This past month we celebrated Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, a time of year in which we commemorate and rejoice on all of the many achievements and contributions women have made to our society. Every year our Facebook walls are inundated with images of Rosie the Riveter who has now become an icon of the feminist movement and women paying homage to her with their own interpretations of that now famous poster boasting messages of empowerment. For a girl whose domain name is Fire Breathing T-Girl I can’t begin to tell you how much these messages of resilience and self-determination give me life.
However, this idea of the go-getter feminist woman, a woman who does not need a man to do for her what she is more than capable and willing to do for herself was not an ideal that I aspired too. Actually up until recently I thought I wanted to grow up and be a housewife. You see, growing up in a Latino culture girls are taught that in order to be a woman you have to be three things: beautiful, a wife, and a mother. For those of you that think that in the US we place a large emphasis on a woman’s physical beauty you haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t believe me? Flip your TV set to Univision or Telemundo and you’ll see that every woman in the morning talk show, the afternoon telenovelas, and the evening news looks like a supermodel—heck even the weather woman looks like she walked out of a Victoria’s Secret Ad. These women don’t just look like supermodels or beauty queens most of them were supermodels and beauty queens. Don’t get me wrong the majority of these women are extremely talented and educated they just also happen to be pulchritudinous women. I come from a small island of 3.6 million inhabitants that proudly boast five Miss Universes; a place where girls are told in subtle and not so subtle ways “who’s going to be the sixth?” In Latino culture beauty pageants are often your turning key to the career that you want. So instead of teaching our girls you can be whatever you want to be, we teach them you can be whatever you want to be but first you have to be beautiful.
Many people have heard the term “machismo”, this patriarchal ideal of what it means to be a man. A less known term is “marianismo”, derived from the word María, the mother of Christ. It is the belief that women should embody characteristics of the Virgin Mary; women ought to be virgins when they get married, women should be submissive and docile, women should be delicate and giving, devout their time and attention to the care of others, and, above all, women should be mothers. This idea of having to be a mother is so ingrained in Latino culture that when I asked one of my friends—who is the most independent-minded person I know—whether she was sure that she never wanted to have children she replied by saying “well I say that but as a Latina I still have a chip programmed in the back of my head that still tells me that I have to be a mother or I won’t be a ‘real’ woman”.
These are the ideals that our patriarchal society gives our daughters (and sons) as the definition of womanhood. As it happens to so many of us, in the absence of a counter message that told me that I could grow up to be any kind of woman I wanted to be I adopted the only definition of womanhood available to me as my own. In my quest for womanhood I subscribed to a 1950’s misogynistic view of womanhood and truly believing that it was what I wanted
Growing up I remember watching reruns of ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.?, the Latino version of Leave it to Beaver. It was about a Cuban-American family living in Miami in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At the time it was the only Latino family on TV, so I watched those reruns in admiration of Juana—she was their version of June, the mother—. She was everything society taught me about what it means to be a woman. She was beautiful, smart, funny, submissive yet assertive, docile yet confident, a supportive wife and a loving mother. To this day reflections of Juana can be seen in my clothing options.
However, last summer I found myself engaged and well on my way into being this picture perfect idea of womanhood that I had aspired to for so long. Being that close to what I thought was a dream about to be realized made me rethink if these ideals were things that I truly wanted or if they were things that I was taught to want. Much how the role and definition of women have evolved and have been redefined over time within our culture, in the past six months I have found myself in an transition that is also—and perhaps primarily—an evolution of my mindset, my goals, my womanhood and what that really means to me.
I often talk of my struggle between my inner trans and my inner feminist. On the one hand, my inner trans still holds on to these deeply rooted misogynistic views of womanhood in part to clearly be identified as a woman, and in part because they are the ideals I grew up with; for years, they were the only way ‘to be a woman’ I knew. On the other hand, my inner feminist wants to define her womanhood on her own terms and to be free to make her own decisions, choices and even her own mistakes. My inner feminist tells me I should—and can—be a woman of my own creations, whose ideals and aspirations aren’t as in line with society’s view of womanhood as I once thought. I now look into the mirror every day and tell myself “you be whatever kind of woman you damn well want to be”, whether that means being a housewife and a stay-home mom, or never marrying and not having children. Whatever that means, I know that my quest to womanhood—like that of cis-sisters—is personal, ever-changing and complicated; I know every woman is unique, and we have to embrace all the different shapes and colors in which they come and what’s more feminist than that!