Twice in the last fortnight I’ve been mistaken for a man. This is because I generally wear trousers, trainers and have short hair. Maybe also because I have tattoos, and work as a mechanic in a bike shop. It seems these things in combination make some people of a certain age tick the ‘man’ box in their heads automatically. I laughed it off at the time but I’ve been thinking a lot about it since. It’s not very nice being told you look like a man, especially as that’s very often used as an insult (even though in these two cases it was a genuine mistake), and it’s seen as one of the worst insults you can use to a woman, too. It carries all sorts of unpleasant undertones. You look like a man = no-one will find you attractive. You’re not attractive = you’re rubbish at being a woman because it is a woman’s job to be attractive to men at all times. Being told you look like a man is being told you’ve failed.
I don’t really want this to keep happening. It makes me feel pretty crappy. The obvious solution would be to grow my hair, wear makeup on a daily basis, wear a skirt, wear ‘girly’ shoes. Shout ‘I am female’ visually so that people know which pronoun to use for me. But I like my hair short. It’s easy to look after. When I wear makeup too often I get an allergic reaction and my eyelids hurt. Skirts, ballet pumps or high heels are all really impractical attire for fixing bikes in (or for that matter running around after three kids in). It’s alright for a special occasion, all of that, but it doesn’t fit my daily life. Do I really want to make my life more irritating in all those ways just so some people won’t put their foot in it? Am I only really female if I take on the trappings that society has decided make me female? Do the ovaries and the childbirth and the periods count for nothing? I don’t want to give in to this crap. But not giving in to it’s hard. Even if I did give in to it I’d probably still feel I wasn’t any good at it, because that’s the message we get blared at us from advertising. You need to buy all this stuff, or there’s a danger you won’t look enough like a woman, you know. Make your facial/leg hair disappear convincingly with our razors/cream! No-one will think you’re a man! Make your hair look really female with this conditioner/these straighteners/this hairspray! No-one will think you’re a man! Buy this mascara and it’ll make your eyelashes acceptably feminine, so no-one will think you’re a man!
Well, I’ve spent most of my life not giving a toss for society’s rules for womanhood, so I expect I’ll get over the ignominy of pensioners referring to me as ‘the boy’ by accident. It would still be nice if people thought a bit harder before they opened their mouths sometimes though. If you’re not 100% sure, there’s ways to get round it rather than just taking a stab based on prejudices.