes that only serve to reinforce inequality and injustice.
Embracing equal opportunities for women demands we transcend gender references so we can all identify as unique, human individuals. That’s who I am; a person who happens to be female without any other labels needed so that IWD can soon become redundant. Or am I still naive?