penis envy

Especially at the peak of puberty, I used to wish I had been born a boy instead. In those years, that desire was fuelled by curfews and a classic catch-22 cast upon me by my parents. The conundrum was as follows: to protect myself from being attacked out there by males, I should find a male chaperone. If that seems logical to you, think harder. Never mind that historical romance novels inform me that chaperones are a dated concept that belong to and should remain in the 19th century. On top of that, boyfriends (a version of a male chaperone) were disallowed, because my parents believed boys were distractions. (They were right on that one, and they still are, but that’s besides the point.)

Granted, those were abstract principles and were not implemented to fundamentalist extremes. I was still allowed to leave the house alone and have fun in a mixed school. Still, as an example, my parents – particularly my father – distrusted my first boyfriend (and me), while simultaneously conceding that they had to entrust me to him. I am unable to comment on whether they would have approved the subsequent ones because I stopped updating them, LOL. As a side note, even now it seems to me the concept of female sexuality is still actively resisted by the social mass, at least back at home. We want love, but the love we demand should be chaste… according to society (and men)! Step outside your allotted boundaries, and get struck out.

Either way, my left-wing identity strengthening with education further fanned the flames of my frustration. My budding sexuality was the gasoline. As far as my young, female, feeble mind was concerned, men were allocated disproportionate privileges that I was in turn denied. If only I had not been born a girl, I rationalised, those illogical and unfair restrictions on what was most important to me – freedom and control – wouldn’t exist. Perhaps because I was powerless to do anything else at that point, the most viable strategy to compensate for my perceived helplessness was simply to wish I was a male. An awful strategy, by all means. But we move on.

That pubertal penis envy faded as I grew older, more gender-appropriate desires blooming in its place to mask its putrid stench. The liberal female empowerment phase happened. But recently it’s been coming back to haunt me. For all I know, it never left. As if this remission is my surrender to the recognition that women are indeed the second sex.

The trigger? Being a minority.

To coexist in a sphere where men dominate, trying so hard to get noticed, starting to wonder why the conversation is happening with everyone except you, and whatever you say echoes off the walls against the impassive silence of the others who won’t even meet your eye because you make them uncomfortable, and starting to think you’re better off being quiet. The discomfort that hangs in the air, because my existence as a woman, and all the social baggage that this master status entails, overshadows all my interactions with members of the opposite gender. (I haven’t even gotten into intersectionality, currently very much salient as I type this from a place where I’m in a minority group.)

Your presence is noted, but not acknowledged. And the thing about privilege is you can’t explain it fully until you realise you don’t have it: for example, I can relate somewhat to Chinese privilege by drawing parallels to male privilege, but what about my Chinese male friends?

I wish I could brush this feeling off by simply tacking a “grass is greener on the other side” sticker onto it. And I know some people who would argue to that effect. But to say that would be to downplay the reality of the lived experience, mainly my own here but definitely shared by others, that feeds into it. I’m not saying men don’t have their own unique set of problems. But ultimately it’s important to realise that there are hidden power structures (gender, race, disability, among others) that pervade and colour our everyday experiences of living, and we don’t always get to be on top. In classic sociology terms: if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. (Note the absence of the woman!)

Do I still wish I had been born a guy? Sometimes. Would I necessarily have a better life? That I don’t know, though I’m guessing it would be statistically easier to achieve. In the meantime, I would do better to stop the self-loathing and focus on elevating my group as a whole instead.

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