As a little girl in 1950s Melburbia, I played happily with dolls, read princess fairytales, paraded in the mirror with a sparkling tiara in my hair and helped my mother in the kitchen; a stay-at-home mum typical of the times.

Being female did not seem intrinsically second-class as I loved football and delighted in playing chess with my father. I also built houses with Lego, joyfully pretending to be a train driver with family friends who had a train set; my gender seemingly irrelevant, at least to me.

During adolescence reality resonated very differently, being female a definitive factor in the opportunities and attitudes I encountered at home, at school and at play. Never hearing of sexism, I was merely surly about being forbidden to play school football as it was considered ‘unladylike’, even though I boyishly climbed trees and muddied myself in the nearby Yarra River environs. Contrastingly, my mother suggested becoming a librarian while my father encouraged studying medicine. The contradictions in my conditioning were palpable.

Being bespectacled, skinny and shapeless, I reluctantly regarded my looks a liability in the romance stakes, becoming shy with boys I fancied who didn’t fancy me. I stopped party-going, feeling like a social misfit.

At 16, abandoning any medical ambition and aspiring to be a journalist, I was cognisant that the media was extremely male-dominated but determined to be undaunted. Soon obtaining a newspaper cadetship, being female became even more relevant as I developed big breasts attracting sexual harassment, though smiled nonchalantly at the well-intentioned but misguided flattery.

Simultaneously, I was prohibited from reporting football, crime and politics for the supposed reason women weren’t tough enough. Considering the generalisation an anathema, I loudly asserted my individual rights, later breaking the gender barrier to successfully cover these issues.

Having read feminist literature, ‘tough’ manifested as distorted sexism. Unfortunately, it continued for years in my lack of professional opportunities, salary and the behaviours I confronted, working twice as hard as male peers to prove I was just as good for half their money. I also encountered female bitchiness, persisting nonetheless.

In relationships, my lovers were intellectually condescending, never treating me equally with one even violent. I stayed unmarried and childless, a lifestyle assumed as aberrant, even threatening to the status quo.

Undoubtedly today, females experience less sexism, with social norms accepting a myriad of female choices about marriage, children, sexuality, sport and work. Yet, the pervasiveness of violence against both women and men by each other indicates respect between and within the sexes is still a dream.

Resolving my conflicts, I can now applaud International Women’s Day with more women dictating their own destiny by transcending traditional, oppressive stereotypes. Thankfully, some men are also attempting to liberate themselves from toxic conditioning.

As my own boss, I still write and play, with “The Femmosexual” online magazine and sometimes publication in the mainstream media, also having a terrific male friend with benefits; this life content as a person who is proudly female.

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