Updated: Nov 26, 2021
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.
When it comes to society at large, although there are plenty of fights for equality still out there, I still have enough perspective to know that we have come a long way. Just in my lifetime, as an elder-millennial, I see a huge difference in our culture when it comes to gender parity. In the 90s we went from Curt Cobain to Kid Rock very quickly. I grew up with Girls Gone Wild, with Britney Spears being asked if she was still a virgin and then Justin Timberlake being asked if he ‘hit that.’ Remember when Monica Lewinsky was nationally shamed? The 90s culture I grew up in was rife with hyper-teen-male sexuality while girls were supposed to be pure and sexy at the same time. Our culture has moved forward a long way since then and I'm still hopeful that it will continue to get better as long as we continue to pressure change. I think women of color have probably seen less change than I have as a white woman.
I think we should remove gender from as many things as we can. How about we don't have a girls and boys section? How about we have one clothes section? Legos aren't gendered anymore, although they used to be. Heck, Nerf shouldn't be gendered. Did you know that I went to Target one day to get a basic tool set for the house and there was a black version and a 'Pink' version - everything about the sets were equal minus the color, and the pink version was cheaper. I bought the cheaper version, but I wasn't happy about it.
At home, our family strives for egalitarianism, but my partner has strengths and I have strengths. We also have likes and dislikes, but sometimes our strengths win over likes and dislikes.
At work, it's different, and it's always a struggle because there is still inequality of female representation in technology - however; when you veer more into the knowledge and social-skill strengths of a role, you start to hear from more women, but they are still battling the strength of voices that are still prevalent in the C-suite. Women frequently aren't given the psychological safety needed to speak up, and it's especially true for women of color.
Today, for my son I want to represent all the things women can do, that we do not make boxes of girl things and boy things. I want to normalize all the gender expressions. When we respect others, we tend to treat them the way we would want to be treated.
When I posted my last session as part of my Be a Man gender redefinition project, Courtney and I began chatting about gender in general, how our country deals with it, how it impacts politics and policy, and so on. Courtney and her family have joined me for family photos in the park for years now, but we’d never done a studio session together. As we chatted about gender and my project, I thought to myself, "Why couldn't I expand my project to include anyone who wanted to join the discussion on gender?" I asked Courtney if she'd be comfortable, and she immediately said, "Yes!"
Her words above speak to so many of the same things other participants have mentioned. The difference this time is that Courtney helps provide the perspective of someone who has lived with the influences and consequences of typical gender norms and the power of the patriarchy. I am so glad that she shared what you read above. Her words are powerful and moving.
On top of that, she's a fantastic mom for her son. She sets an example of thoughtfulness, health, and positivity. He is lucky to have a mom like Courtney.
I am so grateful to have had Courtney join me for this session and for so many family sessions in the past. We share a love of books (her to-be-read pile is enviable) and progressivism. She's funny and caring, and she's a fantastic athlete. And it goes without saying now that you've read her story that she's a great writer.
Thank you, Courtney, for joining me for new portraits and for sharing your story!
If you're looking for photographs like these for yourself, then you'll want to check out my Headshots and Personal Branding or my High School Senior page. Join me for your portrait session soon. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and scheduling.