Updated: Sep 11
Courtney joined me for a portrait session as an extension of my current project on gender. Here is her story:
When I was little - like 4-5 - I was obsessed with Superman. I think I had a few Little Golden books on Superman and there were Saturday morning cartoons with him in them and I just wanted to be him, why? Because he could fly. In my imagination, no superpower was better than flight.
My mom got me a blue Superman outfit with a cape (which in hindsight was probably just pajamas) and I remember jumping off the couches all day in my pretend world as Superman. Family would constantly ask if I would rather be Super Girl and I was adamant that no, I was Super MAN. I had no frame of reference for a super GIRL. Why did I have to be the girl version?
I learned a couple of years ago that girls easily accept books and entertainment with male-centric protagonists, but boys can't latch onto female-centric protagonists at the same rate, which is why there are so many books for kids with male protagonists. It kind of makes you think, are boys truly not interested in female protagonists, or is it brought upon by those around them not exposing them to female protagonists early?
I have always known that my thoughts on what a person of my gender should be and do are different from the norm. I was categorized as a tomboy once I reached kindergarten. My mom used to make all my clothes, which up until that point were all dresses. But I couldn't run around with the boys or play on the monkey bars at school in a dress. I enjoyed playing sports at school and helping Dad in the garage at home. I grew up in a 'traditional' household: Mom cooked all the meals, did all the household chores; dad did the yard work and maintained the vehicles. I wasn't entirely without 'girly' tendencies—you should have seen my Barbie collection. As humans, we contain multitudes.
I struggled with who I was 'supposed' to be as I graduated college and entered adulthood. I had so many people not asking me what my career goals were but when I was going to get married and have children. My instincts were asking different questions, (What do you want to do as your career? What do you stand for? Who are you?) yet there was a subconscious part of the brain that when it hears a message over 20 times, starts to believe it—if it works in society, it works in marketing. Growing up in a small town and not hearing enough voices from elsewhere, you start to believe that everyone is going this path and you are not the norm if you don't.
So in my early 20s I was struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do as a career, I was struggling with work-life balance, I was probably overly depressed and anxious and had nowhere to really go and no mentor to turn to, and unfortunately I crossed paths with the wrong person. He was selling everything I was told I wanted: Leave your job (but I want a job), have kids (I don't want kids), let your male partner make all the decisions (but I have a brain too….). Fast forward a year and I was broke, jobless, and living back home with a 6-month old. The messages we send young women can either free them or imprison them, and I had not been empowered with the correct messaging when a male decided to exert his power.