In the age before routine ultra-sounds my mother had a pregnancy so unlike the one she had while carrying my older sister that she was convinced she was having a boy. She was having me instead. The male name they had all but settled on was quickly swapped for the option they had passed over when naming my sister and I was Jessica instead of David.
I was often mistaken for a boy in my infancy (gender is rather hard to discern in newborns) because I resembled my father so much. In many ways I’m a lot like my father, I’m a lot like my mother too, but mostly in the similarities they share with each other. I rather bitterly recognised as a teenager that the traits I shared with my father while admired in him were often disliked in me.
All this has contributed in me wondering from time to time how different my life would have been if I had been born a boy like my mother expected. If I had been David rather than Jessica. How would society have viewed me differently, when you consider gender stereotypes?
David would have been teased mercilessly for being altogether crap at sport.
This is one of the ways Jessica is not like her father, she lacked any innate sporting skills whatsoever. Jessica spent all of her primary school years being picked last or next to last for sporting teams and getting hit in the head with sporting equipment. She retains a fear of volleyball to this day. While this was annoying to her at the time it wasn’t too disastrous to her self esteem, you’re allowed to be hopeless at sport if you’re a girl, Jessica could spend lunch times making daisy chains but David would be left out of playing sport because no one wanted him on their team. Assuming that the Y chromosome doesn’t magically come with hand-eye co-ordination David would have been much more affected by the inability to dribble a ball and run at the same time.
David would never dress uncomfortably, or really care about his appearance.
Jessica’s interest in fashion and shoes was entirely nurtured by her Grandmother, mother and sister. She was the type of child that tried to go the whole holidays without brushing her hair. She wouldn’t wear dresses unless she was required to. Even as a woman Jessica can’t be bothered with make up 99% of the time even though she knows it makes her look prettier. David would be the type of man who owns only three pairs of shoes and refuses to wear cufflinks because they’re too fiddly. He’d also probably care a lot less about leaving the house in trakkie daks.
David would probably have skin cancer.
Jessica is the pale throwback of ancestors who should have stayed where the sun wasn’t trying to kill them. As a child, Jessica loved swimming and outdoor activities that didn’t involve balls being thrown at her. Then she started to care about her appearance, washing and styling her hair every time she swam began to negate the joy she had in the swim.
Jessica got tired of constantly being the colour of lobster with sore skin and no amount of sunscreen can protect her skin from Australian summer sun between eleven and three for more than five minutes. Cover ups and hats were either too hot or too ugly. By the time she was a teen she began to avoid the summer sun.
Her skin has thanked her by not becoming cancerous (although she still checks regularly). David wouldn’t have cared about any of that and would have gone sailing with dad a lot more and participated in many other outdoor recreational activities. Also David would have been forced in family get togethers to help Grandpa in the garden, whereas Jessica was forced to help Grandma in the kitchen, and with that pale skin, he would have had needed a skin cancer removed by now.
David might not be a writer.
Just as the societal pressure for females to look beautiful has lessened but not disappeared with feminism, neither has the pressure for men to be ‘breadwinners’. Driven by extra pressure to perform and get a good paying job David probably wouldn’t have chosen to write a novel while living with his parents. David probably would have been driven to choose a higher paying career, like being a lawyer or an engineer (both things Jessica considered being but knew she just wanted the social recognition). He may have hated it deep down, he would have written on the side, but he would have found the social recognition much more alluring than Jessica did.
David might be married.
At the very least, David would have dated a whole lot more than Jessica did. Assuming sexual preference was flipped he may have dated some of Jessica’s friends. Particularly if he did choose a well respected career, as a man of average looks, and mostly well mannered, he might find the opposite sex a bit more interested than Jessica did. Thanks to the ‘strong and silent’ stereotype, intelligent and introverted David might be more attractive. Also upon airing opinions he probably wouldn’t be met with, “wow, he’s just filled with opinions,” as Jessica overheard someone say about her.
David’s interest in parenthood would not be questioned.
Jessica has little interest in motherhood, she doesn’t really like babies, which is just as well because her ovaries are suspected of being defective and there is no partner on the cards anytime soon. Jessica has to constantly explain her position and is often told she’ll change her mind one day. David wouldn’t have to do that, and ironically David might be a little more open to parenthood than Jessica, because he isn’t expected to be main caregiver and do all the domestic work.
No one would ever tell David to smile.
David would be allowed to have a serious resting face, people might think he’s thinking about important things. Jessica keeps getting informed that it takes forty muscles to frown and only fifteen to smile, even though she is using no muscles for resting face.
. . .
I’ve never really thought of gender as an integral to my identity, I always viewed it more as a lens that I wore. I don’t think being born male would make me any different in essentials: I’d still love reading; enjoy snowboarding; get upset when I heard about something I thought was unjust; I’d still like history; and would be mostly taciturn as well as shy.
The thing that would be different is how society viewed me, or how I felt society viewed me. I think it’s impossible to be purely yourself without reference to the world around you. I’ve found who I am by finding my place in the world and the areas where I clash with what is traditionally expected of me as a female. Where I’ve been unwilling to change to fit in has revealed what is an integral part of me.
I don’t think David’s life would have been any easier than Jessica’s, every one suffers insecurities and doubts, the difficulties would have just been different based on the gender stereotypes society applies.
It’s interesting to ponder from time to time what is truly me and what was affected by the body I was born with.
Do you feel your gender is an integral part of who you are? Do you adhere with gender stereotypes? What do you think would be different about you if you had been born the opposite sex?