I am half of a fraternal twin. We were born one minute apart on January 11, 2005. My brother first, me next. Apart from our entry into the world, the other separation between us is our sex.
The world sexed me as a woman and my brother as a man. The odds of this are the same as the odds of a landing coin on the head or tail: 50/50. The toss of my gender continues to affect my life. That’s why my parents bought me pepper spray for Hanukkah and my brother got clothes and a basketball. And there is a lot of Hanukkah, which is why my grandparents bought me a vanity and my brother a John Deere alligator toy. It was the difference between my brother reciting a prayer in Hebrew school thanking God for not being made a woman, and I was not allowed to read Torah.
I see gender as a social construct that pushes people of both sexes to conform to certain stereotypes and character traits. Because the genre is endorsed by the vast majority of people, its presence needs to be acknowledged. However, it is painful to accept that despite the work of the women who came before me, gender is still an obstacle; I have spent my life being seen and looking at myself through the male gaze.
The masculine gaze has also sometimes taken me away from myself. This led me to view my body as something that should be worth consuming. I used to dress for male validation instead of creative expression, which is the intention behind my outfits now. I thought of my body as an obstacle. I believed that if I could reach the unrealistic dimensions imposed on me by the beauty industry and social media, I would be able to accept my body.
It is overwhelming to think of my young self who loved himself conditionally. But I don’t blame him. She grew up enveloped in the masculine gaze. She grew up in the era of the $ 500 billion beauty industry. She grew up watching blockbuster movies that capitalized on female sex appeal. She grew up scrolling through social media, equating likes to value and sexuality to value. She grew up shouting the lyrics of female singers, including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, and Nicki Minaj, who had to meet expectations of being able to perform flawlessly, play in music videos, dance at shows, be sexually attractive, and sing. . These expectations far exceed the expectations placed on their male counterparts.
She learned the survival tactics of pleasing people, apologizing and submitting. She learned to ignore hissing, hands touching her where she didn’t want to be touched, and unwanted comments about her clothes and body. She learned to avoid being alone in public and to call 911 if she was alone, just in case. He was taught to bring pepper spray on his hikes and not to wear anything “provocative”. She was instructed never to drink at parties, so as not to be drugged. She was told that she should take steps to avoid being sexually assaulted.
Examples of policing the female body include dress codes, abortion treated as a policy instead of a personal decision, and claims by survivors of sexual assault are dismissed.
Holding victims responsible for crimes committed against them is just one example of the litany of damaging contradictions surrounding female sexuality. Our patriarchal society continues to instill in girls the belief that their worth depends on their ability to satisfy men’s sexual desires.
This notion exists at the same time that girls’ bodies are treated as a danger and a heavy temptation. At the Orthodox temple I attended, my sister and I had to cover our shoulders and show minimal skin because of the belief that our bodies were not holy and should not be visible in holy places. Since most traditional religions are patriarchal, it follows that as a woman I would be viewed in a humiliating way, but subconsciously rules like this instill in girls the belief that as a woman, your body is bulky and should be covered.
Although I no longer participate in an organized religion, it is essential to control the female body through dress codes. Last week, after I had just arrived at school, the first interaction I had was being berated by a teacher for what I was wearing. He asked, “Did you get the memo about not showing your belly at school?” I was wearing my brother’s sweatpants that day, which were loose on me and slipped to reveal an inch of skin. I’m so tired of dressing and straightening up thinking about my body as something that deserves unwanted attention and scolding. Like gender, sexuality is something other people press me for. I didn’t wear my brother’s sweatpants to sexualize myself. I wore them because they were comfortable. This example is indicative of a larger problem: My brother has the privilege of wearing what he wants, while I don’t have the same privilege because boys may find my clothes “provocative” or “distracting”. Instead of perpetuating the masculine gaze by reinforcing the phrase “boys will be boys”, why not hold boys responsible for not sexualizing their classmates?
It is commonly accepted that inequality problems are separate and can be solved separately. But this is incorrect. Sexism and environmental injustice are closely linked. The Earth is exploited in the same way as women. The Earth has been deforested, polluted, burned, destroyed, drilled and mined; Earth has been violated.
The Incels – the online community of men who express their frustration at their inability to sexually attract women – reflects the attitude we, as a society, have taken towards Earth. The incels feel that women owe them sex, that it is their birthright. Likewise, our patriarchal society views the Earth as an abundance to which humanity is entitled. This is yet another contradiction of the patriarchy. Men feel allowed to have sex while girls feel ashamed of their sexuality.
The masculine gaze can separate a pair of twins, but I cannot separate it completely from my identity. I know that I will probably spend most of my life purging myself of the male gaze, and I am waiting for the person I will be when I have learned to love myself without the conditions that patriarchy has placed on me.
Aviva Nathan will attend United World College as a junior this fall. Contact her at [email protected]