Are you a boy or a girl? by Jenny Whitfield

Last week, while I was waiting to meet my sister on her lunch break, I was asked a question. A question that, apparently, almost every girl with short hair is bound to be asked at some point.

Are you a boy, or a girl?

I’ve had my fair share of odd looks, which I’ve grown used to, especially from young kids, but this was the first time I’d had it put to me so bluntly. (It was also the first time I’d worn a dress since I got my head shaved, ironically.)

I wouldn’t have cared if it was a young kid that was asking out of genuine curiosity. It was the fact that the question was put forward mockingly by a group of glaring boys, who couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than me, and was followed by a chorus of laughter.

I laughed it off. Rolled my eyes. Shook my head in embarrassment for them. Having just finished spending five years at a school full of people like this, I don’t let things like this phase me.

But, once they’d left, I became angry and upset.

Not because they’d hurt my feelings – they hadn’t – but because that was their intention. We live in a world where implying that someone looks like a boy, when they’re a girl, or vice versa, is classed as an insult, and that’s really sad. The fact that someone looked at me and thought, “wow, they haven’t followed society’s expectations of their gender, that’s funny, hurhurhur” is daft, isn’t it?

I was angry because what I wear has nothing to do with anyone else. No one should be made to feel bad about their clothes or hairstyle on the basis that it’s not something people see every day. Why does being unique equate to being wrong? You should be able to wear whatever you like and be proud of it, without worrying what people think of you. Some people do it anyway, and good on them, but for others, it’s not that simple. But it shouldn’t have to be this way.

Before I shaved my head, I was preparing myself for reactions like this. “It just comes with having different hair”, I’d think. Me shaving my head to raise money for charity meant I was bringing this upon myself, any negative backlash I got because of it was my own fault and I had to deal with it.

But, why?

Why should I be responsible for other people’s bad attitudes? Why should I accept the fact that people are going to stare at me now, only for having short hair? Why should I feel like it’s my fault that this isn’t socially expectable?

Well, I shouldn’t.

People aren’t born like that. We weren’t assigned with views like “girls having short hair is odd” at birth. In my opinion, these attitudes are brought on by stereotypes and society. Things like being told as a young girl that pink should be your favourite colour, being told that boys playing with dolls isn’t okay, and that your appearance is more important than school. (I also think, sometimes, it’s down to the fact that parents don’t tell their kids that it’s rude to stare, but whatever.)

Because that’s the impression that kids are getting now. But in actual fact, what’s the harm in girls playing with toy cars and boys colouring in with pink pens?

Products that are linked with being stereotypically feminine are being forced onto little girls, and used as insults to little boys. Girls are branded as strange if they don’t want to play with dolls, boys are if they do.

So, yes, a part of me is obviously ticked off that it’s classed as insulting (and so I should be!), but I’m actually delighted.

Sometimes, I want to wear dresses. Sometimes, I’d rather wear baggy t-shirts and board shorts. There are days when I really enjoy wearing makeup, and other days when I’m happy to not bother with it at all. I’m very, very comfortable with the fact that, sometimes, this could make people wonder whether I’m male or female – I love it, actually. It keeps people on their toes.

No one should have to stick to looking like what is ‘expected’ of their gender if they don’t want to.

If you’re a girl, and you like dresses and having long hair, awesome – go you! If not, that’s really great too!

If you’re a guy, and you don’t want to look how stereotypes say you should, brilliant! If it happens that you enjoy dressing like that, that’s still good.

My point is, you should dress however you like because it should make you happy. You shouldn’t be doing something just because society’s expectations of your gender, personality, music taste or anything else say that you should do it.

I really love my short hair, and sure, it’s not all that feminine, but who cares? That’s nobody’s business but mine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being feminine, but I don’t want to be (at least, not all of the time), and I’m proud of the fact that I’m not. We need to stop forcing these views on what boys and girls should do/look like/play with onto little kids. It’s so harmful.

I don’t really like the idea of being grouped together with half of the population and being forced to abide by society’s norms if that’s not what I want to do, so I’m not going to. The fact that people notice that, and perhaps even wonder whether I’m male or female, just goes to show I’m doing a damn good job.