From childhood, I experienced being female as an imposition. Growing up between two brothers, I was the one who had to wear stupid dresses, and worry about (the horror, in my day) letting my panties show on the swings. My brothers got to take off their shirts during sultry North Carolinian summers, while I wasn’t allowed to, even during the years my chest looked just like theirs.
Yet the impositions were just beginning. Periods were hideous. Did my brothers get puffy once a month, suffer terrible back aches and go back to wearing smelly de facto diapers? I was the one, too, who had the fear of God put in her about getting pregnant. In comparison to their sons, my parents clearly had reduced expectations for my career prospects. Ruefully, at 87, my father finally conceded last year: “You know, we may have underestimated you.” He still hasn’t quite brought himself to admit why: I was the girl.
But I was historically fortunate. By the time I entered university in 1974, a revolution was well under way. As I understood it, “women’s liberation” meant that the frilly cookie-cutter template of femininity had been chucked out. Being female was no longer defined in terms of skirts, high heels, and homemaking. Men and women were equal. Both sexes were just people. We had entered the post-gender world.