Fem club heads and members discuss female identity

A Self interview. By Samantha Gamble Sidwell Friends '17, Caroline Beckman Sidwell Friends '17, Serena Baldick Sidwell Friends '18, Molly Gould Sidwell Friends '18 (Published: 2016)

Why is gender your principle indentification?

Serena Baldick: As a half-Asian, half-Caucasian young woman, my gender is the characteristic that I feel holds me back the most in society. It is the attribute I feel like I need to defend most often. With that said, my gender is also something I am most proud of. It defines who I am. That is why the fight for equality is so important, so that no person, however they identify, have to justify who they are.

SG: Gender, and more specifically being a female, is my principle identifier because I feel that it

is the most basic and most foundational aspect of who I am. I think that gender is taught in

society to be the least nuanced and least complicated identifier so from a young age, while I

might not have always talked about my sexual orientation or racial identity, I knew that I was a

girl, and I could recognize some of the stereotypes and connotations that accompanied being a

girl in myself.

Molly Gould: I am proud to identify as a female fighting against the societal systems that have stacked

the deck against my gender. At age five, I was eager to prove I could run just as fast and jump

just as high as my male counterparts. Today, I am determined to be part of a future in which any young girl can dream of becoming just as successful as any young boy. Gender is my primary identifier because I recognize its importance in shaping my character, and I believe that it is source of pride and empowerment for me rather than a disadvantage or impediment.

CB: To be completely blunt: I’m white and I’m straight – my gender is the only main identifier

that society says makes me somehow “inferior.” As a result, it’s the central part of my identity

because I see my gender as something to be proud of, not to apologize for.

How does that affect your behavior in society?

SB: In certain scenarios, I feel like I have to live up to the feminist standard. Sometimes people

question my behavior if I lightly discuss a gender stereotype or let a male peer hold the door

open. The issue is that my behavior is being analyzed in the first place, that social stereotypes

create boundaries in which we are expected to fit in. Then, we are later ridiculed if we fail to do

so. Luckily, I don't necessarily care how society sees me. My identity is a personal aspect of

who I am and nobody else.

Samantha Gamble: Being a female is my “behavior in society.” Society oftentimes doesn’t make room for women to look like the “norm” or do anything other than the “norm,” so I feel that most of my life is dictated by my gender: the way I dress, who I’m friends with, what clubs I join, how many

times I raise my hand in class, how I style my hair. Societal stereotypes and the patriarchy

shape my behavior whether I want them to or not, but the important part about being a female

(and a male) is figuring out in which ways you can rebel against society and be your own

person, regardless of gender norms or other pressures and expectations.

Caroline Beckman: For me, being female is something that constantly lurks in the back of my mind, as I go about my life. I’m often checking in on how I’m stacking up with female stereotypes (I feel

compelled to avoid as many of these as possible). If I freak out at a bug, will people roll their

eyes and go, wow, what a girl? I shouldn’t care if my outfit is cute or not, right? I hate that I am

constantly in self-doubt as a result of my identity.

MG: Embracing my gender as an essential piece of my identity has given me a greater sense of

strength and empowerment. It has connected me to the feminist struggle and motivated me to

incite change. Learning that society does not have to dictate my behavior was, at first, hard for

me to wrap my head around. But especially this year, I have found that it is a lot easier to just be myself, without worrying about the role I’m “supposed” to play. By accepting and celebrating a female identity, I have discovered that I am more confident and willing to take a stand for what I believe in.

Does mainly identifying as female ever negatively affect your life? Your behavior?

SG: I think to a certain extent identifying as a female is constantly having a negative effect on

my life and my behavior. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, however, because it is in the struggles

of being a woman and the embracing of all that encompasses my gender that I find the most

positive aspects of myself.

MG: We like to think of Sidwell as a protective bubble, immune from the prejudices and injustices that plague our wider society. But the fact remains that our community is just as affected by societal pressures as other places; it is simply better at hiding it. I feel that although identifying


as female at Sidwell and in the world has not directly impeded my ability to participate in the community, it has made me more conscious of how I see myself compared to how others might perceive me. I try not to allow the artificial idea of femininity define who I am or how I behave, but at the same time, it is hard to not care what other people think.

Do you think things would be different if you were of a different race? What if you were a male?

SB: It would definitely be different especially if I were a man, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't

want to fight for equal rights. It would actually be more important because the only way we can

truly achieve equality is if everyone accepts it – not just the oppressed.

CB: Absolutely – every aspect of a person’s identity shapes who they are, and any changes to

the fundamentals of that will cause shifts. But what exactly would change? Without living two

lives simultaneously, it’s impossible to quantify. If I were a man, for example, it’s not like all my

problems would magically go away – society pushes gender norms and expectations on men

just as they do to women, but often with the opposite message.

SG: Like any identifier, gender does not and should not stand alone. I think that race and

gender are irrevocably linked together, historically and contemporarily. The racial hierarchy and

the patriarchy overlap in such a way that your privilege in one system will grant you a measure

of privilege over those in the other system. As a biracial female, I think that the life I live as a

half-black young woman is as different from a white young woman as it is from a black young

woman. If you have racial or gender-based privilege for instance, it is easy to forget that there are those who can’t “prioritize” identifiers because they do not have the privilege to ignore, for even the briefest moment, who they are and all that encompasses their identity.

Was there a single moment you became more tied to your gender?

SB: For me the process was more gradual. As I noticed people around me avoiding topics about gender and race, it became clearer and clearer I didn't want to be those people.

SG: I would say I’ve been tied to my gender since the moment I was born, as I’ve identified as a

female for as long as I can remember. However, sophomore year was when I started speaking

out in regards to gender and actively pursuing a deeper knowledge of this aspect of my identity, rather than passively embracing it.

MG: I think I’ve always been aware of my gender and how it has affected my life. But it wasn't

until fairly recently that I realized I needed to take a more active role in discovering and

defending my own identity as a female. I see how the topics of gender and sexuality aren’t

talked about enough in our society, and I want to work toward changing that by becoming more connected to and open about my own identity.

Do you ever wish you identified with another characteristic? Or maybe with several more equally?

SG: I do identify with another characteristic as much as I do my gender, so maybe what I said

earlier wasn’t quite accurate. Gender is my principle identifier in that I essentially had it handed

to me since I was little, but I identify with my race just as much as I do my gender. For me, race

was a characteristic that I had to fight to identify within myself and then fight to identify with. My identity is being a biracial (half-black half-white) female, and the two cannot be separated.